Hades Review

Get outta Hell

Hades had two nearly insurmountable obstacles to clear for me to like it. The first obstacle was that it was universally beloved. Now, I know it’s not fair to judge a game based solely upon if everyone likes it but I’ve been burned many times before by playing games which are popular and well-regarded.

What are some examples, you ask? Well, I know I shouldn’t provide too many examples in order not to upset anyone but I’m in a feisty mood so let’s do this. I don’t like the Grand Theft Auto series all that much for starters even though everyone else does. I was more of a fan of Saints Row (well, the first two games in that series anyways) than GTA.

I also don’t care for The Last of Us either. I played the first couple hours of it and stopped playing. I’m more of a fan of Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter than The Last of Us if that tells you anything. I had one more example ready to go too but I don’t think I’ll say it out loud. The fans of this particular game are, well, quite fanatical so I don’t want to draw their ire.

The second major obstacle Hades had to clear was that it is a rogue-like. Or rogue-lite. I’m not really sure which one it is but rogue-like sounds better so that’s what we’ll call it. For those of you who don’t know, a rogue-like is a game built around the idea of “runs.” Runs are essentially where you try to make your way through procedurally generated levels with the goal of making it to the end without dying. If you do die then you have to start all over again at the very beginning. That’s a very simplistic explanation of rogue-likes but it will do for now.

The reason why this was an obstacle for me personally is because I don’t like rogue-likes. This is because most of them don’t focus on developing a story or characters which means that I’m not that interested in them in the first place. The combat is the star of the show in these games. At least, this is how I viewed rogue-likes. Maybe I’ve been wrong about them all this time.

What I’m trying to say is that Hades cleared both of these obstacles with flying colors. I’m sorry to all two of you out there who don’t like Hades. I will not be the contrarian voice you’re looking for. Hades is great and I hope I can explain why.

You play as Zagreus, son of the god Hades, who is trying to escape the Underworld for reasons that will become apparent should you play the game. I don’t want to give it away right here, right now as that would spoil all the fun. As such, our boy Zagreus must battle his way through the three levels of the Underworld to reach the surface a.k.a. our world.

To do so, he must choose one of six weapons for this endeavor. There is only one weapon available to start with so don’t get too excited. The rest of the weapons are unlocked using a currency Zagreus gains through his many, many escape attempts. They’re called Chthonic keys but no one would know what I was talking about so I decided to call them currency. See, now I’ve gone and wasted a bunch of time for something as simple as what you use to unlock new weapons. You’re welcome. Anyways, back to Hades!

As I was saying, Zagreus can pick one of six weapons (once unlocked) to use in his escape attempts. Longtime readers will know that I, the Pretend Gamer, can take or leave most battle systems as I find that a lot of them become repetitive after a while. It will therefore be surprising to everyone when I say that I absolutely loved the combat in Hades.

What I like the most about the combat in this game is that it is fast-paced and enemies don’t take forever to die with the exception of bosses. Although they can die at a faster rate based on how you choose to upgrade Zagreus but we’ll cover that later on. Anyways, the combat is fast-paced and that’s why I like it. There are too many games out there with enemies that take way too many hits. Not so with Hades.

Each of the six weapons I mentioned earlier plays and handles differently which is great because it offers both variety and a way for people to focus on one weapon they like if that is their cup of tea. I did like using each one out but I really liked the spear and another weapon I won’t describe here because it was great when I unlocked it and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else. All of the weapons feature a regular attack along with a special move and a few have their own special attributes which shake things up. The shield can be used to hit enemies but it can also be used to block incoming attacks when charging up for a shield bash, for example.

I suppose I should mention that you can only use one weapon for each run. I was surprised at how good it felt to use each one. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses but the combat never felt unbalanced regardless of which weapon I used. Although I had more luck using ranged weapons when I played Hades because it’s sometimes hard to see what exactly is going on when a bunch of enemies are onscreen. This is a byproduct of the game being presented from an isometric point of view. This made close range weapons more difficult to use since Zagreus could get hit much easier especially when a bunch of enemies were nearby.

This problem can be alleviated if you simply move and don’t spend too much time in one spot which I highly recommend. Look, I don’t like telling people how to live their lives but if you’re not always moving while playing Hades then you’re doing it wrong. Zagreus has a nice running speed but he also has a dash which acts as a dodge. There was something sublime about dashing, dodging, and weaving between groups of adversaries while striking individual enemies along the way. There is a frenetic yet elegant feeling to this combat that is hard to put into words and it’s something you don’t get in many games. I’m failing you all with this description here but trust me when I say that the combat feels good in all the right ways.

I know I said each weapon feels well-balanced in combat but I do have one more complaint about the close-range weapons. There is a level of the Underworld called Asphodel and it is full of magma. And, as would be expected, Zagreus will take damage if he stands on said magma. There are flying enemies who will sometimes park themselves over this magma and I hope the more astute among you will see the problem here. Ranged weapons or the weapons with a lot of range have no problem reaching these enemies. Close-range weapons like the sword, however, have trouble dealing with these enemies unless you want Zagreus to take damage. If that is indeed your wish, go right ahead and use the sword. I won’t stop you. That is really my only complaint about the weapons and the combat in general.

Each run contains different rooms which act as battle arenas (most of the time, at least) and each one is filled with random enemies. One complaint I guess you could have about the game is that you will see each of these room designs several times over during the course of the game. I never really noticed if I’m being honest because I was so focused on killing the enemies in said rooms.

Once you finish killing all of the enemies in a room, the next room will unlock. Before you proceed on your murderous rampage through hell, however, you will get a preview of what reward awaits you in the next room. Oftentimes, you will have a choice of two or more doors to go through. The preview of the reward will help you here since you can decide which reward best suits your current run. Will you go for a bit of extra health in the next room? Or will you seek more Cthonic keys? Or will you grab yet another boon (more on those later)? The choice is yours. Choose wisely!

Do not worry, dear readers, Zagreus does not have to face his enemies by himself. The gods of Olympus will join the fray and by join I mean they will confer what are called boons upon Zagreus. These boons grant a variety of benefits ranging from extra damage to new attacks for Zagreus to use. It was a lot of fun discovering new boons to use as well as mix and matching them with boons from multiple gods.

Not only do the gods grant you boons but they also (usually) speak a few lines of dialogue before they depart. Don’t worry gameplay fans, they never take up too much of your time. It’s just two or three boxes of quick dialogue and then they’re off back to Olympus. I loved these little bits of text because they were sometimes both amusing and reactive. The gods will comment on what weapon you’re using, which enemies you have faced, and even which gods you have come into contact with. They also advance the story every once in a while, too. I loved all the interactions with the gods because I never knew what I was going to get. Even after over twenty hours with the game, I was still encountering unique dialogue from other characters.

You will not only be talking to characters while out on runs either. Once you die, and die you will, Zagreus will return to Hades’ palace at the bottom of the Underworld. Here he can talk to the residents of said palace and glean more information about why he wants to leave in the first place. I loved returning to this home base even if my death had occurred at the end of a long run because I got to talk to more characters. It was an inventive way to take the sting out of dying.

And that about does it as far as the game goes…is what I would say if that was the truth. If I had to describe Hades with one word that word would be onion. That’s because there is so much more to the game than what you see on the surface. Everything I’ve talked about so far merely provides a base for the game to build upon. There are many more layers stacked upon all of the systems which make up this game. Let me go through a few examples but I won’t go over everything because it’s much better to discover it for oneself.

Let’s start with the main hub. Not only can you talk to a few characters who are milling about the place but you can also decorate the whole palace. That’s right, you can alter the appearance of just about everything in there. You have to use what are called Gemstones which you can get on your runs but you can do it all the same. You can even use the Gemstones to alter the very levels of Hades themselves to help you fight your way through them.

As I said, talking to different characters is fun in its own right since it provides flavor to the world. This isn’t the only way to get to know these characters, however. You can also give what is called Nectar to any and all characters to unlock a relationship with them. This means that you can have even more conversations with them. I’ve gotta be honest and say that I never completed a relationship with any of the characters in Hades. I got a few of them to what I assume is the halfway point but there’s a lock on the next stage and I never figured out how to advance past that point. If anyone knows how, let me know!

In addition to the relationship system, there are also side quests involving a few of the characters. That’s right, I said there are side quests in Hades. Did I mention that this game is a rogue-like? Weird, right? I didn’t finish any of the side quests because they involve talking to other characters while out on a run so it made it difficult. Despite that fact, however, I really enjoyed doing the quests even if I didn’t finish them.

You can even get items called Keepsakes from other characters which give you special bonuses in combat. Do you see what I mean about there being layers to the systems in this game? These Keepsakes can even be upgraded based upon how many fights you win while wearing them. Again, yet another system.

There’s even a fishing minigame complete with a fish compendium in the Codex! I forgot to mention this but you get a Codex from Achilles in the palace in which Zagreus records things about the characters, story, and even enemies. Anyways, as I was saying, there’s fishing. I don’t even like fishing in video games but I still did it in Hades. I had to fill up that Codex, folks.

And how could I not mention that you can permanently upgrade Zagreus using a magic mirror. The upgrades range from gaining health whenever you enter a new room on a run to something called Death Defiance which means you come back to life a set number of times should you die. I could go on about the upgrades but I don’t want to bore you to tears and, again, you should discover them all for yourself when you play this game. And you should play this game by the way. I just thought I should say it out loud in case you were considering the crazy idea of not playing Hades.

Let’s circle back to the story, shall we? All I want to say about it is that the story doesn’t end when you think it should. I’ve seen the credits for the game and there still appears to be more story to uncover. All the characters still have more to say and there is one loose end that hasn’t been resolved yet. I haven’t played Hades in a few months but that one last story thread has me thinking that I should go back to the game and “finish the fight” as it were. I just might now that I’m thinking about it.

Oh, and I guess I’ll mention this. There are even options (after a certain point in the game) which allows you to make the runs harder by giving enemies more health or by simply spawning more enemies in each room. These are just two examples of what you can do to boost the difficulty to keep things interesting after a few dozen runs. There are an impressive number of things you can tweak to shake things up and I loved it. This is coming from someone who doesn’t like making things harder for myself by the way so that should tell you how much I liked it.

There are many other things I could talk about in Hades which add more layers to the whole thing but I think I’ll stop myself here so I don’t give away everything. I mean, there is an entire section of the Codex which I haven’t uncovered yet so I don’t even know the full extent of this game. And, on a similar note, I had only just discovered one other missing part of the Codex right before I stopped playing.

What you should take away from all of this is that Hades always brings something new to the table each and every run: whether that be enemies, rooms, boons, dialogue, options to shake things up and make the game more difficult, or even just fishing. Hades truly has it all. This is why I was beset by the “just one more run” mentality while playing it. I would say to myself that I would take one more stab at making it out of the Underworld and then I would realize that three hours had rushed by. I had so much fun with Hades. I couldn’t put it down.

Before I go, I have to mention one more thing. Well, two more things actually. The art direction and music are fantastic in Hades. Everything from the characters to the environments are eye-catching and beautiful. As for the soundtrack, it was a pleasure to listen to through and through. At one point, I had to stop in my tracks and simply listen because of the song that was playing. I won’t say which song it is because it would spoil a great moment in the game. Just know that it was quite good.


This is usually where people wrap up their arguments and rehash the points they made in their review but I won’t be doing that. I’m sure you all remember what I talked about above so there’s no point in me bringing it up again. If you have forgotten, just reread the review and you’ll be good to go. No, I will be ending this review by talking about something you can only get from video games and not from reading a book or watching a movie.

I don’t like it when people say video games are unique and different from other entertainment mediums. Not because they’re not right (video games are their own thing) but because those people who say things like that come across as pompous when they make bold declarative statements like that. Having said that, I personally had an experience while playing Hades which certainly proves their point. I was so nervous and full of adrenaline while fighting the final boss of Hades that I was sweating profusely (stay with me now, I swear there’s a point to this). I was sweating so much that I had to take my shirt off. That’s how engaged and on the edge of my seat I was. I don’t know if video games are as unique as people claim they are but what I can say is that I never had to take my shirt off while watching a movie.

Thanks for reading! Have you played Hades? If not, what are you doing? Get out there and play you some Hades!

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