Hades | game review
Like a brat out of hell.
Game summary: As the immortal Prince of the Underworld, you'll wield the powers and mythic weapons of Olympus to break free from the clutches of the god of the dead himself, while growing stronger and unravelling more of the story with each unique escape attempt. (Xbox.com)
I'm not a fan of roguelikes in general, with only two sci-fi games - FTL and Everspace - ever proving truly enjoyable for me to spend extended amounts of time with, so to say Hades had an uphill struggle to win me over in the first place is an understatement. Although win me over it did - at least partially, mainly due to just how damn enjoyable it is to play.
You take control of Zagreus, who is determined to battle his way out of the various underworlds of Greek mythology, making use of the boons offered by the various Olympian gods cheering on his escape, as well as those working for Hades who would also like to see him freed. Most of these boons are offered during escape attempts, and others (keepsakes) are a reward for giving various characters gifts.
There's a wide enough range and combination of weapons, boons, keepsakes and more to both keep things varied and also allow you to refine your own fighting style once you figure out which combination suits you best. This system is really well-implemented, especially with how more and more options unlock as you progress and encourage further experimentation, making further escape attempts feel fresh as a result.
This freedom Hades offers does make it difficult to judge how well others will progress in comparison to myself. I was perfectly happy letting Zagreus die to start a run afresh if I made a mistake and it took me a long, long time to get out of the first area, Tartarus, as a result, whereas others might keep going to see how far they can get and gain as many rewards as possible in each run.
My style of play also makes it difficult for me to judge the progression of difficulty too, as I spent so long in Tartarus getting to grips with the ins and outs of every aspect of the combat once I'd settled on the shield as my weapon of choice (yes, you can Captain America this shit if you like) that it only took me two attempts to get through the second area and reached the final encounter of the third zone on my first attempt.
Blowing through two entire zones in no time at all doesn't sound like great game design, but I imagine there'll be plenty of people who will spend far longer in those zones (Asphodel and Elysium if you want to know) than I did and got far more used to them. Those players will also probably be far more prepared than I was for the final part of the game due to those struggles too, so this isn't a criticism of them taking a slower approach.
To put it bluntly, Hades has phenomenal gameplay that should suit almost all players and how they like to play action games. I'll admit that it can be tricky to learn how to cope with some enemies, especially in combination with others that were super-aggravating to deal with, but it never feels unfair - it's just left up to the player to figure out how to counter their attacks and can prove highly satisfying to tear through what were once incredibly dangerous enemies as if they were nothing when you figure out their weaknesses.
This biggest problem for me is that this is still a roguelike, repeating the same areas and fighting the same enemies over and over again to progress, regardless of how enjoyable the combat is. There are plenty of characters and an ongoing story that makes sense of repeating over and over again, which have received plenty of praise elsewhere, but just didn't work for me at all.
Everything on the narrative side just left me cold and I would quite often just skip through the House of Hades to begin a new run without speaking to characters who had something new to say because I just wasn't interested. I can't even really explain why either, other than the story and gameplay being so distinct from each other that they never really felt as intertwined as they should have been to make me care.
As for the characters, I think it's the mish-mash of tones from the voice acting that really alienated me there, with number of them being very exaggerated and cartoonish, with others being overly-serious and coming across as self-important to me. You can make characters like this exist in a single story, but they're usually spread out so as not to clash, rather than all being clumped together in the same building.
Hades was never going to be a game that I could play for any extended amount of time as a result of this, but I did enjoy the combat so much that I still enjoyed dropping in for a run through the first few zones pretty regularly as a way to unwind after beating the game once (you have to beat it TEN times for the 'true' ending), although usually stopped towards the end of Elysium when it starts to get demanding for me.
On the other hand, if the characters and story do work for you, then you'll probably find this game to be an incredible experience and happy to beat the game enough times to get that true ending. I really do wish those had worked for me, but I just don't have the motivation or interest to put in the effort required after how relieved I felt getting past Hades that first time.
Hades has some truly incredible action that is always a joy to play, but the characters and story didn't work for me, and excellent gameplay can only carry a roguelike so far when you're repeating the same areas and fighting the same enemies over and over again. Mind you, if the non-gameplay stuff does click for you, there's a phenomenal game here that you'll most likely love.