It's rare to have a game that nearly everyone on staff is playing, but this month, Hades has become that game. Myself (Caty McCarthy, Senior Editor), Staff Writer Nadia Oxford, Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey, and News Editor Eric Van Allen have been playing Hades pretty much non-stop since its surprise 1.0 release last week. We didn't get a review build like other outlets, so none of us have "finished" it yet—hence the lack of a review—but that doesn't mean that we can't talk more about it.
For our latest roundtable, we've huddled together to talk about what we love about Supergiant's latest. From its roguelite sensibilities to its charming characters, there's quite a bit to admire about the action-oriented game. Feel free to answer these questions for yourself in the comments as well!
What Do You Think of Hades So Far?
I've been really loving Hades. As I wrote earlier this week, I tend to really like Supergiant's games, but have never quite crossed into the "completely love" avenue. Something's always holding me back. Bastion's action is just fine, ditto with Transistor, while Pyre is far too long. Meanwhile, Hades has enamored me from top to bottom. The combat is good. The progression is satisfying. And, as characteristic for Supergiant's other games, the art direction, music, and voice acting is all of the highest caliber.
I think what's grabbed hold of me more than Supergiant's past games, or even more than other fellow roguelites, is the really neat way it dishes out its story. Even when my runs end prematurely (as they always do), I feel like I'm served up a little story treat—maybe Nyx and Hades are having a tense conversation by the time I get back home, or perhaps Cerberus is mysteriously gone from his usual resting post. During a run through the Elysium section, for instance, I ran into an old buddy of Zagreus. It was my first time making the encounter, despite traveling through Elysium once before.
That's how Hades has pulled me in—it's constantly throwing new stuff at me. All the while, I'm getting stronger. I can reliably get past Meg (or one of the other sisters) and the Hydra. It's what comes next that's still stopping me in my tracks. I can see the end in sight though, and beating Hades seems far more doable than beating the likes of Spelunky and Dead Cells. Perhaps that's worth celebrating too.
Up to this point, I've enjoyed every one of Superigant's games for different reasons. Bastion has incredible combat, I love Transistor's upgrade system, and Pyre's melding of narrative into a traditionally less-narrative format (franchise sports game, I guess?) all held special places in my heart. Hades feels the unification of every lesson learned from all three.
It's the most narratively focused roguelite I've played, yet it doesn't trip over itself trying to deliver its story. The use of Greek myth is compelling enough, but the way it's handled is so good. These gods are all perfect representations, both in their visual design and how they are all disasters, with their own strengths and shortcomings.
Combat is fast, but I'm rarely lost in the fray. Each weapon feels like its own playstyle with its own set of rules and best approaches, with Olympian boons and Daedalus upgrades ensuring runs rarely feel too similar. The boss fights, good heavens, the boss fights; Theseus and Asterius is the most fun I've had bashing my figurative head against the wall in some time.
It's really honestly hard to find anything to dislike about Hades. Some visual elements could be clearer or long-term progression better defined, but I've played dozens of roguelikes and roguelites over the past decade or so, and Hades feels like the cream of the crop.
I'm extremely picky about my roguelikes and roguelites. There needs to be a satisfying balance between challenge and reward, or else I'm going to bail. Hades really nails that balance: Whenever you (inevitably) fail, you're allowed to keep certain rewards that let you permanently upgrade the hot-headed protagonist, Zagreus. That's exactly what I need for a roguelite to keep me interested.
Supergiant Games also has an uncanny talent for weaving narrative into a game's action. Bastion did it first by having Rucks "narrate" The Kid's journey through a crumbling world. There's less fourth wall-breaking narration in Hades, but there is tons of character dialogue—and it's delivered so expertly, it makes me furious as a writer. I don't think anyone's repeated a single sentence to me yet, even though I've never failed to check up on Hypnos, Hades, Nyx, and Achillies every time I restart. (Cerberus' whines and borks repeat, but he doesn't count.)
Hades really nails its portrayals of the Greek pantheon, too. The wonderfully-designed gods have personalities that suit them perfectly: There's Athena's gentle wisdom, Artemis' wild flightiness, and the endless boasting of Poseidon and Zeus. I also love how the gods are extremely petty. There are rooms in Hades where accepting one god's boon over another might offend the "loser," and they punish Zagreus for the transgression. It's a good look for a pantheon that wasn't above flaying mortals alive for their petty boasts.
Finally, Hades offers an impressive arsenal of weapons and fighting techniques, but I never feel like I'm "playing it wrong." I don't feel as if there's a single build or weapon I should subscribe to if I want to escape the Kingdom of the Dead. In fact, you're rewarded with upgrade materials if you experiment with each tool. Hades plays great, it looks amazing, it sounds fantastic, and it's well-balanced. It does nearly everything right.
I'm not the biggest roguelite fan. There are some great ones out there, no doubt, but I usually find the repetition inherent to their design to be a bit of a bore. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of Greek mythology, either. In fact, I wound up skipping Assassin's Creed Odyssey for precisely that reason. You'll forgive me—much as I enjoy history, antiquity isn't really my thing.
Hades is different, though. Whether because of its fantastic writing, its wonderfully detailed art or because I simply like isometric dungeon crawlers, Hades clicks with me in a way few games of this type have in the past.
I'll echo what everyone has said above, and just add that I really enjoy petting Cerberus after returning from (yet another) unsuccessful run. There's just something about that big red floof that brings me joy in the face of repeatedly dying to the Minotaur, and speaks to the level of detail in Hades' wordlbuilding. What a wonderful game that Supergiant has created.
What's Been Your Most Satisfying Run So Far?
My most satisfying run happened Wednesday night, actually. I was planning on playing Call of Duty with friends, but the PlayStation 4 servers were down for a couple hours. Instead, I opted to play Hades. I picked the shield, because it was glowing purple which meant that all my gems I'd get that run would be increased. I've found myself sweeter on the bow and spear, so playing with the shield, I assumed the run wouldn't last that long.
I was so wrong.
It was the farthest I've ever gotten. Together, with my upgraded death revival which means I can now die twice, coupled with a keepsake that lets me go back to 100 health—essentially netting me a third revival—meant I was well prepared for anything. I flew through bosses; for the first time, I encountered a sister who wasn't Meg as the first major boss at the end of Tartarus, which threw me for a loop. I lived and did not die. Later, I easily breezed past the Hydra, thanks to a handy duo ability where my special didn't just push back enemies thanks to Poseidon, but zapped them with Zeus' holy lightning as well.
I breezed through Elysium too. I beat the mid-route boss handily, but it was when I decided to go into a "choice" room—wherein you choose which god you want to bless you with a boon, but then have to fight whatever challenge the opposing god sicks on you after because honestly, how dare you not choose them? In my gravest error, I chose Dionysus over Zeus. Then Zeus sent not just foes to fight me, but strikes of lightning. I was getting a taste of my own medicine. And it destroyed all the lives I had saved up. I luckily lived through this, but when it came to the final boss of the region, it was predictably game over. What a shame. I was doing so well.
This was not too long ago, I was playing a run with the Adamant Rail. If you haven't unlocked it yet, it's basically a machine gun—the gods of Olympus made a machine gun to kill the Titans, were horrified at how effective it was, and threw it into the depths of the underworld, where one dashing prince found it.
I had so many boons. My bullets ricocheted and sent out crackling lightning, bouncing between enemies. Every shot had the chance to critically strike, applying bonus crit chance to neighboring enemies in the process. My dash move reflected shots in case I got in trouble. I was certain I was headed for a surefire win.
And then I get matched up against the dynamic duo, the buff buffoons of Elysium themselves. Due to some poor room choices and lacking spatial awareness, I was down to just one life, and that pompadour-haired minotaur quickly reminded me of my mortality. Despite a valiant effort, it wasn't long until I was doing the shameful walk out of the blood pool. I will be back, Theseus and Asterius. I will have my revenge, with even more lightning next time.
They all blend together a bit, but whenever I get a boon that lets me deflect while I attack or dash-attack, I put down my Switch and do a little dance. Also, Megaera is definitely a sticking point for me during most runs, but one time I utterly flattened her in seconds. I have no idea what I did differently that time. I wish I did.
I've been streaming Hades throughout the week, and my best run by far came at the beginning of the second day, when I tried the bow out for the first time. With boosted deflection, the addition of a second dash, and explosive arrows, I was able to finally beat Meg, knock out the Hydra, and push all the way to Elysium before getting knocked out. It was one of those "ah hah!" breakthroughs that made me feel like I was making definite progress. Of course, I've yet to beat Elysium, so I still have a ways to go, but getting past Meg was definitely a big moment for me.
What's Your Favorite Weapon?
I'm very partial to the Bow in Hades. There's something really satisfying about getting the timing just right on a shot, which inflicts more damage, or doing the special, which shoots dozens of arrows in an arc toward anyone in your path. When you have a boon that casts a reflect ability on the special as well-meaning you can shoot any orbs fired your way back at the foes who sent them—and it's easy to get a very satisfying build. Up until my shield run the other night, I could always at least get to Elysium with my bow.
The Rail and Shield are probably my two favorites so far. The Rail is just straight-up bonkers if you get the right synergies, so I've been using keepsakes to try and rig Zeus/Artemis runs on it.
The Shield is my number-one recommendation for newcomers, and it's what I go to when I need a breather. It's effective in every situation, has some fantastic upgrades, can make use of just about any boon, and gives Zag a free block to deal with bullet hell situations.
It's not really a "weapon," but I've been trying to spend more time getting accustomed with the Cast attack now that I have some mirror upgrades for it. Some of the gods' cast upgrades are really fun! I just had a great run with a Demeter upgrade that turned my Cast crystal into laser turrets, it ruled.
Love the Shield. Its defensive capabilities are great for beginners, and I get immense satisfaction when I pull a mob and then bull rush/dash attack the lot of them.
They're all good, but I really like the mix of close-range and long-range combat that the Spear has to offer. If you get the spacing right, it can be very effective at keeping enemies at arm's length as you steadily poke them to death. I haven't unlocked any of the aspects yet, but I'm eager to give them a shot. It seems like they're very powerful.
Who is the Hottest God?
I'm torn between Dionysus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. Poseidon has a really attractive voice, but that weird long chin-beard; Aphrodite is obvious. Dionysus, though, I think is just my favorite of the gods who offer me boons. So I suppose that's my answer: the god of wine. I'm still more of a beer girl myself, but for Dionysus, I'd sip some merlot for sure.
Okay, let's set one baseline: they are all hot. This game is full of hot characters, just like a good Greek mythology game should be. That said, Megaera is easily my favorite. The rivalry she has with Zagreus is fantastic, and her lines in-between runs have been some of my favorites. Every time she greets Zag in a boss room and reminds me of the last time she kicked my ass back into the blood pool, I smile. If you're not a Meg fan, you're a liar. (In terms of actual gods, Artemis and Nyx are great too.)
Thanatos is the only correct answer here. Tell you what though, I know Achillies isn't a god, but his gentle, mournful disposition just melts my heart. The old soldier is still holding a candle for Patroclus so you can't romance him, but I wish I could just give him a hug along with some nectar.
I'm really into Artemis. I just have a thing for wild-looking gals with bows, I guess? I'll give Eurydice an honorable mention with her amazing hair and tattoos. I'm more than happy to try out her delectable treats.