Hades (The game): First impressions

I've been a mild fan of rouge-lites since I first discovered them — I can't recall which game introduced me to them, may have been binding of isaac — but I never really got sucked into any one of them. For the first time though, I am utterly hooked with a game of this genre: Hades.

Hades has every element that I enjoy in terms of gameplay. From the gameplay, to the graphics, to the story, to the absolutely wonderful sound track. It all fits together neatly.

In terms of battle style, I love easy to pick up, hard to master hack'n'slash battle which is based on moving quickly but not mindlessly. When it's done well I find that as time goes by my mind learns how to react intelligently instead of mashing buttons in excitement. I feel like even if 10 things are going on, I can be aware of my surroundings and act intentionally. A lot of games try this but very few achieve the kind of design balance required to make things as satisfying as hades does. It helps that the game uses isometric perspective which is a style I prefer much more than the platformer style for these kinds of games (top down is also something I love). Being in a 3d space opens up the possibilities endlessly.

The enemies and the combinations of them feel varied and the environments give ample opportunity to mix play styles so that I never feel bored. Figuring out how to time an attack so that it collapses a column and smashes an enemy while standing in the right spot to trick another enemy into following me across a spike trap is perfection personified.

And the power ups? One of the most important parts in a game like this? To me, Hades shines here in giving power ups that are easy to understand and visualize. It leads me to picking power ups that match my game play. The best part of it though is how power ups can combine  both with each other and with the weapon I've chosen for my run to create gameplay that feels powerful in a different way each time. This stands in contrast to many rouge-lites that introduces power ups that simply make me more powerful. It's a subtle difference that makes Hades a lot more thrilling each time.

It's worth mentioning that Hades has multiple weapons to choose from each unlocking different playstyles from long range to melee to a mix of both. Each weapon is probably worth its own full run once I complete this game for the first time.

But this is all just features if not for being held up by the game's most interesting aspect: The story.

A quick note on rouge lites and how it relates to Hades

Rouge-lites have a mechanism of "perma death" where once you die you lose all your power ups, your skills, and most importantly your progress in levels, and you start from the beginning. This might sound tedious but rouge-lites do a random map generation which means that no two attempts, called runs, are ever the same.

But you don't lose everything! Games of this genre usually have 1 or 2 elements that stick with you permanently usually in the forms of items that you collect as you play. In this case it is some kind of xp juice that unlocks stronger powers and keys that unlock weapons. There are also potions which you can give to your friends (more on that in a bit) which can unlock you permanent (I think) items that will give you an advantage in your next attempt at beating the game.

Hades' implementation of "death"

And this bit about potions and friends is where Hades has shone in a way that no other game of this genre that I've played has. Hades has a rich storyline which starts off with you, the prince of the underworld, attempting to escape to join the rest of the Gods in Olympus. Each time you die, you revive in the chamber of Hades instead of a traditional load screen. Each time you revive, you meet several characters in the chamber of Hades. And each time you meet these characters, their knowledge of you has been retained. Their conversations with you are relevant both to the run you just completed AND to the past conversations you had with them.

This element has such a powerful impact on how I enjoy the game. Previous rouge-lites have eventually lost me at this stage. I get bored with selecting different combinations and simply trying to beat the game. Even if the gameplay is fun, I can't seem to stick it out with the whole grinding and dying until I have enough power to win cycle. But with this story element combined with all the other elements of Hades, I feel like I'm witnessing the birth of a new future for this genre.

In Hades, dying gains a purpose beyond satisfying power ups. It satisfies my curiosity to learn more about the world I'm trying to escape from. To be in a game where dying serves a greater purpose than a simple game mechanic is ultimately the most satisfying part of this game.

Final thoughts

If you wonder why you should play Hades — aside from it being a ridiculously fun game — play it to witness a game that in my opinion has no equal. Where various rouge-lites have contained individual elements of Hades, I am yet to run across one that has combined all of them with such high quality across the board.

To me, Hades is the equivalent of the moment Half Life dropped into the FPS world and shook the genre itself.

To me, Hades is 100% my game of the year.

Posted on October 14 2020 by Adnan Issadeen