I feel I need to start this one with a disclaimer. Reviews are subjective. I am going to talk about my experience with the game as a person who doesn’t play games for their combat. People who like the challenge may disagree with what I say, as I have seen many people online say this game is too easy. I, personally, am not a god at video games. I can only talk from my own point of view, that this game can also be great for people like me, even if it does have its drawbacks.
+ The Premise
Alright, so Hades is an artistic, stylish rogue-lite based in Greek Mythology. We play as Zagreus – the Son of Hades – and we have one goal. Escaping the underworld. Everytime you die you are transported back home, which makes sense as that is where the majority of the dead end up sooner or later. This alone is such a fantastic concept. I love when game mechanics are tied to the story and I can think of no better set up for a rouge-lite. Throughout our escape attempts, our family on Olympus will offer us aid in the form of boons and this is where the classic roguelike gameplay factors in. Different perks combine in different ways to allow a variety of playstyles. Throughout our escape attempts – and eventually escapes – we get more and more story, be it characterisation of the gods, or directly talking to everyone back home. We also get more and more mechanics, including weapons to shake up your playstyle and difficulty modifiers, for better or worse. The best part of this set up is that death doesn’t always feel bad. In fact, sometimes I wanted a death just so that I could go back to the house and see what everyone was up to.
At first, when I had only seen others play and not played myself, I didn’t love the aesthetics. Everyone was raving about them but I didn’t really get it until I tried it myself. You would think that the staple colours of red and green would shout Christmas. But they dont. Instead they evoke this regal hell. Rather than a festive cheer, it feels expensive and strict, yet also has a sense of home. The music is so good, everytime I start a run my head has to bob, it is perfect to hype you up for the challenge ahead. There is also diegetic music that is appropriately beautiful and evolves in fun ways as you go. The art in both the portraits of the characters and the movement itself is quite busy, but so unique. When things are busy sometimes my senses freeze up, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed looking at the details put into the characters. Then somehow everything also looks great when it moves. Overall, they took a premise that is already fantastic on its own, but then executed it so stylishly that it oozes personality.
+ The Voices/Dialogue
Before I was familiar with the game I heard a lot of praise for the voice acting. This was another thing that I didn’t really ‘get’ when I started playing myself. I don’t find them traditionally ‘good’. I do find them very stylised in a way that once I got used to it, I loved. As an example, lots of lines are read very quickly and don’t seem to pause in places that you would usually pause. Or there would be no gap between sentences. It felt very unnatural to me for a while, but in the end I feel like it becomes a defining factor in the style of the game. What I do love about the voices are the effects that are used on them. Some of the characters in the game are even beyond gods, and the audio designers did a fantastic job of creating ethereal effects that really characterise the way they speak. This, on top of the fun dialogue and the beautiful art, creates these very evocative and memorable characters, even if we do only meet them one line at a time. There is also so much dialogue. It will be a long time before you hear anything repeated. It is very impressive and a great hook to keep you coming back for more.
+ The Family Dynamics
Family drama is something that can be hit or miss. In real life, it SUCKS. But when that family are Greek Gods? There is something very enticing to be involved in the dynamics of these extremely powerful, extremely temperamental folk. I don’t know much about mythology in general, but I do know a lot of these characters are known for being petty, dishing out punishments, holding grudges etc. I do also believe they know how to have a good time. So having these colourful characters as our uncles and cousins and such was a rush. I didn’t trust them at all, but they so were fun to interact with. The family dynamics in the house are great too and you get to know more as you progress through the game. I really started to care and as dysfunctional as it is, some qualities shine through that you root for.
– The Difficulty Curve
Moving onto the gameplay itself, it is a very mixed bag for me. I am not that experienced with roguelikes but I do know that the more you play, the better you get. You learn the game and you improve. I did enjoy the process in the beginning, however there are certain blocks that felt like a huge wall to me. I managed to overcome some of them, but that doesnt stop them from becoming tedious. Without spoiling too much, the third area enemies often have a lot of armour and can respawn. It would sometimes take me minutes to complete a room. It was frustrating and boring. That might not sound like much but when you have been flying through the first area it feels like molasses. The same thing goes for bosses beyond the second area, I just don’t enjoy them. Thankfully, with every run you are collecting darkness and other items which you can use to upgrade your character. For me though, the satisfaction of coming back upgraded and getting further does not overcome the frustration of the halt of progress in the first place. (This may sound like I just don’t like rogue-lites. The only real point of reference I have is The Binding of Isaac, and I feel like that game moves a lot faster while also having more to think about, so there is less time to be bored). It is not a good feeling when over half of a run feels like a slog and I sometimes feel like throwing it because I can’t be bothered with the boss.
+ God Mode
God Mode is genius and I thank the Devs so much for including it. If you are playing for the story rather than the challenge, God Mode is an optional setting that can progressively make the game easier until it balances out at your level. Every time you die, you will gain a bonus to your damage reduction stat. Meaning enemies will hurt you less. You can turn this on or off at any time and it was a life saver for me. I played the game without it until I got my first clear. To get to credits you need 10 clears. I kept playing and playing but I wasn’t getting any more clears. Then the tedium mentioned above set in. I decided to turn on God Mode and it was the best decision I made. Two clears in a row and my enthusiasm for the game was back. After dying a few more times I reached the correct difficulty for me and got an 8 win streak. These weren’t easy wins either, it was just right that it was down to the wire most times. I urge you that if you are finding it tedious, getting bored, or doing a collect-a-thon, use God Mode. I certainly wouldn’t have got as far as I did without it.
+/- The Pacing
In a game with two distinct sections (gameplay during runs then story time and upgrading between) it was always going to be hard to pace it well. For a lot of people, the story sections ruin the pace of the gameplay. They are ready to jump straight back in but have to go around talking to everyone, breaking their momentum. For me, it was the other way around and play almost felt too long. I wanted to be back at the house for the next story beats and to upgrade my stuff. Based on those two types of players, I don’t really see how they could have a middle ground. It is not detrimental to the game, but it is a common complaint that I have heard and felt myself occasionally, even if it is opposite ends of a spectrum.
+ Other Objectives
There is a lot more to do than just clearing runs. These aren’t things that you have to do but are an option if you need something other than combat like I do. Some characters have side quests that you progress by gifting them items between runs. You can improve relationships, unlocking new dialogue and scenes. Then there are the Boons. If you are a compulsive list taker like me, collecting every Boon is so much fun. Some Boons require you to have other Boons first, and navigating that was a game that I enjoyed more than getting clears. I have officially collected them all and really enjoyed doing so. By the end, every fated choice (one you havent picked up yet) received a celebratory fist bump from me. There are also heat levels that you can unlock to make the game more difficult if you are so inclined. All of these things provide rewards that you can either put towards improving more runs, or buying house fashion.
I hope that if anything, this review shows that Hades can be enjoyed by many different types of people. It is very accessible as a first foray into the genre, while equally providing a new challenge for the genre savvy. While I don’t think it is a perfect game, I do believe it deserved all of the love, praise and awards it recieved. By the end, the game was leaving Game Pass so I was rushing to complete everything that I wanted to. I really don’t think this is the way to play. Chipping away with a few runs here and there after the initial addiction keeps the runs more palatable in my opinion. You can definitely have too much of a good thing! Having said that, it has provided me with many hours of entertainment and I will think back on it very fondly.
+ The Premise
+ The Aesthetics
+ The Voices/Dialogue
– The Difficulty Curve
+ God Mode
+/- The Pacing
+ Other Objectives
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