We’ve hit Day 16 of our Halloween Game Reviews and I realized GeekMom/GeekDad has never reviewed Hades?!? How can we have missed one of the biggest video games of 2020? Well, the good news is it also fits with our Halloween theme so now would be a good time to take a graceful swan dive down into the depths of Hades.
What Is Hades?
Hades is a roguelike action dungeon crawler released in 2020. I will warn you right now: Hades is unrelenting. It is the kind of game where you are constantly fighting over and over again, and while you may not think you are progressing, the achievements will begin to stack in your favor.
In Greek mythology, Hades is both the name of the Greek god and the name of the underworld domain he reigns. Hades is also the antagonist of the story, a brutal and domineering force who is preventing you from reaching your goal: freedom. You, my poor thing, are his son, Zagreus.
Zagreus is determined to flee Hades/Hades and start afresh in the world of the living, perhaps even make it to Mt Olympus. Hades is determined for Zagreus to stay put. Even though Hades has no faith in Zagreus, he commands Zagreus to stay in Hades for reasons to be revealed. As Zagreus, you face a labyrinth of dungeons throughout the many levels of Hades, ever-changing and ever-evolving. Fortunately, you have family on Mt Olympus who are interested in (and probably entertained by) your attempts to beat Hades at his own game. They will bestow gifts and assistance to you along the way, though you will need to choose wisely. I’m pretty sure Paris and his Golden Apple are somewhere around here.
Hack-and-Slash vs Narrative
There is no denying the battle you face to escape Hades. As Zagreus, you need to fight your way through hordes of monsters and demons to find your way out. It’s not an easy task; each defeat sends you straight back to the House of Hades. But this mechanic is part of the genius because each death gives you something extra: a weapon, a skill, a new contact. Essentially, you are going to die. A lot. And you need to in order to learn from your mistakes and grow.
That’s where the hack-and-slash blends into a fine narrative. In many games, new characters are revealed as you progress further into the game. Hades has reversed this slightly; you meet new characters and have new conversations with old friends after you die and return to the House of Hades. That’s right folks. You have to die—A LOT—if you want to learn more about the game.
Back in 2019, GeekDad Sean Z had a chat with one of the games Creative Director Greg Kasavin (you can read the whole interview here). Kasavin was especially proud of the nonlinear and replayable nature of the game. You can see this in the dialogue between Zagreus and various Olympians. The dialogue is quite clever, providing some interplay between various characters. It’s like the NPCs are self-aware, with the game’s programming keeping a VERY close eye over your interactions and reacting with the best dialogue. Meg, a fury in Hades, has some of the best lines after you’ve died. Love her.
Hades’ narrative goes against the usual hack-and-slash games, with a story that builds a rapport between you and Zagreus. With each death, pieces of the story reveal, and it is clear many characters know far more than they first shared. These tiny morsels of information are the perfect motivation in wanting to learn more about the story. Dying doesn’t seem so bad when you are rewarded with this tightly woven story of family politics. It’s engrossing and I will admit it’s somewhat cathartic.
Hades Is Hell
It is also hell. Not Hell as in the place made famous by Christian beliefs. In Greek mythology, Hades was never really “Hell” because it was so multi-dimensional in both environment and purpose. However, the game focuses on a more hellish nature. And those battles? They are Hell.
The fight scenes are brutal. Absolutely brutal. They seem manageable enough but increase in intensity as more demons are introduced. The game’s evolution is a marvel to watch, often appreciated after you have been completely torn apart in the last battle. At the beginning of each “run,” you have a choice of weapon to take with you. There are six weapon types, and each of them adds a unique style to your gameplay. Long-range attack, defense, electrical shock. You can also upgrade the weapons and give them extra boosts.
There’s the real kicker: extra stuff along the way. Each run starts at House of Hades, the very beginning. But don’t think you know what’s in store for you. Hades is an evolving landscape, the dungeon rooms change, and the visits from the Olympians will differ each time (they are fickle folk). And don’t be dependent on previous gifts because you may not see them again. If there is one piece of advice I have from the game, it is to master your core skills: dash, attack, special attack, and dash attacks. Everything else is gravy.
What Is Hades’ Aesthetic? Dark Academia Colosseum-Core?
I cannot pinpoint exactly what the look is for Hades but it is stunning! Each level of Hades has its own palette (with matching music). Great detail has been given to each dungeon, from pottery to guardians and lighting (or lack thereof). The only downside is it’s tiny! To be fair, I don’t think you can capture the all-encompassing presence of Hades if you made the scenery and gameplay any bigger. However, this is a game to play on a big screen. On a handheld, it is too small to see the details, including your own attacks.
On a nerdy side note, this game is everything I love about Greek mythology. The story, the colors, the unfolding nature of Hades. It’s just *chef’s kiss*. If I ever returned to academia and research, this game would remain a staple in my examples of Greek mythology storytelling done right.
Hades is an unrelenting game of energy, a journey into the depths of mythology and fantasy. It is a hell of a ride. And one that you can do again and again, knowing that the experience will change each time. Hades is everything I love about games: the challenge, the story, the intrigue, the possibility. Sometimes the battles can be a bit grindy, but I always look back with appreciation. If you’re going to travel to the Underworld during Halloween, Hades is your best choice.
Hades is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PS4/5, Xbox, and Epic Games. No compensation was received for this review.
Score: 5 out of 5 cups of ambrosia (You’re going to need it!)