Hades Early Access Preview

Hades is a challenging, gorgeous rogue-like with plenty of potential.

By Woozie, Posted 22 Dec 2018

“Well, time to go get killed again”, Zagreus says as I set off on another attempt to escape Hades.  Supergiant’s imagining of the Greek underworld is filled with lots of nasty things that want to kill the son of the god of death, in order to keep him from getting out. Bulky spirits try to crush him with heavy maces, jittery skeletons throw bombs at him, floating skulls charge in to take a bite – it’s rough down there. Then there’s the dark, brooding Megaera, guardian of the exit from Tartarus. It took me a good couple of arduous attempts before I could get past her. She’s agile and has quite a few attacks up her sleeve: swift dashes, flurries of whip strikes, area of effect blasts and projectiles that briefly turn the battle into a bullet hell exercise.  I did eventually beat her, barely clinging to my last bits of health. Feeling triumphant, I then went on to clumsily die, moments later, at the hands of a cheeky skeleton.

Hades, Early Access, PC, Preview

With its fourth title Supergiant Games treads into new territory, both in terms of setting and genre. Seemingly hell bent on constantly trying new things, Hades is described as a “rogue-like dungeon crawler”. The game screams Supergiant from its very first moments. Although this is the first time the setting is visibly inspired by real world, or rather mythological, sources, the colorful rendition of the Greek underworld is as gorgeous and detailed as the studio’s previous games, while carrying that specific flair expected of its titles.

In his attempts to escape Hades, Zagreus brings the toolset of a capable fighter to the table. He has access to a series of weapons and a long range cast. The weapons themselves have a standard attack and a special one, which vary depending on what you’re using. The starting sword slices foes up close and deals damage in a circle around Zagreus with its special attack. The bow he can unlock is better suited for fighting at range, being able to fire empowered shots if arrows are released at just the right time; it can also unleash a flurry of arrows that covers a wide area with its special. There’s also a spear, prone to quick thrusts and a shield that lets you charge while attacking and which can be thrown to bounce between foes.

Hades, Early Access, PC, Preview

These weapons can be further enhanced using boons from various Olympian gods that randomly appear in Hades’ many rooms. One of Ares’ boons turns the single projectile of the long range cast into a slowly moving but devastating blade whirlwind. Athena’s boons grant the ability of deflecting enemy projectiles, while one of Zeus’ boons imbues your attacks with chain lightning for added damage. Each god has a specific theme for their boons and there’s a decent selection of them that does eventually push you into devising impromptu character builds for each run. Making the best out of what you get is at the core of Hades.

These boons are able to alter you gameplay style quite a bit. The first time I got past Megaera, my bow’s single arrow had been modified to fire three arrows in an arc. My dash only took me over a smaller distance, but reflected projectiles back at attackers, while my RMB cast dealt more damage and homed in on enemies. Naturally, subsequent damage upgrades make Zagreus more potent, but the difficulty is fairly high, particularly due to the randomized enemy compositions in each room. Various vendors, one of which is the silent Charon, will also gladly trade you health, upgrades and temporary boosts in exchange for gold. These only persist within runs but can end up being just what you need to push forward.

Hades, Early Access, PC, Preview

The Mirror of Night in Zagreus’ room back in the Court of Hades, which you’ll be seeing a lot of, represents the game’s main form of progression. It’s where you spend Keys to unlock upgradable traits and Darkness – both resources drop during runs – to improve them. Instead of giving you +5 health and sending you on your way, Hades makes these upgrades rather interesting. One of them increases damage dealt while backstabbing; another does the same but with counter attacks. There’s also a trait which lets you cheat death a number of times during runs. After a couple of deaths you can freely add and detract darkness from these traits, meaning there’s a good degree of flexibility to how you approach each run. Needless to say, the more darkness you spend, the easier it is to reach further rooms although, that does by no means remove the skill requirement from Hades’ combat; and there’s quite a bit of skill and reflexes required, as it turns out.

Not only do you have to learn enemy attack patterns, you also have to get used to the rather fast pace of most fights. Zagreus, and even some of his foes, zip around the battlefield with ease. Timing your attacks in between dashes can turn you into a veritable death machine, but enemies do respond in kind. Striking from behind and pushing foes onto spike traps or into walls deals extra damage, making you consider your angle of attack if your weapon knocks foes back. At the moment, figuring out the right time to dodge certain attacks while up close, like those of the mace-wielding spirits, feels a bit hard to master. When there are a lot of enemies on the screen it’s easy to slip into frantically using whichever attack happens to be the most enhanced and hope for the best. There’s definitely work to be done here but, for the most part, Hades’ quick flow breeds intense battles.

Hades, Early Access, PC, Preview

Hades might be a rogue-like, but Supergiant has promised that it won’t be lacking in story. The Court of Hades is home to a number of different characters, each with their own distinct personality. Hypnos jokingly teases you about what killed you every time you emerge from the blood pool in the court’s hall. The god of death himself is an antagonizing father that is quick to remind you how much of a failure you are and how futile your attempts to escape his domain. Achilles funnels extra weapons and gives you words of encouragement. You learn more about these characters through brief conversations after each death. You can also gift them Ambrosia, in exchange for Keepsakes which grant further bonuses. These conversations, alongside other short sequences do a good job of establishing those around you as recognizable figures, as well as shine more light on Zagreus’ motivations. It also wouldn’t be a Supergiant game without an excellent narrator. Although there are signs that there is a story, I did find myself wishing the conversations were longer, but perhaps that’s just a symptom of the game being freshly released in Early Access.

In its current state, Hades shows a fair amount of understanding when it comes to what makes a good rogue-like tick. It solves the often-encountered issue of repetitive combat right away through fast paced action and a variety of weapons capable of an array of different, snappy attacks. The currency that drops gives you a fighting chance without making runs too easy and the Mirror of Night rewards the time spent – and the many deaths that come with it – by making Zagreus stronger in interesting ways in the long run. It’s a fine start for Supergiant’s first Early Access title and there’s plenty of potential in it. That’s why I’ll be very curious to see where the studio takes Hades during its time in Early Access.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Hades

/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Supergiant Games
Developer(s): Supergiant Games
Genres: Rogue-like
Themes: Mythology
Release Date: 2018-12-06 (Early Access)

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