I don’t typically play roguelikes, and the very word itself scares me away. My issue with the genre is I don’t like the idea of failing repeatedly. I wrote extensively about my experience with Dead Cells, and despite enjoying the time I did spend with it, I never really wanted to go back after about the 15 hour mark.
Roguelikes typically go like this for me:
- Play for a few hours, go from a confidence score of 0/10 to about a 6/10.
- Get really involved with the stats and try to figure out how to optimize each playthrough.
- Realize that I can’t optimize each playthrough due to some element of random number generation (RNG).
- Realize that the farther I manage to progress into the game, the more time each subsequent playthrough takes, meaning every death is an ever-widening amount of wasted time to get back where I last failed.
- The two previous bullet points mingle with each other and every bad drop is a question of whether to “even bother” or to just start over.
- Eventually quit, annoyed after I get dealt a shitty hand by the RNG gods one too many times.
Reading that, it probably sounds weird that I grabbed Hades while it was on a sale, but what have you – I was going on vacation and needed something to play on the only portable console I have games for (that aren’t currently sitting in the back of a storage unit).
I’m pleasantly surprised by Hades, as the game’s managed to weave together some pretty interesting lore about the inhabitants of the Underworld as it exists in Greek Mythology, as well as an extremely capable and accessible action-RPG hack-and-slasher. I can understand why I’ve seen the word Hades adorning headlines on atypical sources such as Wired and The Verge.
The plot is simple: you are Zagreus, the prince of the Underworld and son of the ruler Hades. You want to escape the underworld due to a scuffle with your father, who is just as much of an ass as one might expect from the boss of Hell itself. He’s helped by the other inhabitants who grant him weapon and stat perks, new moves, etc, after you pick up certain items during each dungeon run through.
The real seitan and potatoes of the game, as with many roguelikes, is that as your competence as a player increases, so too do the “permanent perks” you receive. There are plenty of run-specific perks such as maximum health, although this too can increase over time using Gifts which are given to you by the other inhabitants.
Speaking of the other inhabitants, you’ll run into the likes of Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, Aphrodite, and more as you progress through each dungeon run, each granting stat bonuses and upgrades that will carry through on that run. Each upgrade is, naturally, appropriate to the God who grants it, which is a really cool and neat touch. For example, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, and so her upgrades are typically health-increasing. Zeus grants you some neat perks that typically result in enemies getting electrocuted.
Before each run, you choose your weapon – a small selection at first but more become available as you unlock them with keys found throughout the levels. The typical fare for this type of thing applies, although they all vary wildly in pros and cons. I prefer going old school with the sword and spear, occasionally gloves – but these close-quarters weapons become problematic at later bosses who are very dangerous in close combat. For those scenarios, you may be better equipped with a bow or the gun – but for reach escape attempt, you choose your weapon one time only.
The combat is extremely tight and fluid, the type of controls described by the phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master”, with heavy emphasis on the latter half. While there’s not a whole lot of Joycon vibration use, which I felt could have gotten some love, it feels absolutely addicting to play. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve thought “one more run” or “one more room” – the feeling of success from clearing each room is immensely satisfying.
Before leaving each room, at times you have multiple exits and you can get a preview of what the prize at the end of the next room will be by way of an Artifact sitting in front of the door. Low on health? If there’s a Centaur Heart in front of one of those exits, take that one. Looking to upgrade your abilities after the run? Look for Darkness diamonds.
The boss fights are quite challenging, and depending on my weapon choice and upgrades, even the earlier bosses I could just about steamroll can get my health low enough to pose a serious threat once I get to the following, more-difficult boss. But the flow of each playthrough can alter depending on which paths you take.
What separates these types of games for me is the payoff in each run. I don’t want to fail just to fail and think to myself “huh, I should do better next time!” You need those little boosts to your confidence and those are typically handled with permanent upgrades, but having something to do between runs is a good break from the grind. In the case of Hades, upgrading your room and redecorating the… house? Headquarters? Hell Hotel? I don’t really know what to call it, but we’ll just call it home for now.
Well, you get to decorate your home. Some of the upgrades seem pretty pointless aside from aesthetics, but there are some that benefit you in some small way, at least to the point of the game that I’ve played.
While you’re between runs, interacting with the other inhabitants is always a fun exercise. The dialogue never takes itself seriously, and it almost plays out like an Arrested Development type of sitcom – a bunch of dysfunctional people, all stuck together, for eternity nonetheless, trying to make the best of it. There’s clear frustration towards Hades amongst the staff, and hearing everyone complain in short little three or four-bubble chats is always worth a chuckle. There are plenty of fantastic one-liners, particularly by Zeus who is just always so pissed off that I never forget to stop by to hear his latest complaints about his son.
Overall, I’m very surprised by what I have seen so far with Hades. I believe it’s currently still on sale as of this writing (I got it for $17), and it’s definitely worth a look. If you played and enjoyed Dead Cells, I highly recommend Hades. It essentially plays like an isometric Dead Cells with more story and personality. Give it a look!