Developer: Supergiant Games (Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre)
Supergaint Games has gathered accolades for each their previous titles Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. After a brief stint away from hack and slash with Pyre this developer has returned to it by giving us early access to HADES, currently only available on PC. After spending some time playing their new game, I am happy to report that Supergaint continues to refine their storytelling while providing engaging combat in this underworld themed hack and slash.
The last decade of indie games has given birth to amazing titles that have leveraged strong roguelike elements, but have also seamlessly blended in story and HADES is the latest entry to do so. Each attempt at the dungeon progresses character building but also weaves a tale of the world around you. While only similar to games like Enter the Gungeon and Dead Cells in the roguelike elements, HADES also shares their high quality polish and is a blast to play.
You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades. You begin the game in the court of Hades where souls are lined up awaiting to be judged by the lord of the underworld himself. Zag, seemingly fed up with his father, finds an open window in the armory and with a rebellious leap he begins his first attempt to escape hell. Encouraged from afar by your aunts and uncles in Olympus, Zag must conquer different zones of hell as he climbs up toward Olympus in his defiant attempt to escape. In each zone he encounters a lengthy boss fight before he is able to move onto the next. Once Zag is defeated, and you will be defeated many times, he reappears in the court of Hades.
Supergiant did an amazing job using voiced dialogue in breathing life into the game world with over 10,000 voiced lines of dialogue. Each time you perish Zag and other npcs voice a comment on the encounter that had defeated him as he emerges from a pool of dead souls. The npcs available to speak with often move around and change with each death offering new voiced dialogue with each return to your home. Your conversations are tracked, speaking with an npc often opens another dialogue track with another npc. In this manner Supergiant progresses the story of the game, shedding new light on Zag's motivation and more detail about the world around you. The underworld feels alive and connected to your own actions, creating a great sense of self that continued to amaze even after 30 runs.
As you progress in the dungeon most rooms offer a choice of what type of reward you will be fighting for in the next room. Elements of strategy emerge in your choices whether to gather coin, character/base enhancements, or weapon enhancements. Further strategic choices come in stations that reward you for battling additional enemies in that room. Your most precious resource being health is in constant attack as you progress to the boss fights. Standard rooms can be difficult and the key is to hold onto as much health as you can for the boss fights where the difficulty goes up a notch or two.
The combat requires you to be fast and fluid, your weapon of choice for this escape attempt will get enhanced by Olympian gods giving you boons as you progress. Fully voiced and diverse dialogue continue to shine through here, the gods even comment on your current arsenal of boons as you gather new ones.
Each weapon can be enhanced in unique ways depending on which Olympian enhances it, Zeus, Dionysus, and Artemis just to name a few. These enhancements vary and will can change the way your weapon deals damage, adding effects like poison, adding knockback, enhancing attack range, and others that affect Zag himself. Each run can be fairly unique because of your choices on which room reward to pursue and the wide variety of enhancements and game currencies.
Improvements to be made...
In some cases the combat can feel a bit monotonous at the start. Using your cast, which is one of the three main attacks, can feel like an after thought. If not upgraded it can be difficult to use in combat because the projectile is much slower than most anything else you'll be doing. This break in rhythm is noticeable and hopefully Supergiant speeds it up in later updates to the game.
In later stages combat can become very hectic making it difficult to notice if Zag is taking damage from an enemy attack. Certain traps and enemies can mask damage being taken and the health bar is quite out of sight to notice you're being hurt. Some additional minor complains about the mouse speed in menus and borderless fullscreen not functioning as expected also bugged me, but I can expect the Supergiant to remedy these minor complaints by the full release of the game.
Should you buy now?
While the game is in early access, where it is not yet fully complete though available to purchase and play, it already has a whole year of development behind it as it progresses toward the full release in 2020. The game's dialogue is fully voiced, from npc dialogue to observational text. The game currently offers four weapons with two empty slots for later additions. There is a ton of polish and the game plays bug free.
HADES in its current state gets a strong recommendation from us at Loot Saga. At the time of writing this early access review we were playing version 0.23##, and the game still has many major version upgrades to come as it progresses toward the 1.0 release. When considering whether to pick up the game now or later, we can safely say that you will not be disappointed in picking up it now. The combat is fun, the voiced dialogue and world feel fairly complete, and there is definitely enough to explore to fill 10-15 hours of gameplay as you build both character and base.