PLATFORM: PC, SWITCH (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Zagreus, the immortal Prince of the Underworld, is a bit fed up with the idea of spending eternity in Hell with his grumpy father, Hades. His repeated attempts to leave the Underworld are met with nothing but scorn and mockery, but that only makes him more determined to escape. With your help, and assistance from the Gods of Olympus, perhaps Zagreus might have a fighting chance after all...
Players fight their way through connected rooms (known here as “encounters”) until eventually taking down a boss and moving on to the next floor. If Zagreus dies, it's back to the House of Hades where any loot that had been collected can be used to upgrade various powers before heading out for another attempt. It's a fairly standard roguelite formula, but Hades executes it way better than many other titles have done.
Each room you visit contains a reward of some sort, usually either a power-up, some extra health or one of various types of currency. Earning this reward involves killing everything in the room using simple single-button attacks to perform standard or special moves, a projectile “cast” spell or a “call” which brings one of the game's Gods into play to deal massive damage. Six different weapons are available and they all feel very different to each other in terms of the types of attacks they can perform. You'll definitely come to rely on a favourite, but there are rewards for increasing your skill with each individual weapon so it's well worth varying your loadout.
The power-ups on offer are themed to match the personality of the God that offers you the upgrade – Dionysus, the delightfully laid back and flirty God of Wine, allows you to inflict a hangover status effect on your enemies, for example. Each God offers a choice of three upgrades so you can choose which of your attacks you'd like to enhance, allowing you to concentrate on the attacks that best suit your playstyle, and the randomly generated nature of the game – which includes changing up which Gods you might meet in each run – means that you'll almost always end up with a unique combination of abilities. Being a roguelite means that these buffs are all lost upon death, but there are still plenty of ways to permanently increase your chances of making a successful escape.
Back in the House of Hades, Zagreus can trade items, purchase permanent attack upgrades and even renovate the building itself, adding new rooms and generally making things look a bit more homely. The effects of almost everything you do can be felt in the dungeons, as Zagreus becomes more and more powerful and slowly chips his way further out of hell. Alongside the Gods, there are many other characters to interact with, all fully-voiced (serious in tone but still very tongue in cheek) and some of them – the Gods in particular – are way more of a riot than you might expect them to be.
Hades builds on the developers' previous releases Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, and combines this with nearly two years' worth of feedback from its time in early access to make a really exceptional roguelite. Beautiful comic book-style visuals, fluid and fast-paced gameplay and an incredibly addictive upgrade loop (it really is the ultimate in “oh, go on then, just one more try...”) put the game up there with the absolute best in the genre. If you're a fan of this type of game, Hades is a must for your collection.