With Hades charging on to the PS5, we got a pretty good chance to look at one of the most widely-praised games of 2020. The PS5 upgrade doesn’t introduce anything particularly new to Hades- but it doesn’t need to, since it’s pretty much solved all of its problems in Early Access.
You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, lord of the Dead. Wanting to escape the Underworld and join the rest of the Olympians, Zagreus needs to fight through the ever-changing labyrinth of the Underworld, fighting through every monstrous peril waiting for him.The catch? If he dies, he gets sent back to Hades’ palace, where he’ll have to start again and the chambers shift to a new layout.
My New Favorite Roguelite
So, Hades solves one of my biggest gripes with the roguelite genre- the weapons. In games like Dead Cells, I’d always whine about dying, losing my weapons and having to start back with something random every time. Hades gives you a fair degree of control over your runs- you choose your weapon at the start of your run, and you can grab an additional keepsake to go with it to give you passive skills. Some of these can even guarantee Boons, which act as the randomized upgrades endemic to Roguelites.
You’ll also be able to see the rewards for each chamber before you start them. This is another huge feature, since a lot of roguelites tend to like throwing you in the deep end, never telling you what the rewards are going to be. With Hades, your time feels really respected, and the challenge comes more from your ability to make informed decisions despite knowing the game is a dice roll, rather than just pitting you against the dice the whole way through.
It also does one more thing that throws it way over Returnal– a straightforward system to let you carry progress between runs, including an instant respawn. By collecting Darkness, Zagreus can upgrade some abilities permanently. Death Defied is arguably the best of these, and isn’t hard to get within your first few runs if you set your mind to it- it lets you die and then immediately resurrect with a fraction of your health, soothing the pain of losing a “perfect” run by giving you another go.
Some would argue this might cheapen the roguelite experience, but they can stuff it. Roguelites have always been about being more forgiving than the brutally hardcore rogue-likes, which abhor any kind of carryover progress. It still preserves the spirit of the gameplay- but lets players not beat themselves up over stupid mistakes by giving them more tools to maintain good runs, and then die to the parts SuperGiant actually wanted you to die to (Looking at you, Bone Hydra).
Another thing I really like is the Boon system, which adds modifiers to Zagreus’ tool kit. Each God has certain playstyles associated with them, such as Poseidon being based around knocking enemies back or Ares focus on the Doom status and area-of-effect Blade Rifts. You get to choose from three of them, randomized with the numbers tweaked.
Even if the numbers aren’t great, some of the Gods’ abilities more than make up for it- Athena can infuse your dash with a shield, reflecting projectiles back at enemies. Considering the first boss, Megaera literally goes all Touhou on you, weaponizing your dash becomes a great way to end that fight much quicker.
There’s also the high-risk high-reward Chaos Boons- given by Primordial Chaos, who exists in special chambers. These start off as debuffs- causing enemies to drop bombs and the like. But after completing a pre-set number of chambers, they’ll transform into great boons for Zagreus.
On top of that , your weapon can get upgraded too, by way of Daedalus Hammers. These will drastically change up your moveset, turning weapons like the single-target lance into just beasts as you beat everything down with shotgun-spray and extended range.
Mechanical brilliance aside, a lot of why people stick around with Hades boils down to its great characters. Despite only using single-sprites for most characters, Hades’ cast all exude personality- Just comparing Achilles and Ares, you see do very different personalities despite their poses being so similar.
It’s also helped by the stellar voice acting- the cast of Hades absolutely knocks it out of the park, with every character effortlessly showing off the personalities of the Greek Pantheon.
It’s also got one thing I really appreciate that games who borrow Greek Mythology don’t do enough of- exploring just how mundane Greek myth is. Hades himself isn’t some sadist demon lord, he’s just an overworked recluse who hates his brothers. The Olympians themselves are really just a bunch of ego-driven narcissists, who will give you double-boon rooms then throw tantrums if you choose another God’s boon over theirs. Zeus isn’t some lord of justice, he’s an uncle desperate to seem cool in front of his nephew to spite his brother.
It just makes the whole Greek mythology feel fresh in a way a lot of games just don’t get right. It’s not just that its different- it’s also good. Hades in this game is probably my second favorite interpretation of the lord of the Dead, closely following up Disney’s Hades.
You can also build up bonds with these characters too, by talking to them. You can collect Nectar in the Underworld, offering them to both Olympians as well as characters like Hades’ wife Nyx to get more keepsakes. You’ll also have a codex, which will reveal more about all of these characters for those really smitten by the world Supergiant created.
When you get down to it, combat in Hades feels great as well. Zagreus moves responsively, dashing and slashing through the Underworld and fighting off the game’s hordes of enemies. His attack ranges are actually pretty large, so you never feel like you need to micromanage his positioning and the like, which is great because it’s easy to get lost in some of the levels where everything starts flying all over the screen.
My only real gripe is one of the enemy gimmicks, which is armor. It doesn’t really do anything interesting with regards to gameplay- all it does is take more hits to kill, and there are some boons which excel at reducing it. It’s kind of boring, and just makes rooms drag on longer than they should if you didn’t luck out and get an armor-stripping boon before you find them.
Additional Roguelite Enhancing Experience
Aside from that, there’s lots more stuff to enhance the roguelite experience. Killing bosses earns you Titan’s Blood, which lets you customize your weapons with different aspects based off of legendary heroes. These alter their movesets slightly, though more permanently than the Daedalus Hammer upgrades. You get Titan’s Blood by killing bosses with weapons for the first time, so it’s a great reason to learn all of Zagreus’ armory, instead of just focusing on a main.
Weapons will also be randomly enhanced before you choose them, granting you extra Darkness if you pick them for your next run. It’s a great way to reward you for changing things up, and creates its own sub-game- making Darkness runs where the objective isn’t to escape, it’s to just farm more darkness.
There’s also items, purchaseable from Charon’s shop. These can be pretty big buffs to your playstyle, with one of them even restoring a charge of Death Defied. You’ll really have to commit to getting them though, since you’ll need to choose chambers that reward you with coins instead of other upgrades.
Finally, you can also renovate the Underworld, adding new chambers like a healing fountain, or chests that give you better rewards for clearing the rooms faster.
Petting The Dog On The PS5
Like I said earlier, the PS5 upgrade isn’t much in the way of Hades. While it does use the Dualsense haptics, it’s only for slight bumps and the like instead of the more elaborate showcase Returnal put on. While the fast loading is appreciated, you never really feel it considering Hades isn’t a particularly visually intensive game.
That being said, there is one important PS5 feature in the game- you can pet Cerberus, the family dog, and the game uses your adaptive triggers to mimic Cerberus’ growling. It’s a total gimmick, but a fun one nontheless.
Suffice to say, Hades is absolutely worth the hype. Considering how great it looks on the PS5 too, its the re-release is definitely something fans of roguelites, good action games or just good games in general should definitely go and check out.
Like all roguelites, it does come with the motivation warning- if watching all your perfect boons go up in flames is a turn-off, then maybe steer clear of the game. But that’s a genre problem, considering the cycle of loss is endemic to roguelites as a whole.
Unlike Returnal you can also save midway during your run, so definitely check out the game when you can since not even sudden onset dinner time will stop you from escaping.
Game reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by publisher.
- Excellent combat
- Great Quality of Life features
- Actually likable characters
- Armor mechanic is kind of boring