Review: Hades (Xbox)

There were a lot of great releases in 2020, so many that playing through all of them was a daunting task. While several of the AAA and indie greats were played, there were a few that I just didn’t get to. Hades was one such title. It was on my radar thanks to Supergiant’s track record, gorgeous art style and my general interest in Greek mythology, but like many games that are on the must-play list it remained neglected. But thanks to the recent release on Sony and Microsoft, this seemed like a grand opportunity to plunge myself into the underworld and see if Hades lives up to the hype.

Before getting into the experience with Hades, let’s take a moment to address what these new versions bring to the table, as fans who already own Hades on one of the original platforms probably cares the most about that. The content of this new release is identical to the previous versions save for just a couple differences. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S have had their graphics enhanced to 4K resolution while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions run at 1080p. The Switch version allowed for cross save with the PC, but PC cross save is not supported with the Sony or Microsoft version due to the technical limitations and there currently are no plans announced to patch in this feature.

Greek myths are filled with tragedy, drama and all sorts of family dysfunction, and Hades delivers on all of this. The player takes on the role of Zagreus, son of Hades, who wishes to leave his father’s domain in the Underworld and reach Mount Olympus. Zagreus is aided by his adoptive mother Nyx along with many other gods from the Greek Pantheon. Hades of course is against this, trying to stifle Zagreus’s ascent to Olympus. Instead of trying to step up his father game and encourage his son to remain in the Underworld, he’s so against his son not wanting to follow in his footsteps he unleashes all the horrors of the underworld to impede Zagreus’s progress where even with all the boons the other gods give him, Zagreus will still die many, many times. Why Zagreus wants to leave the underworld isn’t entirely clear, but more details are revealed through flashbacks as the game progresses.

Many games these days are bogged down with tutorials that take forever to get into the gameplay and act as if they are written for people have never played a video game before. Hades thankfully doesn’t suffer from this problem. It knows what it is: a simple action roguelike where the player rushes off to battle with a variety of attacks, dies and comes back just a little bit stronger and can try again. Zagreus has basic melee and attacks along with some special moves, which change depending on what weapon he was equipped. He travels through procedurally-generated rooms in the underworld trying to make his escape with different rewards at the end of each room. Each room is filled with monsters trying to impede his progress to Charon and it’s the familiar drill of killing off all the enemies in a given room to open the path to the next room. It’s a simple formula and doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but the execution is superb. Each room has the enemy spawn points and trapped set up in a way to ensure the player will face a challenge but even in the busier rooms it never feels hopeless. Hades is a challenging game, but it’s one where each death has the player saying “one more try” which repeats a dozen or so times.

During the escape attempts Zagreus will collect a few different types of currency that can be used to make his difficult escape slightly less hellish. He can collect Cthonic Keys that can be used to purchase different types of weapons, all of which feel useful in battle but play differently which can range from shields to archery sets along with more traditional melee weapons. Darkness can be spent to increase his power, such as granting the ability to cheat death one time. Nectar is a particularly useful item which Zagreus can gift to any of the gods to grant him a bonus in his escape. The other gods all seem rather sympathetic to his cause, but seems like they could do just a bit more to help get to Olympus. Of course if they did that we wouldn’t have this game.

is a one of those games that just seems to fire on all cylinders. It doesn’t particularly do anything groundbreaking, but excels in its execution. The isometric hack n’ slash gameplay is refined to a such a degree that it exemplifies how this type of game should be. It’s simple but despite being procedurally-generated each room always feels meticulously constructed to provide the optimal challenging but fair experience. The gameplay is addictive and while there’s a lot of dying and starting a fresh run with new power up options, it never felt discouraging despite Hades best attempts at mocking Zagreus every time he spawned before the throne room after denizens of the underworld ripped him to shreds. On that note, the writing in the game actually helps keep things light hearted. Hades and Zagreus don’t have the best relationship, but all the gods seem sympathetic which over the course of the game paint an interesting picture of how everyone in Olympus relates to one another, though the focus is mostly on Zagreus and his pops.

The colorful stylized graphics of Hades come to life in HD, particularly with 4k playback. The underworld has never looked so colorful and the graphic quality and artistic direction are among the highlights. The soundtrack is composed by Darren Korb who has done work for other Supergiant games. The music not only accompanies the game perfectly, but it’s good music in its own right. The physical edition of Hades includes a code for the digital soundtrack which is a strong argument to get that edition over digital. At past events such as PAX there have been performances of Supergiant music and hopefully if those events become normal again, Hades music makes its way into the performance.

Closing Comments:

Hades already looked great, but experiencing it in 4k on current-gen consoles is a sight to behold. Hades received numerous accolades and critical acclaim during the previous year, all of which it remains worthy of here. Supergiant has a built a name for themselves with a small but consistent library of games and Hades may be their crowing achievement (so far). The story is relatable and well written, the graphics are gorgeous and the soundtrack is worthy of live performance. While those elements are important, what matters with a game is how fun it is to play, and with the simple-but-addictive gameplay, there’s no excuse not to play Hades now that it’s available on every platform.