It feels like forever since I first saw Hades, it was announced back in 2018 at The Game Awards as one of the first titles to launch on the newly released Epic Games Store as a one-year timed Early Access exclusive. Twelve months later it came to Steam, still in Early Access, with the launch of the Switch edition in September of 2020 marking the official release of the finished game. Now, finally, gamers on both PlayStation and Xbox platforms can get their hands on this multi-award-winning title – but was it worth the wait?
Hades was developed by Supergiant Games, the creators of previous critically acclaimed titles such as Bastion and Transistor. As such, even without playing the game or knowing anything about it, you know it’s going to be something special. Although the digital edition of the game is also published by the developer, the physical editions are provided by Private Division and come complete with a 32-page character compendium booklet and a download code for the soundtrack (which is well worth picking up for only £5 more than the digital edition).
The game came out last week and I’ve found it incredibly difficult to stop playing – I’ve grabbed the platinum after ~70 hours and experienced everything the game has to offer – but is it really worthy of the many GOTY awards it received? Let’s find out…
Despite the title of the game, you don’t actually control Hades, the game revolves around Zagreus, Hades’ son. You are the immortal Prince of the Underworld, trapped in your father’s realm for eternity whether you like it or not. However, the threat of death and failure isn’t going to stop you from trying to escape, as you head into the unknown hoping you’ll make it out to the land of the living in one piece.
Thankfully, due to your father being a God, death isn’t the end for our otherworldly protagonist, dying simply results in you emerging from the bloody Pool of Styx located in the House of Hades. Before heading out again, facing the creatures and champions that stand in your way once more, you can invest various treasures you’ve brought back with you into upgrades and new enhancements so you can possibly progress further before returning home as a reborn victim.
As the story unfolds you’ll discover the true reason for you heading out and why you’re so determined to see the light of day, even if you’ll die many times in the process. Although you face this journey alone, you have the support of your friends and family (other Gods) who’ll give you boons (enhancements) along your way, random abilities and upgrades that only last for that particular run. It’s a roguelike experience that may take a while to show any positive progression, but once you get into the swing of things and upgrade your gear, you’ll eventually become an unstoppable badass!
Hades is a roguelike isometric hack-and-slash action game, throwing you into the deep end straight away, so expect to die over and over again. In order to escape the underworld you must work through four regions, each with its own boss, made up of around 15-20 small combat arenas that are randomised within each run. The majority of the rooms you enter are occupied by spawning enemies and various environmental traps, requiring you to eliminate all of your foes before being allowed to move into the next area.
Upon killing all the enemies, you’re rewarded with a ‘boon’. This can be money, a new skill or ability, or the option to upgrade one of the boons you already possess. You know what the room will contain before you enter it, via a symbol over the door, and sometimes you have the option of multiple doors yet often you’ll only have the one (early success will usually come from getting lucky with what the game offers you).
Once you die, all money, boons, and upgrades are lost, with only the gems, purple shards, and bond-based objects you have collected being retained for permanent enhancements and unlocking new items.
Although it may seem like Hades will be repetitive, due to you potentially facing the same enemies and region designs over and over again, each time you rise from the crimson waters in your father’s office, everyone has something new to say as you try to raise your bonds with them.
The narrative kept me invested and interested throughout the 70+ hours I played over the last seven days, I don’t recall any repetition with the dialogue aside from a few NPCs when I’d not fulfilled what they asked me to do – towards the end, I was simply playing past obtaining the platinum just to see what else everyone wanted to say to me!
I loved the combat in Hades, it was incredibly smooth and responsive, giving you the choice of six weapons that all have their own unique playstyle and mechanics. Due to the amount the camera is zoomed out and how simple the controls were, the combat reminded me a lot of Ys IX – it’s very fast-paced and satisfying as you chain together combos and alternate between your light, heavy, and special attacks. But, the great thing about the combat in Hades is that every run will be different depending on what boons you pick up.
For example, pressing Circle will cause the protagonist to throw a red shard into the enemy, delivering a decent amount of damage. This is retrieved by killing them or waiting for it to eventually drop out of their body after a short while (it’s not unlimited). However, certain boons will turn this projectile into a mortar-like trajectory, a short but more powerful burst, or even create a snowy explosion upon impact which also damages other enemies nearby. You’ll also find enhancements for your dash (Cross), leaving flaming wheels as you sprint or causing lightning to fall from the sky and chain-attack whoever you bump into.
You have six weapons to choose from, unlocking them as you progress, paying with items you obtain by eliminating the boss of each region. My preferred weapon was the initial sword, as it provides a balanced combination of speed and power, especially when enhanced with a shockwave via Zeus’ boon – so you can attack from a distance instead of getting up close to your foes. However, the spear, bow, fists, and shield were also great to use, with only the gun being the one I actively avoided using due to its slow speed and overall ‘clunky’ feeling.
As with any great roguelike, you’ll feel yourself gradually getting further each time you die and try again, thanks to the ability to upgrade your weapons and stats. With Hades, the majority of the personal enhancements come via the use of the magic mirror Nyx has placed within your bedroom. Here you can spend the purple gems you’ve stashed away from each attempt at escaping this hellish prison, increasing things such as the amount of damage you inflict on enemies the first time you hit them, restoring a small amount of health each time you enter a room, restoring half your health instead of dying, and increasing your chances of being offered a rare, epic, or legendary ranking boon.
Each of the twelve boosts have various levels, increasing the benefit you get with each step, later doubling to 24 boosts requiring you to choose one or the other as only twelve can be active at once.
Within the game itself, the boons you obtain are your dynamic progression items, shifting the tides of war in your favour if you’re lucky or strategic. Each God has a set number of boons to offer, but they’ll only offer three at a time, yet the ones they offer are random. Certain rarer boons will only be offered if you already have specific boons from the same God within your arsenal, you’ll even sometimes have the option to pick a Duo if you have certain boons from multiple Gods (more powerful bonuses that combine the elemental powers of two Deities).
In terms of enhancing your weapons, you won’t really begin to do this for a while – due to the number of successful runs you’ll have to complete for payment. Each of the six weapons have four variants, each one offering different abilities or statistical bonuses. Each of those has five levels which further enhances the unique bonuses. Unlocking the final version of each was a little confusing, as I have no idea how I did it, but buying them is essential if you’re going for the platinum.
Wealth or power?
You’ll often find yourself having to make crucial decisions within Hades – will you take the door that leads to a weapon power-up, will you grab a boon from a God, should you get some gems for future runs, take the money, or reject all of these and go see Chaos in another dimension and lose health in the process? Chaos is the interesting one as you have to sacrifice health to go see them and the boon they provide has an initial negative effect in exchange for a positive one – for example, in the next four rooms you can’t pick up any money, but then you’ll have 38% additional attack power.
The money you collect, when allowed, is lost upon death or successfully completing a run – so what’s the point? Charon’s shop. Every now and again, one of the doors you can enter is a shop, or you’ll find a purple well in the corner of an arena room. In here, you can buy boons, health, additional uses of your companions, etc… There’s no need to be stingy with your cash, as you’ll only lose it anyway, so you’re encouraged to purchase these helpful items so you may last longer than five minutes in the underworld. There are even unique items such as giving you a 15% chance enemies will drop food upon defeat – as you don’t usually get any health from them otherwise.
Also, although you can carry many boons at a time, you can sacrifice up to three once you reach the end of a region or find a red fountain. Why would you want to do this? I often found myself picking certain boons because I was trying to complete the codex (by picking ones I’ve not had before), yet I then found out they weren’t very good. So, I scrapped them as soon as possible – if the game let me… Just like obtaining boons, the three you can choose to get rid of are also random once you click to use the fountain – so you’re not always guaranteed the option of removing the ones you don’t want.
Tasks, companions, and bonds
Hades is a very big game, not in terms of the locations or regions (as there’s only four) but in terms of the narrative and content to uncover. As I said at the beginning, I’ve played the game for over 70 hours and I’m still encountering dialogue and conversations with the NPCs which I’ve not heard before. You’re encouraged to talk to everyone at every opportunity – including when you rise from the dead and when you bump into certain people within the dungeons. Doing so will often expand the story, allow you to find out more about the people and their situations, and even get given new missions and tasks to complete.
The tasks were mainly things such as obtaining every boon from each god, completing a run with the six hidden weapons, freeing slaves from your father’s control, and helping out various NPCs. Most of them are straightforward but some were much more cryptic and tricky to figure out, I’d often complete them by chance when I was talking to various characters after I died. It seems some events trigger by random, some require you to do a specific thing and then do a few more runs of the dungeon, and some want you to raise other character’s bond levels before talking to them again.
By completing the tasks given to you for the NPCs, and raising their bonds by giving them Nectar and Ambrosia you find or trade for, you’ll progress the story, complete the codex, receive unique accessories, and even unlock one of the six companions. Accessories are equipped before a run or after completing a region, offering unique benefits such as ensuring you bump into a certain God, giving you another chance if you die, and allowing you to see Chaos without losing your health. The companions are summonable friends who’ll attack or distract the enemies for a set time, amount of damage, or until they die.
You can even give the Nectar to the Gods before you take a boon off them, also increasing your bond with them. One of the reasons the game took me so long to platinum is simply due to a late-game quest requiring me to befriend and gain favour with five of the nine Gods by raising their bonds to the maximum – that took far longer than I thought it would due to the random nature of the game and prior criteria you need to meet, which I wasn’t aware of in a number of instances.
IDDQD – aka, God Mode
Hades is a hard game, it’s intentionally brutal and unforgiving as you’re meant to die many times whilst gradually investing in upgrades and weapon enhancements. However, should you find the game ‘too hard’, or you simply want to play the game without possibly throwing your controller into the TV, you can enable ‘God Mode’ from the menu. However, forget what you think you know about the term God Mode, this isn’t invincibility, it’s simply an additional mechanic that removes a lot of the frustration out of the game early on.
God Mode, in Hades, is a feature that increases your defence by a whopping 2% every time you die. The initial boost (the first time you die) is around 20%, but from then on you only get 2% with each reboot – this tops out at 80% and, although it does certainly help make the run easier, there’s still a lot of challenge – especially when you start boosting the difficulty and pushing yourself to obtain new and better rewards. Speaking of…
Once you’ve successfully completed a full run and escaped the confines of the underworld, something happens which brings you right back to square one. As you’ve already obtained the four rewards for taking out the bosses, you unlock the Pact of Punishment! Basically, you can tweak many aspects of the game, increasing the difficulty by giving the enemies more health, making them appear in greater numbers, granting the bosses new abilities, increasing the prices of upgrades, or limiting the number of choices you have when picking up a boon.
If you wish to gain decent rewards from the bosses on a subsequent run (which you can use to upgrade your weapons or increase your bonds), then you must purposely increase the difficulty or swap to another weapon – each weapon has its own unlockable rewards in regards to the bosses.
Hades utilises the light bar on the DualSense controller, changing to the same colour as the God you’re currently talking to when picking a boon that’s being offered. This is a nice touch as most PS5 games don’t bother even enabling the lights anymore. It’s not an essential feature, but it’s one I like to see.
However, a feature that really confused me was the use of the DS adaptive triggers. Hades is mainly controlled with the four face buttons and the L1 and R1 triggers, L2 and R2 are used for summoning your companion and a God’s assistance (if you’ve got the boon related to this). As such, you’ll only pull the trigger a few times per run so the resistance and feedback aren’t really noticeable (which is understandable). But… there are two other occasions where the adaptive triggers are activated…
First of all, Hades has Cerberus as a pet – a three-headed dog. You can pet this dog whenever you like. But, if you choose to pet it and then hold down either the L2 or R2 trigger, the adaptive feedback will cause the triggers to push and vibrate as if you’re stroking the dog and it’s growling (or how you can feel a kitten purr as you stroke it). Pointless but interesting. Secondly, when you’re fishing (oh yeah, you can fish once you’ve unlocked the rod), you can hold the R2 trigger to feel the lure in the water as it vibrates and wriggles about. This one really is pointless as R2 does NOTHING for the fishing mechanics, you cast and pull in with the R1 trigger, so I have no idea why resistance was added at this point.
The game has an activity card, but it’s not a very useful one. It only appears if you’ve quit mid-run, so you can continue where you were up to, and it doesn’t allow the game to boot up any faster than performing a cold boot from the dashboard – although that’s not slow, taking only a few seconds to get you back into the game.
PS4 to PS5 upgrade?
Before the game launched, there were two listings on PSN. One was for the PS4 and one for the PS5 – sometime in the last week or so, these had been converted into cross-buy products. Basically, if you buy the PS4 version physically, or the digital edition of the game, you’ll get both the PS4 and PS5 versions of Hades in one purchase. As far as I’m aware, if you buy the PS5 physical edition then you’ll only get the PS5 version (our review code was for the PS5 version and that also didn’t give us the PS4 edition).
In terms of transferring save data – there is no option to do this. The Switch supposedly got an option to import save data from the PC, but neither the PlayStation nor the Xbox versions can import saves from any other platform – the PS5 can’t import from the PS4 either, or vice-versa. As such, if you do pick up the PS4 version for the free upgrade, expect to invest around 70+ hours into each version if you wish to unlock the two platinum trophies. My advice, if you have a PS5, just play that version as it’s a full 4K at 60fps and it runs beautifully.
Issues (Possibly no longer a problem)
During my 70 hours of gameplay, Hades crashed on me 13 times. This happened randomly when I’d been playing for long periods (5+ hours) or when it had just come out of rest mode. If it crashed during a boss fight, the saved data would start me off before the run had begun, meaning I’d just wasted around 40 minutes. My solution, I would close the game down fully, from the dashboard, every 2 or 3 runs, then load it back up. However, the game got a patch just after I got the platinum and this has supposedly fixed the issue – if you do still have issues though, just close the game and re-open it if you’re playing for many hours at a time.
As stated above, I have managed to unlock the platinum within Hades, after 85 attempts at escaping, 53 of which being successful, and over 29,000 enemies slain. I used ‘God Mode’ as I love the genre but I do get very frustrated if I end up hitting a brick wall, so I enabled it to ensure I felt like I was progressing (even when dying). There are no missable trophies, you’ll continuously be allowed to venture into the underworld and attempt an escape, even after you’ve ‘completed’ the game.
The only trophies I found tricky were a few involving completing certain tasks, as I couldn’t figure out how to even trigger the task! After looking at a popular trophy guide website, I was still none the wiser as they didn’t actually state what to do, just you had to complete it. I eventually figured it out myself but it didn’t feel like I was wasting time trying to figure it out, the solution came to me whilst also working on unlocking the highest levels on all my accessories (which requires beating around 2,000 rooms full of enemies).
It’s a long game to unlock the platinum, but it’s a lot of fun and well worth it. My only complaint would be the lack of variety. There are only four regions (with the last being very simple and short) and due to the fact each room is hand-drawn and not procedurally generated, you’ll find yourself in the same rooms over and over again considering the number of times you have to work through them. The narrative and dialogue I had with the NPCs kept me interested post-dying or completing the run, but I was burnt out on seeing the same rooms at around the 30-hour mark. My advice, play the game in short bursts, maybe one or two runs a night, don’t invest 10+ hours a day into it as I did!
Hades is a gorgeous-looking game, it’s very colourful and detailed with an art design that’s instantly recognisable as a Supergiant Games game. The animation is very smooth and satisfying to look at, the enemy design is great, and the various regions all have their own personality and identity. I would love to live in the House of Hades, so I don’t know why our protagonist was so hell-bent on getting out of there!
Two other things I simply have to praise are the voice acting and the music. Everything is voiced by very talented people, delivering their lines perfectly as they get into character and immerse you completely. I had to look up the actor who played Hades as he reminded me of Kratos as he can’t stop calling his son “boy” with the same tone and delivery as it’s done in God of War. But, alas, it’s not the same person. The music is incredible, the entire soundtrack is brilliant, making each battle feel epic and legendary. You can even unlock all of the songs in-game using the diamonds you earn by defeating the bosses.
In regards to the soundtrack, you can listen to it on Spotify, or you can grab it by buying the physical edition of the game. However, it’s not available on PSN – which I feel is a mistake! When you have a soundtrack as good as this, offer it on PSN as downloadable ‘additional content’, as The Falconeer did.
I have to agree, Hades deserved every single award and critically acclaimed review it received, it’s one of the best roguelike games I’ve played on PlayStation. The visuals, voice acting, music, and gameplay all work perfectly together, creating a very polished, addictive, and challenging, yet rewarding experience which you’ll instantly become hooked on and find hard to put down. The game does suffer from a lack of variety when you’re playing in long sessions, but that’s because the game is beautifully hand-crafted rather than procedurally generated, so it’s to be expected. If you’re not mesmerised by the satisfying combat, strategically planning your upgrades and boon pick-ups, or wiping your sweaty palms after an intense boss fight, you’ll be fully engaged with the brilliant narrative and interesting NPC interactions.
TL;DR: Hades is a brilliant game, if you’ve not already bought it, go and buy it right now!
- - Visually stunning and runs super smooth
- - Very satisfying combat and thanks to the boons, every run is different
- - The music and voice acting are perfect, fully immersing you in the world
- - You progress at a decent speed, feeling like you're getting better every time you re-enter the underworld
- - You get both the PS4 and PS5 versions if bought digitally or you buy the PS4 physical edition
- - There's not much variety with the combat arenas, but this is due to the hand-crafted environment
- - It can be frustrating for the first 15-20 hours, until you've upgraded your gear and stats
- - The soundtrack isn't on PSN!