Hades (2020)

Run based games have become extremely popular over the last several years. They go by different names, but really what they are at their core is games where you repeatedly restart the game and have to continue to progress further, and each time you restart, you will get permanent upgrades that will allow you to get further into the game and eventually complete it. Hades is that type of game, and one I originally stayed away from.

While the game itself was announced in an ongoing YouTube documentary called NoClip, that follows the progress of games and developers, it also came out in early access, and stayed that way till September of 2020 where it officially came out in its 1.0 release. When the game finally came out, it received so much praise that it was almost hard to take it seriously. Part of it was also the fact that people were fawning over the games characters and art design. This new wave of online culture seemingly gets attracted to these fictional characters and drawings that it starts bordering on psychotic, and it’s really off putting. Which is why I stayed away from the game until it came to Xbox GamePass in August 2021 a mere 11 months after it came out officially on PC.

With that out of the way, let's actually talk about the game. The main character is Zagrus, the son of Hades, the lord of the underworld in Greek mythology. And this is what puzzles me about why I didn’t pick this game up earlier. I love Greek mythology and when I originally played God of War (the first PS2 game) I felt like it was a game made specifically for me. I love learning about all the different gods in that mythology, and all the lore about them all. So it kinda shocked me when I started seeing characters like Sysiphias and his giant boulder show up in the underworld.

So the main story is that Zagreus wants to leave the underworld, but his dad, Hades, doesn’t want him to. Zagreus attempts to get out, Hades basically contracts all sorts of people in the underworld to attack him in the labyrinthian layout. Also the layout keeps changing, so there is no way to memorize the route to get there (Which gives the roguelike quality of these types of games). Everytime Zagreus is defeated and killed, he ends up climbing out of a pool of blood at the steps of his father’s waiting room.

Zagreus seems like a pretty likable character, and his interactions with all the other staff and people who inhabit the hub world of Hades’ working chambers and Zagreus’ bedroom are all interesting. The story progresses very slowly, and that is partly because each run takes a long time, and as you start getting further in your runs, they also take much longer. Getting to Hades can take around 45 minutes sometimes, for a single run.

And that’s one of the complaints I have with this game, and games of this type too. I am not a fan of doing things over again once I’ve already done them. And these games are exactly that. Sure, they change up the levels and placement of enemies, but it is essentially just doing the same thing over and over and over again, and it just wears thin at a point.

They do make things easier every time you play though. Each run, different olympian gods send you a message in the form of a symbol or “Boon”. The boon is labeled with the different gods’ symbols. They bestow upon Zagreus (who is a family member of the gods) with different perks that only stay applied for that specific run. Each time you die, you lose any of the perks. You gain several forms of currency during each run too, some, like regular money can be used at a shop in the game to use on specific one time items, and some currency stays with you even after you die. You can spend some on the court architect to add to rooms that will help you in your runs, or even spruce up your room. Some can be used to give you permanent upgrades throughout the game, like damage resistance, or cheating death once or twice during your run.

These boons and currency and upgrades all help immensely, and to even further it more, you can get gifts to give to the various people you talk to, and they’ll offer you charms to equip on your runs as well, some offering buffs like more damage dealt, or some allowing you to gain more money on runs. Along with all of that, the game provides multiple weapons to unlock and once you start doing enough runs and completing bosses, you earn another currency that will upgrade your weapon too. At some point though, it can feel a bit overwhelming and also like just a little too much as well. Do I need to really manage like 6 different types of currency in the game? Seems to me like designing the game to be a tad less difficult would be a better way to go, but that’s just me.

And all of this just complies to the real issue of the game. It’s frustrating to have to start the game, and play through all the levels, sometimes lasting half an hour or more, and then die, and then just get back up and start all over again. All the while, losing any of your perks you had that first time through. It’s just exhausting, and like I said before, I really don’t like re-doing things over again once I’ve done them. If I didn’t have to re-defeat the boss for each level, I think I would have a lot more patience and wouldn’t have as big of an issue.

The bosses are the ones I have the hardest time with. I continually can get up to the boss of a level without too much difficulty, and rarely ever actually get damaged. But the boss fights are so frantic, and also change up with every run too, that it just becomes chaotic and stressful, and I end up losing most if not all of my life in a single room. Some charms and boosts allow me to continue the fight even if my health gets to zero, but that is only once per run, and usually I only have a few hits left and then it gets activated. If I could have only not gotten hit in those last few seconds, I could have kept it for another level. I just feel really infuriated when that happens.

While the gameplay itself is really fun, I find that the story is what keeps me coming back though. I’m down for some good ol’ solid action hack and slash gameplay mechanics, but the story unfolds and reveals more of itself as you play. At first you have no idea why Zagreus is trying to escape the underworld, or why Hades is trying to stop him, but it becomes clearer in dialog and cutscenes as the game progresses.

Hades is a really great run based game, but really does suffer from the fact that the game requires so much time with rinse and repeat death loop mechanics. Again, if the game's difficulty and length were tweaked a bit in the player’s favor, I could see myself recommending it much more. But I had a few friends who played it and after they realized they had to start over from the beginning, they dropped the game. Luckily Xbox GamePass allows people to essentially play the game for free, to try it out and see if they like it. But I know my friends would never have tried it otherwise, and I know I wouldn’t have either. It’s a solid game, but having to restart from the beginning after dying is just tiring and hope crushing.