Supergiant Games are alright in my book. Bastion and Transistor were excellent games and musical masterpieces, and Pyre sure was a thing they did once. When I saw the announcement of Hades, there were a few things that instantly had me excited without even seeing gameplay. I was hopeful that it could approach, or exceed the same level of quality as Bastion and Transistor for another knock-out game in Supergiants’ library. Now that I’ve had a chance to play the Early Access build of Hades – extensively – I’m pretty happy so far. It still needs a lot of work and is missing a critical element in my view, but it’s absolutely on the right track. Hell, I’ve played it longer for a first impressions far longer than I have some games for full review.
“Or, in your case, all the time.”
You’re thrown into things without an introduction of any kind, the protagonist Zagreus having jumped out his bedroom window to make his escape from Hell. That’s the whole premise, really; as the son of Hades, you’ve decided it’s time to blow this joint and Dad’s none too happy about it. Hijinks ensue. Things are pretty slow to get going gameplay wise, with the odd tutorial pop-up, some brief exposition snippets, and just general unfamiliarity with everything bogging you down. The pace picks up, however, and by the end of my first escape attempt, the controls felt like second nature. It helps that they’ve kept the basics quite similar to their previous titles, making it much easier to pick up for anyone who’s played those games.
I love the speed and chaotic nature of the combat, with levelling being a combination of a controlled system driven by collected crystals and random pick-ups from the Gods. That last bit seems entirely appropriate, given the Greek mythology themes. For me, the Dark Souls-esque strategy of constantly dodging is in full effect, pretty much at all times. However, smart (and sometimes lucky) choices when levelling your abilities can make even dodging a deadly part of your strategy. It isn’t hard to alter your playstyle part-way through a run, either, taking different power-ups to handle different situations. This flexibility makes the whole thing feel much less likely that you’ll die just from a single bad choice.
And when you bet on Zeus, it’s never a bad choice, amirite?
On the other hand, the difficulty curve becomes a sheer cliff from the second world onwards. This has nothing to do with your choices in levelling or play, and everything to do the game thinking that “increased challenge” is the same as “flood the room with monsters.” I really hope this will be addressed in the upcoming January patch, as this design approach isn’t necessary considering what’s already there. Enemies in the second world are beefier, having better abilities, and are generally require more planning in your attacks. This is how you increase the challenge, and they’d already done it – they just then went on to overdo it by leaving the enemy cloning machine turned on. It’s fixable, however, and I’m confident that Supergiant will smooth it out. At the very least, I’m amazed that this is still an Early Access title and I’ve yet to encounter a single technical fault or rough area. It’s weird that we have to praise that kind of thing these days, but here we are: Kudos, Supergiant, your unfinished game runs infinitely better than most big-budget releases.
My other gripe with the game, though this may be deliberate as it’s still only in Early Access, is the lack of a dramatic story driven by an excellent soundtrack. When I think about Bastion and Transistor, I immediately think of their OSTs before anything else. Just the music from those games alone tells a fantastic story, and when combined with the gameplay made for some of the most incredible, touching, and intensely emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in games. That’s not an exaggeration, I still listen to those albums frequently. I’m listening to Transistor’s right now as I write this. Hades doesn’t have that yet – the music is excellent, and is paired well with the action. But its story seems to be, by design, provided piece-meal, and that means there’ve been no dramatic story connections with the soundtrack just yet. It’s something that could be in the works, and maybe they’re deliberately holding back; perhaps this sounds like a weird thing to complain about, to begin with. However, in my mind, having that intertwined connection between music, story, and gameplay is what makes Supergiant’s games so special for me.
That, and the wonderful life advice that these games impart.
Hades is on-track to being an excellent game, even a potential GOTY contender for next year, depending on how the updates before release go. Familiar in its framework, yet unique in its execution, this is undeniably some of Supergiant Games’ best work already and makes for an addicting rogue-lite. The biggest complaints are in the balance of enemies being thrown at you, and in how the soundtrack is being worked into both the gameplay and narrative. Both of those things are fixable, though one is much more difficult to pull off than the other. I’m confident that Supergiant knows what they’re doing, however, and can’t wait to see what future updates and the eventual full release bring to Hades.