While Supergiant's roguelike Hades launched in 2020 to both critical acclaim and commercial success, it's now coming to Xbox and PlayStation platforms for the first time. I got a chance to play Hades on Xbox Series X ahead of its August 13 release date. Having not played the title before, I was thrilled to discover it's a phenomenal experience that shines on Microsoft's latest high-end gaming hardware.
Dash, deflect, run, backstab, repeat. Clear the area, bash, repeat. Die to that hydra's fireball you almost managed to dodge, repeat. So is the life of Zagreus, son of Hades, Prince of the Underworld. He's not content with staying put in his father's wind-deprived, shade-sheltering kingdom anymore and wants to find Persephone, his mother. To do that, he has to battle his way out the various levels of the underworld, taking on iconic figures from Greek Mythology — or getting help from them.
Despite the difficulty of the hectic battles, Hades is an incredibly forgiving roguelike, something that works well with the design and should make anyone wary of jumping in happy to take the leap. You have plenty of different ways to slowly increase Zagreus' capabilities and if for whatever reason that's not enough, God Mode allows you to enjoy the experience while being sure to survive longer and longer with each try, reducing the damage you can take upon each death.
The gameplay feels incredibly strong, though you should be forewarned that your hands will get a workout from just how frenetic things can get. Overall, I feel comfortable saying it's one of the best Xbox games I've played all year.
The very nature of the game is dying and learning from it, so I was happy to find that even early on, clearing a region doesn't take more than about 10 to 15 minutes. A whole run to the final boss can easily clock in under 45 minutes. Even if you fall well before then, you're practically guaranteed to pick up at least some resources that can be used for Zagreus' permanent progression. As a result, it's almost impossible for a run to feel "wasted" even if you barely manage to clear a few rooms.
I practically never felt frustrated, with a small handful of exceptions where I wasn't able to get my health back due to random rolls of what was on offer, limping from room to room until my inevitable death at the hands of the ever-obnoxious braggart Theseus and his minotaur companion. Fortunately, this experience was the extreme exception, not the rule. Across the remainder of my other 30+ runs, I only ever felt excitement and wonder at what new secrets I'd unlock.
Even dying to the final boss of the game — multiple times — instilled less a sense of exhaustion and more a fervent energy to immediately try again, the tiny new permanent upgrades giving me an ever-so-slight renewed confidence. Zagreus is cocky and confident, so I couldn't help but grin every time he'd push on, with his extended family on Olympus chiming in with helpful advice from time to time.
This desire to jump back in is aided by the sheer variety of, well, everything and how no experience ever feels the same. Cliche as that phrasing is, it's true here. There's an absurd amount of varying dialogue depending on which boons are earned in which order, which weapons are equipped, which enemies managed to kill you, and more. Plus, load times are never an issue thanks to the SSD storage inside Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. Combined with Quick Resume, I never saw a single loading screen outside of the first time I booted the game when playing it for the very first time.
Speaking of the characters, the entire game looks great, with 4K visuals bringing out superb detail in the art. Every single character is lovingly drawn, with a style of artwork that's downright gorgeous and dare I say, horny. Appropriately, that visual style loops right back in on the gameplay, setting apart every god boon in the game. From deflection-heavy Athena to the chilling powers of Demeter, Poseidon's waves to Zeus' iconic lightning, you understand at an instant what every ability does as you grow and evolve your arsenal.
Yet at the heart of Hades is a story that resonates hard. I'm sure I'm not the first, second, or third to make this observation, but the themes certainly feel relevant to the current situation much of the world finds itself in, wanting to go outside and feeling confined for what seems like forever. It's a compelling story paired with compelling characters, as I found myself identifying with and rooting for Zagreus.
As he struggles seemingly in vain to reach the outside world, it resonated hard with the struggles I've faced through 2021, a year that has been anything but kind to me and most of my friends. Earlier this year, I lost my cat of four years. I've lost friends to the ongoing pandemic. Struggling through this beautiful game, feeling the desire to push onwards immediately after failing, it's the catharsis I needed. If Zagreus can push out of every torment in his father's domain, I can also try to push out of my struggles.
No easy way out
Perserve for Persephone
Hades is an incredible game that simply shouldn't be missed. If you've held off so far, the Xbox version makes great use of Quick Resume, so journeying back into the depths for one more run never feels tiring.
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