Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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Zagreus, son of Hades, god of the dead, wants to escape from the underworld to see the surface, where the mortals live, and to discover his heritage. His father is dead set on preventing this from happening. In this rogue-like video game, battle through chambers filled with hordes of Hades’ minions, slain heroes, and mortals undergoing punishment as you enlist the help of the Olympian gods to fight your way to the surface.

Hades is a charming, Greek mythology-inspired roguelike where you play as the prince of the Underworld. Your goal? To break out of the Underworld, fighting your way through Tartarus, Asphodel, Elysium, and the Temple of Styx.

Now, it took me roughly 80 attempts to escape from the Underworld. That is: 80 attempts before I realised that escaping wasn’t the end of the game, but the beginning. I think it’s fair to say that I am Bad At This Game.

Being awful at this game puts me in an excellent position to review it, of course. Difficult games are probably fun if you’re good at them (this is wild conjecture as I have never been good at a game ever). However, if you suck at a game and you still enjoy it and spend over 100 hours on it, the game probably has more to offer than just the challenge of beating it.

The absolute highlight of Hades for me is the music, written by Darren Korb (who also voices protagonist Zagreus). Do you need to focus? I swear the Hades soundtrack will whip you right into gear. The gameplay is also great, and while you can apply “technique” to your play, you can also smash some buttons over and over and still win – eventually. The game is visually stunning as well. Both the character portraits and environments are atmospheric and charming. Last but not least, Hades has a story that keeps you coming back. You may need to turn on God mode eventually to keep from dying all the time, but I can guarantee that you won’t put the game down until you’ve reached those end credits.

Lotte recommended Hades to me at a time when I could really use a quick-paced game with relatively little stakes to distract me, and I’ve played it since whenever I need to get my mind off things. I remember running the game for the first time after I installed it, seeing the Supergiant logo, and going ‘oh, that’s why’ – every singe one of their games I’ve played or seen is great. Hades is no exception.

Hades is a rogue-like in which you battle through four regions of the underworld and several bosses to finally escape to the surface to progress the story. Along the way, you receive rewards that upgrade your character for the duration of the run, as well as currency and rewards that you can spend between runs to make your character stronger for next runs or add variety to your encounters.

Like other rogue-likes, Hades is the kind of game that constantly makes you want to do another run just to try to get the perfect build, to try to get right combination of powers and upgrades to completely destroy this time. Luckily, the game gives you some tools to ensure some level of control over your build, so you actually have a decent chance to get to the combos you’re trying for.

Unlike, for example, Vampire Survivors, Hades actually requires a fair amount of skill (or, if you’re Lotte, you just button mash and it takes you 80 attempts to escape the first time… up to you :p). Especially the tougher boss battles are difficult to beat if you’re not constantly moving and positioning to get your attacks off. I found that as I was playing, I did not only get better because of the upgrades I bought, but also because I got better at dashing Zagreus around the chambers without accidentally ending up in the magma.

What is fascinating about this game, is that it constantly pretends you are done – only to then reveal there is another layer you haven’t yet discovered, be it more regions, more bosses, more weapons, weapon upgrades, abilities, difficulty settings, etc. Like Lotte, I was at first hyper-focussed on trying to reach ‘the end’ of the game and to escape to the surface, only to realise that that was effectively the ‘start’ of the main story. I’ve continued playing since, and now I mostly focus on either escaping with a number of handicaps turned on, or on getting the coolest build I can think of. And it keeps being fun!

There are just two things I can think of that would improve this game in my opinion. The first is adding slightly more guidance on the directions your progress can take you. I found that I was regularly just doing a thing hoping for the thing to be relevant, only to realise later that I I just spent my precious currency on an upgrade that would only help in about 20 more hours of gameplay. I was chatting with Lotte and she recommended equipping a certain thing, only for us to realise a couple minutes into the confused conversation that it was simply something that I hadn’t unlocked yet, but had no idea even existed. I still haven’t unlocked it, and I have no clue how to. I could look it up, of course, but that feels like cheating. The second possible improvement would be shortening the runs just slightly. Right now, I think they take up to about ~45 minutes (I have about 30-35 minutes on the timer in my quicker runs, but some interactions stop time). I feel a runtime of 20-30 minutes would make it just that bit easier to squeeze out a second run an evening, finish one during your commute, or quickly wrap up a run that’s not going your way.

I realise I’ve written almost an entire review about this game without mentioning the aesthetic – shame on me. Hades looks fantastic. Combat is clear and each of the gods has a distinctive style that is easy to recognise on the screen. More importantly, the character illustrations that pop up whenever you are talking to someone are amazing – my jaw dropped the first time I saw one. Combined with great voice acting, the art makes your encounters with the denizens of the underworld and the Olympians, which might easily have been annoying interruptions, an absolute pleasure.

Overall, Hades is a great game that I think everyone with an interest in action-packed games or Greek mythology should give a shot. And don’t just believe us – Hades won the first and so far, only Hugo awarded to a video game! Now that’s impressive.

Hades II, the first Supergiant sequel, has just been announced, and I cannot wait for it to drop – so make sure you play the first instalment during the wait!

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