Ares would be so proud
Hades was love at first sight for me. It has brilliant, stylized art which I love, roguelikes are one of my favorite game genres, and I was one of those kids from Greek mythology who was obsessed with the Percy series growing up . Check, check and check. My immediate enthusiasm for the game might have been predictable, but the fact that I'm still playing it over 250 hours and 200 races later? Not really.
Developer Supergiant Games released three games before Hades, and each was an indie darling. The studio has racked up dozens, if not hundreds of awards since its 2022 debut, and they've also been praised for promoting a healthy work-life balance for their employees, which isn't very common in the games industry.
While Supergiant's track record is one for the ages, Hades is their best game yet, an amalgamation of the best of their previous titles - the narrative flair of Bastion, the satisfying and hard-hitting gameplay of Transistor, and the genre-bending of Pyre. Considering the title is coming off some huge BAFTA wins, it seems most people agree.
Hades is truly a master class in excellent game design, and the easiest way to put it is that it's fun all the way through. From the moment I picked up the controller, there was no point in the game where I wanted to rush to get to the good stuff. You already have the core gameplay, which is so solid, and you can really feel how much love and attention has gone into it. On top of that, you have this colorful cast of characters brought to life, with their lively dialogue and engaging storylines.
The most surprising additions to me, however, were the inclusions of the dating sim and decorating mechanic, which I certainly didn't expect from a roguelike. What a great choice the devs made because after finishing a run feeling frustrated or happy with how it went I would be so excited to check out my friends or buy the new upgrade for home for which I had saved. Every moment was delightful and I love this game for it.
Speaking of home, it's not just a place to relax and enjoy the Ambrosia - its gameplay effects are what really make Hades stand out as the perfect roguelike gateway. Rather than just dying and restarting as if your previous run never happened, you carry over any currency you accumulated during your run. This allows you to power up and get stronger, which means you'll go further on your next run and get more currency to come back and get stronger. It's a pretty pristine gameplay loop if you ask me.
So the start of the game is awesome, and there's nothing better than a game you can't stop. But the real addictive quality of Hades is in its endgame. There are a ton of different factors at play by the time you unlock everything - thirteen in total, if my math is correct. From bargains to the fishing mini-game to Erebus rooms, I could go on and on about how all these different mechanics feed into each other to create an airtight system, but there's only so much more. hours in the day.
Instead, let's talk about the main mechanism that makes me smash pimples so hard my hands hurt and blood vessels burst in my eyes because I'm concentrating so hard (true story): the punishment pact. For those who may not know, the Pact lets you add optional modifiers to make the game even harder than it already is, with rewards to claim if you can take it.
So, for example, you can choose to take more damage from enemies or have fewer options when power-ups are presented to you, stuff like that. Each individual modifier adds points to your "heat" total, and more difficult modifiers are worth more points. Quite simple.
I initially thought there was no way in hell, or the underworld I guess, I was ever going to use this thing. Make the game harder, one modifier at a time? I could barely get through the Tartarus boss fight! But like the sweet song of a siren, he was calling me. And after managing to beat Hades every time, I decided to give it a shot.
It was difficult at first. I was dying for enemies that I could usually kill without even breaking a sweat. I stayed away from the Chaos Gates and prayed for a fountain room so I could recover some health, which had become a valuable resource at this point.
Let me interrupt for an aside here, but I promise this is important – what you need to know about me is that I was generally not someone who liked to challenge myself in a game to the point of frustrating me. I love stories, I love the feel of games, but I've never dared to venture above normal mode.
So Hades originally kept me coming back for the narrative content, its looks and the UX that somehow scratches an itch in my brain (I can't explain it, but the sound of the glass orb above a door breaks when you pass to the next room makes me feel things). But now all I care about is the rush of narrowly defeating my fictional dad in the highest heat my little hands can handle.
As I climbed the heat meter, I could feel myself slowly but surely improving at the game. I was dodging small gaps between enemy attacks and going through multiple rooms without taking any damage. Instead of just taking the advantages I was given, I started to strategize longer form to minimize my build.
It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns though – around heat 14 I thought I hit my skill cap. No matter what weapon or build type I used, it didn't work and I was about to throw in the towel for good. I couldn't do more than two strokes at a time because my fingers would get so sore.
That was until a friend of mine started playing, and talking to him about it made me want to come back a few weeks later. I should have followed Supergiant's lead earlier and let myself take a break because that's what made the difference.
I didn't need to think, I was one with Zagreus, and Zagreus was one with me. I was in a state of flow, the whole time, and it's a euphoric feeling. I went from feeling like I was chasing victory, stumbling along the way, to being ahead, even attacking it. It might just be the blessings of Dionysus talking, but with each successive heat I beat, I feel power-drunk.
I knew something had really changed when I started mashing buttons in the dialog. Who is this new Noelle? I don't know, but I like it.
The point I'm really trying to get to here is that Hades is an amazing game, but if you find yourself intimidated by titles like Bloodborne or Cuphead, it's a good place to start. You have so much fun along the way, and the game helps you tackle its more difficult aspects so organically that you become a mechanically proficient player without even realizing it. For someone like me, this is the ideal situation.
I've always loved games, but Hades helped me learn to love the challenge, and now I feel like I've fallen in love all over again. I'm now sitting around 20 innings, and it's starting to get tough again, but now I know I can pass. I feel like I have something to prove, not to anyone else, but to myself. It's an uplifting feeling.
So I'm going for this 32 heat price. I have no idea how long it will take me to get there, but I won't stop until it's mine.