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Hades is already a fabulous game, and it's still being developed!

Supergiant Games makes absolutely brilliant and gorgeous games, that I just never really click with.

They made Bastion, which took everyone's hearts at E3 one year, and it's a perfectly fine game, but for some reason just didn't click with me.

They followed that up with Transistor, which I want to like so very badly, but it's kind of dauntingly complex really fast. I should try that again.

Then they made Pyre, to which most people said "What the fuck?" It's a story heavy sports game... kind of?

Supergiant is an independent studio, but they have way more polish and heart than I've come to expect from a lot of indie titles. All of their games are lavishly animated with sprites, fully and wonderfully voiceacted, and feature completely rocking soundtracks by the amazing Darren Korb (seriously, if you're not familiar, go listen to the Bastion Soundtrack). I think a big part of why I love their games, but don't actually enjoy playing them all that much, is that they tend to be in subgenres that I only rarely like. So while I appreciate a lot about them, actually playing them either annoys me, or reminds me that I'm just not that good at videogames.

Enter Hades, currently in early access on Steam and the Epic Games Store. Hades is a roguelite action RPG, which means that you're supposed to die, a lot, but every time you die, you not only learn the enemies/environments a little better, and thus you should be able to do better next time, but you accumulate upgrades, such that you are stronger than the first time than you were. Other roguelites that I've spent a lot of time on are Dead Cells, Rogue Legacy, Moonlighter, and Heroes of Hammerwatch. In these types of games, it definitely helps to be good at the game, but even if you fail, you still potentially set yourself up to do better in the future, and occasionally you'll just be really on you game and make it that much further, for a big upgrade all at once.

I'll get into the mechanics, probably entirely too deeply, in a little bit, first I want to talk about the story. You play as Zagreus, and Olympian god that I was not familiar with, but he starts off thinking that he's the child of Hades and Nyx, although he finds out that his mother is actually Persephone, who is missing from Tartarus. After finding out that his life is a lie, and his father Hades being a total dick, he decides he's going to leave, with the aid of the gods of Olympus he has to fight his way out of Tartarus. Every time you die, you go back to the entry hall of Tartarus, and your father, Hades, sits at his desk, doing tedious paperwork, and then he greets you, asks if you had fun failing, and tells you you'll never succeed. Hypnos is also there, and will usually mention what enemy killed you. All of this is well and fully voice acted. On each run through Tartarus, you'll get various upgrades, often portrayed as "boons" from various Olympian gods. The first time you accept a boon from a God, you get a message from them, and after that they frequently will comment on what weapon you brought with you, ie Artemis makes mention of Hera's bow that you're using, and they'll also refer to earlier boons you've already acquired in that run. So Poseidon will badmouth Zeus if you got Zeus' boon first.

It all combines to give you a charming view of this particular take on Olympus and the Netherworld. This compounds when you discover new areas, and start to realize that Tartarus is in great disrepair, is this because Hades is shirking his duty? Losing control? Maybe I'll find out. Also amusing is that the first big boss I faced was Megaera, one of the three furies, once I finally beat her, and eventually perished deeper in, she was in the lounge after I resurrected, and we exchanged some barbs, before promising to face me again. It's all brilliant.

Okay, let's get more into the mechanics. If you've played Bastion or Transistor, the way the game plays should feel really familiar. You view the game from an isometric viewpoint, you've got a basic attack, and a special attack, both of which are entirely dependent on weapon you pick when you start your escape run. If you pick the sword, your basic attack is a three hit combo, and your special is a big slam that damages enemies around you. The next weapon you unlock is the bow, which will fire one big shot after a charge up with the basic button, but the special is an instant fan of arrows. You also have a dash/dodge, which does just that, and a "cast" where you throw a special stone at an enemy, it gets lodged in them, and when you run out of stones you can't cast again until you pick them back up, either by killing the enemy, or waiting for them to shake it off.

All four of those basic abilities can be upgraded or completely altered by the boons you get from the gods. Each time you get a boon, they give you a choice of three boons. Zeus could give you the choice of adding a lighting damage that chains off of your basic attack, bonus lightning damage on your special, or the ability to damage enemies by dashing through them. There's also a "Call" ability that you can get from boons, that builds up an energy bar before it can be unleashed. The cast can be turned into a seeking lightning bolt, or Dionysis can turn it into a "hangover bomb" that leaves a damage cloud where it lands.

Tartarus is broken up into rooms, sometimes rooms have one exit, but sometimes you get a choice of two. Before you enter the next room, it shows you what sort of reward you'll get for clearing it, so when they can give you an option you can decide if you want to get some money, or a boon of Zeus, for instance.

One thing I want to point out is that Supergiant added in an "easy" mode for people that just aren't that good at twitchy games, but want to see all of the story. It makes the game easier, and you get stronger with each death, supposedly. I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine I will eventually hit the limit of my abilities and will check it out.

From here on, this is less of a review, and more of just my idle musings on some of the mechanics, maybe it's even a guide.

There are so many different resources in Hades, it kind of feels like a free to play MMO. I would expect that I would find that annoying, but it actually meant that I didn't have to divide my focus. If you just used money for everything, I would constantly be thinking about whether upgrading my stats, buying a new weapon, or getting a chance for a new type of room in Tartarus was the best way to spend my cold cash. Hades side steps that by making each resource really just used in one place, although you can go to a trading station to convert one type of resource to another if you've maxed something out already.

Coins: Coins are boring, they're just money. You get coins for defeating enemies, and sometimes for clearing rooms. If you happen to come across a store, you can spend your coin on various effects and items. Like the boons of the gods, when you die, all of those coins are lost, so spend them if you've got them.

Darkness: This kind of looks like a purple stone tear drop. You use this to purchase upgrades, like more stones for your cast, or a damage bonus to enemies you hit from behind. My personal favorite is that you can make enemies that have your cast stone in them take more damage from your other attacks. I'm up to 40% now, which makes for an entertaining loop. I initially thought of this like XP, because you kind of level up with it, but pretty quickly you get the ability to reverse darkness that you purchased, so it's kind of more like a load out level, if you decide you don't like having extra cast stones, you can get your darkness back from that, so that you can dump it into the back attack ability.

Keys: They look like keys. So far they seem to be used on two things, unlocking new perks that you can spend darkness on, and unlocking new weapons. You start with the sword, and I've unlocked the bow, and just recently, a shield, Captain America style.

Gemstones: They kind of look like a multicolored pile of stones. Gemstones are used to upgrade Tartarus. I renovated a fountain, which caused rooms to randomly be a fountain where I can recover some health, another renovation added a chance for rooms to have a challenge chest, which gives you rewards for defeating extra enemies within a time limit. There's also a whole bunch of stuff you can do with gesmstones that are just listed as "home decor" and I'm not sure that there's any point to doing them, other than to change how things look.

Nectar: This one bothers me. In Greek mythology, there's something called "ambrosia" which is described as "the nectar of the gods" and is sometimes stated to be what they consumed to achieve immortality. Regardless, "nectar" in this game is a rare resource, that only seems to be useful for gifting to the various characters that hang around the starting area, the first time you give someone nectar, they give you an accessory, which you can bring one of on a run, which can be leveled up. For instance, I gave Cerberus some nectar, and he gave me a bracer that gives me 25 more health, I cleared 25 rooms with it, and now it gives me 38 more health. So, everyone really appreciates getting nectar, even Hades, who is kind of the bad guy of the game. Why did they call it nectar instead of Ambrosia?

For more story, every time you talk to an NPC in Hades, accept a boon from a god, or defeat an enemy, it keeps track of it, and there's an exhaustive log with dossiers that gets expanded at milestones. If I wasn't already incentivized to talk to everyone and mix up my boons/weapons this does so even more. There's even an upgrade you can get for your room that will give you rewards from trying all of the different sword upgrades out, or all of the possible boons from Athena. Although I wish there was some sort of indicator when you were picking your boon to let you know if you'd already gotten it before.


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