Remember how Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre developer Supergiant promised that its Greek mythology-themed roguelike would leave early access sometime this fall? Well, it lied. The autumnal equinox isn’t until September 22, but Hades is officially out on PC and Switch today. Staff writer Ash Parrish, service and advice writer Ari Notis, and I (senior reporter Nathan Grayson) have all been playing it obsessively, and we decided to sit down and discuss why it’s easily one of the best games of the year.
Nathan Grayson: Hello, fellow aspiring members of the Greek pantheon. All three of us are obsessed with Hades, but I’m really excited to talk to you two about it because I put around 60 hours into the game earlier this year, before it left early access, and I feel like your perspectives—having only played a near-final version—might be different from mine. To start, I gotta know: Have either of you completed a run yet? I’ve finished quite a few, but this is definitely a game where that’s basically an inevitability after enough time. Hades is no cakewalk, but it also wants you to see its story and gives you multiple means of eventually making your way through.
Ari Notis: I have not. I’ve made it to the boss after the Temple of Styx, but just cannot seem to beat him! Even though I got my copy, what, three days ago, I’ve clocked more than 15 hours. The gameplay is so tight, and the combat so fluid, and the fact that you progress the story a little bit more with each attempt, it’s so easy to be, like, “Okay, one more run.” And then it’s 2:30 in the morning, and I’m sad about having to wake up for work the next day.
Nathan: Oh yeah, I was absolutely up until 5 a.m. last night, lol. It is entirely Hades’ fault.
Ash Parrish: I also haven’t completed a run yet. I’m still tinkering with what build works best for the way I like to play. I’ve made it as far as Elysium’s boss—that Minotaur is tough. I think my favorite part is that it doesn’t feel like a roguelike to me. I expect those kinds of games to be repetitive and I’m the kind of person who will completely abandon a game if I lose progress somehow rather than start over. But every time you try to escape even though you’re facing the same enemies over and over again it never feels tiring. I just love that.
And yeah, absolutely addicted. I’ve lost so many hours of sleep playing this game.
Ari: It’s okay. We can sleep when we’re in Hades IRL.
Ash: Which given how the year’s been progressing...
Nathan: So what are y’all’s favorite things that you’ve encountered so far? What, for you, is the secret sauce that makes Hades click in a way that other roguelikes maybe did not?
Ari: Well, I’ve been an acolyte of Supergiant’s games for, like, a decade. I’ve played Bastion and Transistor at least half a dozen times each. I’ve poured more hours into Pyre than pretty much any other multiplayer game. I even have a Transistor tattoo! I know that Greg Kasavin described Hades as, and I’m paraphrasing, cobbling together all of the best ideas from Supergiant’s previous games, and that’s unmistakable. Hades really feels like the game that team’s been working toward for a decade, which, for a superfan like me, is heavenly. How about you two?
Ash: I don’t think I’ve ever fallen so hard for a kind of game I’ve actively avoided. Hades is a roguelike, and as I said, I don’t like repetition, so my absolute obsession with it stems from how well crafted and beautiful this world is. Unlike Ari, I’m only vaguely familiar with the Supergiant family of games. So my attachment isn’t because of that. But I remember seeing the beautiful art style, and all the hot gods, goddesses, and mythological heroes and going ‘yes this is a game for me.’ And I was right. I love that while it is a roguelike there are visual novel/romance game elements in it that broaden Hades’s appeal.
Nathan: I’m a longtime Supergiant fan as well, so that DNA definitely informs my love of the game. But it’s not a strictly necessary point of entry, as you point out, Ash. What I’m really excited about right now is the fact that there are still so many extremely gratifying surprises that folks like you—and by extension, any newer players—have not seen and are not even remotely close to seeing, and I don’t just mean in terms of capital-C Content like enemies or bosses or whatever. Hades does a truly ingenious job of tying new gameplay systems to narrative developments, and unlike many other games, it doesn’t frontload itself with those sorts of things. I unlocked a pretty game-changing new system ten hours in, and I think I might be about to unlock another after nearly 60?
Hades knows how to punctuate important developments, which is a small thing, but it makes the story so much more tangible. It’s not just a series of events occurring against the backdrop of you trying (and failing) to escape from your shitty dad’s hell dimension. Hades is the first game I’ve played where the roguelike format and the narrative feel inextricably married. Both rise naturally from each other.
Ash: I love that too Nathan, how the very definition of a roguelike is woven into the story. I love storytelling bits like that, where there is an in game reason you do what you do.
Ari: Yeah, that’s such a good point. It makes complete sense, in the narrative, that you’d die over and over (and over and over) again. You’re in Hades! But your ad infinitum death loop also helps slowly build these relationships with other legendary figures from the Greek mytheme. You know how you can give nectar to various members of Hades’ court? I’ve given most of mine to Megaera—or Meg, as Zagreus affectionately refers to her. As you both know, she’s the first boss. The first few times you reach her chamber, she’s, like, “Ugh, you again? Seriously? You’re the worst.” But now that I’ve courted her favor with a literal case of god-tier wine, I… think Zag and Meg are starting to flirt a bit? Have you two experienced that, or something similar?
Nathan: They’re definitely very familiar in my game. They clearly have a past. Not sure I’d call their interactions flirty, though. Meg seems very determined to keep Zag at arm’s length, which I enjoy. She recently told me that it’d be easier for her to take her repeated losses to Zag if he boasted about it more, which is extremely funny and very Meg. She wants him to be *more* of an asshole—not less of one—so he’s easier to regard as an enemy, as an obstacle to be overcome and not a weird sorta-friend.
Ari: Oh, that’s so Meg.
Ash: Have you romanced anybody, Nathan? I’m saving myself... er, Prince Zagreus for Thanatos.
Nathan: Legit, can you romance anybody? I’m not gonna lie: I have poured almost all of my nectars into Skelly, the skeleton training dummy who just fucking loves to die, and without spoiling too much, I’ll say that that interaction is definitely not romantic. My impression of the game is that giving gifts is less about literal romance and more about forming bonds that reveal character details over time (which is extremely cool, but not, strictly speaking, romantic). That said, again, I have mostly given gifts to Skelly at this point, so I haven’t seen anybody else’s full progression—though I have made it most of the way through a handful. I’ve encountered some romantic undertones, but again, not in the sense that you’d expect from, say, a BioWare game.
Ash: I don’t know that you can romance anybody, but I know Meg and Thanatos are options. I’ve been equitably distributing my nectars among everybody because I love everyone. I’m sad you can’t give a nectar to Cerberus.
Nathan: You can!! You can totally give nectar to Cerberus.
Ari: Technically, yes, but I think there’s a spoiler-y requirement, right?
Nathan: You might be right, Ari! I’m honestly not sure. There have been many times where I was not able to give nectar to somebody, and I did not know why. It’s kind of annoying.
Ash: Then I shall wait to bestow on my best boy a tasty nectar. I love that he destroys things when you first leave that you have to fix later.
Nathan: He is a very sweet boy who has a lot of emotions. And for some reason, you can only pet one of his heads! 0/10, totally unrealistic game.
Ari: I think this gets at another thing that makes Hades so great. Ostensibly, it’s a straightforward action-RPG roguelike that you repeatedly run until you beat it, like Dead Cells or Wizard of Legend or so many others. But beneath that facade, it’s full of these massive, complex, interlocking, unknowable systems. It’s gonna be fascinating to watch players figure out how it all works in the coming months.
Also, yes, Cerberus is a good boy—and I say that as someone who doesn’t like dogs.
Nathan: Wow, fucked up that you don’t like dogs, Ari.
I’m torn on my favorite character. I want to say it’s Thanatos, Zagreus’ broody pseudo-brother, but then I think about conversations I’ve had with Achilles and the hidden, surprisingly wholesome depths he slowly reveals after being extremely guarded for the game’s first, like, 25 hours, and I think maybe it’s him. But then I think about Orpheus and Eurydice and Meg and all the dynamics they have not just with you, but also each other, and it becomes impossible to pick. They’re all incredibly good. And it feels like you’re forming real bonds with them over time. I feel like it took me at least 25 hours to reach a point where some of my IRL friends revealed their tragic backstories to me. It’s a timescale that, when you’re describing it, sounds kinda tedious, but again, in the context of the game, it just works.
Also, never mind what I said earlier: The best character is Skelly, who makes it canon that Brooklyn was part of Greek mythology.
Ash: I don’t know that I have a favorite character just yet because I feel like there are so many more I haven’t met in my scant 20 or so hours with the game. For right now, I really like Nyx and I really appreciate how Zagreus doesn’t resent her when he’s given a reason to. It’s a nice touch.
Nathan: Alright, what are your go-to weapons? What is the build that you think you’ll complete a run with?
Ash: I thought I was team spear. It was easy and fast and you could use it at range. Ari, however, swore by the bow which I thought was ridiculous because the vanilla bow has a very slow primary fire.
But my partner (who got obsessed with the game from seeing me) tried the bow and once he got an upgrade that increases the primary rate of fire it is now the god-weapon. Add to that a cast that chains between enemies, and a buff that deflects when you dodge and that’s my comfort build.
Ari: I was on team bow, but I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve fallen into the habit of letting the game choose for me. You know how, at the start, one weapon will give you a 20-percent currency boost? I now just go with whatever one gives me more money, and it turns out that I kind of like all of the weapons equally! It might seem like there are only six weapons. But between the boons and Daedalus hammers (and something else spoiler-y I shan’t share), there are way more than that. No matter what I start with now, I’ll find some sort of cool, extremely potent way to use it… he said, as someone who still hasn’t completed a run.
Nathan, you finished a run. What are your secrets? What’d you use? Help us beat this game!
Nathan: Alright so, part of it is just perma-increasing Zag’s stats in the mirror in his room. Working off a good foundation opens up a lot of possibilities. Smart use of Daedalus hammers is another. They can be extremely powerful if you figure out how to build around the unique effects they give various weapons.
This brings me to how I play the game, which I’m pretty sure is wrong—bordering on heretical—but nonetheless produces results.
So, in order to avoid my temptation to min-max, I have looked up no guides for Hades ever. Instead, I’ve realized that I really like dash-striking and find casting to be fiddly. So I basically dash strike 99 percent of the time there are enemies on screen and largely use basic attacks rather than specials or casts. This means constant mobility and damage output, so no matter what weapon I’m using, I try to maximize raw damage and critical hit chance. The best weapon to do this with, I’ve found, is the Twin Fists of Malphon. Punches are rapid-fire, and there’s a boon that adds additional damage to each successive strike on the same enemy. Between that and tons of critical damage, I can basically melt bosses. It feels like cheating, at least when I’m playing on normal mode and not [SPOILERS REDACTED].
I also found a similar cheese strategy with the Adamant Rail once, but I sort of backed into it and have since forgotten how I did it. Basically, though, I managed to use a Daedalus hammer to give it hyper-speed shotgun fire where almost every hit was a crit. Multiple bosses literally did not touch me.
Ash: Oh great, my two least favorite weapons.
Nathan: I’ve beaten the game with fists, bow, rail, shield, and spear. I have the most trouble with the sword, not because it’s bad, but because my play style involves slamming face-first into everything, and the sword has bad defense.
Ari: Well, you say it’s wrong, but there’s no wrong way to play this game! It truly feels limitlessly customizable. Someone who understands math would have to tell me the actual number, but the total number of weapon-boon-artifact-Daedalus-etc. combinations has to be roughly equivalent to the amount of stars in the Milky Way, right?
Ash: Or rooms in hell.
Nathan: It’s true! Supergiant always receives praise for stories, but they don’t get enough credit for how they design combat and systems. Hades plays better than just about anything else I’ve played this year, and even after 60 hours, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Every run can be a different game, if you want it to. Heck, I could write an entire piece on the dash alone. I don’t think I’ve encountered a dash that feels more in my control in any other game. You can slip attacks at the last second like a boxer slipping punches. It’s wild.
Ash: Do you have a favorite boon—one that’s like an auto-take every time? And, of the boon givers, who is your favorite? I’m partial to Zeus chain lightning cast boon and Dionysus’s hangover attack.
Nathan: I frequently go for Artemis, who (at least so far) is not the most interesting character, but who can boost your crit chance through the roof if you play your cards right. That said, my play style becomes vastly more effective when I get an Athena shield (which grants temporary invulnerability) on my dash. Then I can just deflect projectiles, which makes up for when I get sloppy with my attacks and leave myself open.
Ari: Athena, Zeus, Artemis, Dionysus—all terrific, all totally badass. But I’ve also been getting a real kick out of trying to use all the combined cast boons: how you can pair up Demeter with Dionysus for a miniature blizzard, for instance, or match Zeus with, well, pretty much everyone for bonus shock effects. Whenever a duo boon pops up, I don’t even hesitate. Yet another example of how creative this game is.
Nathan: Alright, last question: Who is the hottest god?
Ash: Thanatos and Nyx.
Ari: Easy: Dusa.
Nathan: If only she saw herself the way everybody else does.
Mine is regrettably a spoiler, but don’t worry: You’ll know him when you see him.
[Everybody simultaneously rises into unseen rafters, Dusa-like in their grace.]