If you haven’t cleared a run in Hades, you’re not alone. Supergiant’s Greek-themed roguelike is many things, but “easy” sure isn’t one of them. Beating the game the first time will happen eventually, but the following advice should help you speed up the process.
Spoilers for Hades—nothing major, just some mentions of characters and locations.
Like many other roguelikes, Hades is all about assessing situations, managing expectations, and knowing when a loss is a loss. Not to sound harsh, but if you’re stuck on the first boss (Megaera the Fury or any of her sisters), you’re not anywhere near ready to beat the game. In fact, you should be comfortable taking down the Hydra of Lernea and crossing into Elysium before considering a sprint to the finish.
If you’re close enough to taste victory, you’re well aware of the Mirror of Night’s alternate skills. These are the most helpful for seeing you through to the end:
- Instead of Chthonic Vitality, max out the Dark Regeneration skill. For every trove of Darkness you discover, you’ll restore a proportionate chunk of your health. When the skill is fully leveled, you get 60 percent back. When you take on a boss you’ve already defeated with a weapon you’ve already used to defeat them, you’ll get a massive Darkness bonus. In Tartarus and Asphodel, at least, it’s usually enough to bring you back up to full health, so long as you’ve maxed out Dark Regeneration. It’s infinitely more helpful than the pittance of health you can get from Chthonic Vitality (which restores just 3 health points per chamber, max).
- Max out Thick Skin. That way, you’ll start each run with 100 health, rather than a measly 50. Forget about High Confidence. It’s useless for your purposes.
- Family Favorite is an easy choice. Since you’ll accrue a ton of varied boons as you play, this skill—which can give you a 5-percent attack boost for every Olympian you’ve accepted a boon from—only builds on top of that foundation. Let’s do some quick math: Complete one Trial of the Gods, and that means you’ll get an overall 10 percent boost to your attacks. Find just two more Olympians, and that jumps to 20 percent. Throw on a fifth boon, and now every attack you do will deal 25 percent damage. You can see how Family Favorite adds up.
- Choose Stubborn Defiance over its counterpart, Death Defiance. Yes, Stubborn Defiance only revives you with 30 percent health, rather than the 50 percent you’d get from Death Defiance. But you can use it once per chamber. This way, when you inadvertently step on a spike trap (hey, it happens), you won’t consign that run to failure.
Whatever you need to do to max out these skills, make that your first order of business. That might mean dedicating sole runs to accruing as much Darkness as possible, in lieu of boons and other upgrades that would only help you for one escape attempt. It might mean visiting the Wretched Broker (in the lounge) and trading other valuable resources for some extra Darkness. The point is, for a few throwaway runs, investing in these upgrades should be your top priority.
It’s impossible to plan for specific loadouts in Hades. You can use keepsakes to plan for which Olympians will show up, but you can’t dictate which boons they might offer you. A high-powered skill allows you to reroll the three boons offered to you, but you’re limited in how often you can use it. Still, there are some broadly helpful boons you should always keep an eye out for:
Strong Drink, Dionysus: Strong Drink fully heals you at every fountain (usually at the end of regions, but sometimes mid-region, if you invest in some House Contractor upgrades). It also gives you an attack boost with every fountain, so earning it in Tartarus is particularly helpful. That way, drinking at every subsequent fountain will result in a roughly 10 percent attack boost by the time you reach Hades. (What, did you expect someone else as the final boss?) Plus, it guarantees you’ll go into that final fight with full health.
Electric Shot, Zeus: A good cast boon is a cornerstone of any good build. Though Zeus’ doesn’t deal the most damage, it will save your neck in tight situations. Since it chains to more than half a dozen enemies, you can wipe out crowds of low-health enemies at the push of a button. In Elysium, that means you can clear a room of exploding chariots before they blow up in your face. In Styx, you can do the same to a room full of poisonous rats.
Support Fire, Artemis: It’s impossible to overstate how helpful Support Fire is. If you successfully land an attack, a special attack, or a cast—so, pretty much any move—you’ll shoot out a homing arrow. Better yet, even if that arrow’s target dies, it’ll zoom to the nearest enemy. Support Fire ensures that you’re constantly dealing damage.
Tidal Dash, Poseidon: Considering that the dash is primarily an evasive maneuver, it helps to grab one with some defensive benefits. You’d be hard-pressed to find one better than Poseidon’s, which pushes enemies away from you with every dash. Better yet, if you push an enemy into a wall, you’ll deal significant damage. Pair this with Greatest Reflex—a boon from Hermes that increases how many times you can dash in a row—and you’ll be untouchable.
Life Affirmation, Aphrodite: Depending on its rarity and level, this one makes it so any health upgrades you find increase your health bar even more. It’s not so helpful by the time you reach Elysium or Styx, but picking it up in an early area ensures you get more bang for your buck.
Sometimes, when you clear a room, you’ll see a purple portal open up. For the cost of roughly 20 percent of your health, that portal will take you to Erebus, the realm of Chaos, one of the Greek mytheme’s primordial entities. Nine times out of ten, it’s worth hopping in. Chaos offers boons of the double-edged variety: They’ll give you a serious bonus, but only if you can survive a few chambers with an equally serious hindrance.
The best, in my mind, are boons that double or, sometimes, triple how much Darkness you earn. If you’ve leveled up Dark Regeneration, that means you’ll usually get fully healed every time you find Darkness. Plus, that Darkness can be used to boost even more permanent upgrades between runs. It’s an invaluable strategy, particularly if you’re building a loadout with few defensive bona fides. But there are a few situations in which a visit to Erebus isn’t worth it:
- You don’t want to accept one of Chaos’ boons right before a boss fight. It’s sometimes tough to tell when you’re approaching the end of a realm, but if you feel like you’ve cleared eight or so chambers, you’re probably nearing a boss chamber. Before such fights, the last thing you want to do is slash your speed in half, or make it so you lose twice as much health from every attack. Taking on rank-and-file enemies with such shackles isn’t a death sentence. Bosses? That’s a different story.
- Face it: If your health bar is already blinking red, you’re probably not in a stable enough position to take on a boon from Chaos.
- One boon from Chaos is usually enough per run. If you’ve already scored a good one, don’t push your luck.
But let’s say you miscalculate and venture into Erebus without thinking. The bad news is that you can’t leave without accepting a boon. The good news is that there’s usually one challenge that’s relatively doable, though, on the flip side, won’t grant you much of a bonus. For example, you might have to go a few rooms without earning gold (easy-peasy) to snag a negligible boost to your attack. Though you’ll miss out on a good prize, at least you won’t get wiped in the boss chamber.
In Greek myth, Elysium is a paradise for heroes—an ideal oasis Homer described as temperate and utterly devoid of inclement weather. In Hades, Elysium is just another layer of hell. The enemies are frustrating, the traps are too, and the boss is just a total dick.
The primary enemies of Elysium are spectral soldiers, supposedly heroes trying to wring some fun out of a boring afterlife. When you kill one, it’ll turn into a floating skull. You have about five seconds to take that out. Otherwise, the soldier will come back to life—or, well, death—with full health. The chariots, too, are sure to drive you to the brink. Large chariots will run you over, which is no fun. Small ones will drive into and explode, which is also no fun. The thing to remember is that the large ones eventually stop, so you can outrun them, while the small ones don’t. You’ll have to kill them before they reach you. (Again, Zeus’ chain shot is invaluable in such situations.)
When you reach the boss chamber, don’t expect a fair fight. You’ll have to take on Theseus and Asterius simultaneously. Try to take out the minotaur first. Once you get Theseus down to half health, he’ll tag in an Olympian for help—yet another example of the Greek gods playing lesser souls against each other for entertainment. Trying to fight both bosses while juggling god-fire is a losing proposition. Without a deity on his side, though, Theseus is relatively weak. Asterius, meanwhile, hits hard but moves slow. He telegraphs his attacks, and you’ll quickly learn when to dodge them after just a few tries.
You can also get a leg up on him before the fight. As you make your way through Elysium, you might see a chamber door with a skull below its symbol. This signals a mini-boss chamber. In Elysium, there’s a chance you’ll go up against Asterius one-on-one. Not only will this give you a chance to learn the bull’s moves, but defeating him will also reduce his health by a third in the boss fight.
As you explore, you might come across chamber doors with a symbol that looks like this:
No matter what the alternative is, it’s always worth it to go through that door. Behind each one, you’ll find a famous figure from Greek mythology—not a deity, but one of those sorry souls who always suffers misfortune in classic Greek literature.
In Tartarus, you’ll meet a giant boulder. Some dude named Sisyphus keeps pushing it up some stairs, only to have it roll back down again. He’s apparently fated to do this every day for the rest of forever, but he’s also eternally chipper, and will give you a gift whenever you see him: You can get a significant boost of health, a lump sum of gold, or a small trove of Darkness. Here’s another instance where the Dark Regeneration skill comes in handy. More often than not, you’ll receive enough Darkness to fully restore your health.
In Asphodel, you’ll meet Eurydice. You can’t go wrong with any of her gifts. One ticks up the rarity of two of your boons. One increases the level of up to four of your boons. And the other ensures the next three boons you find will be of increased rarity. In my mind, though, leveling up four boons at once—essentially, the equivalent of finding four Poms of Power in one room—is too good to pass up, but you really can’t go wrong with any.
In Elysium, you’ll meet a nameless man who gives you an item less in the interest of goodwill and more in the interest of leaving him alone. The Touch of Styx Dark is, without question, your best bet. This will make it so that Stubborn Darkness revives you with 50 percent more health, which is terrific enough on its own. Better yet, it lasts for 15 chambers. Worst case, it’ll help you defeat Theseus and get through the Temple of Styx relatively unscathed. Best case, you’ll zip through Styx and still have the bonus active for the final fight against Hades.
Styx is a maze, of sorts. In front of the exit, you’ll find Cerberus, the three-headed monster dog who is admittedly adorable but also exists for no other purpose than condemning lost souls to eternal damnation. You (thankfully) don’t have to kill him. But, if you want to pass, you do have to feed him.
The Temple of Styx features five chambers. At the end of one, you’ll find a sack of rotten satyr meat. That’ll sate Cerberus.
I like going for the Centaur Heart first. Even if that route doesn’t have Cerberus’ disgusting treats, you’ll at least nab an increase to your total health. Trust me: You’ll want to be in the 250-to-300 range (minimum) before going up against Hades.
Don’t let his flaming spear and mountainous deltoids intimidate you. Hades is just like any other boss: Victory is a result of trial and error, studying patterns, and internalizing failures. Chances are, it’ll take you at least a couple tries. But there are a few things you can watch out for.
When you see a thin white circle form around him, dash away as quickly as you can. He’s winding up a spinning attack that will erase a good chunk of your health. As you deplete every third of his health bar, he’ll summon some cronies from the Underworld. Kill them before refocusing on Hades; they’ll just distract you. Every so often, he’ll shoot out flaming green skulls. If you can, try to take those out. They’ll send shockwaves through the battlefield (which can even go through cover) otherwise. If you miss some, dodge toward the shockwaves as they approach you. They’re just barely slower than your dash, so trying to outrun them means you’ll just get hit.
Beware, too, that Hades has a second form. The music is more intense, and he certainly packs more of a wallop, but his moves are more predictable. The main thing to watch out for are the various green urns that pop up on the battlefield. They’ll explode and create an eerie pit of hands that will dish out damage and lock you in place. Also, when Hades starts glowing orange, sprint behind one of the snowy boulders. (Remember that you can dash through them, need be.) He’s about to shoot out some laser that will eviscerate your health. Other than those, though, just keep doing what you were doing before.
Above all, the best advice I can impart is this: Breathe. Hades is a stressful, overwhelming boss. But if you take a deep breath, slow down, and focus as much on dodging his attacks as you do on dishing out damage, you’ll get through it.
You won’t be able to do this in one session. A friend of mine beat Hades for the first time on his 36th run. It took about 25 hours of gameplay. I did it on my 39th after roughly the same amount of time. From what I can glean, these figures are about as aggressively average as you can get, give or take a few hours or runs. Expect something similar for your own efforts.
Here, in the interest of full disclosure, is my first winning loadout:
Okay, I showed you mine. Share yours below when you kick the daylight out of Hades. It’ll happen soon enough. The Fates said so.