You don’t need the hundred eyes of Argos to see that Hades is a fast-paced game. It’s endlessly and easily repeatable. Encounters go down with blistering ferocity. Victory is contingent on a cocktail of strategic planning, tactical thinking, and a healthy dose of luck. There are even optional settings and weapons that incentivize flying through runs as quickly as you can. All in all, Hades seems practically forged from the code up for competitive speedrunning.
Since the Greek myth-themed roguelike officially released last month, after nearly two years in early access, a robust, fascinating speedrunning community has grown to meet it. Like Hades itself, the leaderboards are unpredictable, with results constantly in flux. Last month, for instance, the world record was between eight and nine minutes. A few weeks ago, it clocked in below eight minutes. As of last week, it officially dipped below seven-and-a-half minutes. In fact, as I was reporting this article, the champion was unseated (by two seconds!), and then reclaimed the throne just a few hours later (by three seconds!). (Both runs have to go through verification first, so you might not see them on the leaderboards for a few days.) To put it another way: The world record passes hands like a hot potato, and it’s an absolute blast to watch.
While competitive thrill is one draw, and a magnetic one at that, it’s not the only attraction. You’re not just watching a bunch of faceless screen names jostle for the top spot. While all these players are competing for honor and glory, the community is, ultimately, supportive and welcoming. In the official Hades speedrunning Discord, you’re more likely to see people trade tips and praise than barbs and insults. (One selected post at random: “I just want to shout out @Messoris, who has talked in this chat like once, but comes in this morning with a couple ripping sub-9 runs, that’s good shit pal.”) From the outside, at least, Hades speedrunning is less a bloodsport and more a respectful round of musical chairs.
“I think we’ve grown a really cool community,” Vorime, a top Hades speedrunner and a cross-platform moderator of the game’s speedrunning community, told me over a Discord voice call. “That’s the coolest part of this.”
Light spoilers follow for Hades, since, c’mon, it’s not really possible to talk about speedrunning a full game without talking about said game’s whole contents.
Speedrunning in Hades works fundamentally the same as for many other games. The goal is to start the game at the beginning (in the House of Hades) and make it to the end (standing over Hades’ dead body) as quickly as possible. But, given how Hades is structured, there are some variables.
Unlike some roguelikes, Hades allows you to earn permanent upgrades between rounds. You can unlock various skills that increase your health, your extra lives, and your damage, among other stats. There are six different weapons, but each weapon has four “aspects” that significantly shake up gameplay. And there are various keepsakes—accessories that give you further stat boosts and even dictate the godly boons, or bonuses, you’ll find in Hades’ procedurally generated dungeons. Beyond that, there’s a system called the Pact of Punishment: Once you beat the game the first time, you’ll unlock various modifiers that can make the game more difficult, resulting in greater rewards. The more modifiers you turn on, the higher your “heat level” will be. Having access to all of these unlocks and modifiers is essential for top-level play. As a result, even though seeing the credits is not required to have a run verified, most of the speedrunning community is well into the endgame.
Hades speedrunning isn’t limited to one category. There’s the “Fresh File” category, where you have to start a new game from scratch—no skills or weapons or keepsakes or Pact modifiers unlocked—and then reach and defeat Hades as quickly as you can. Currently, those runs clock in a little under half an hour. Another is “All Weapons,” in which players have to clear the game back-to-back, with each of the six weapons, in one unbroken video. Those runs tend to hover around the two-hour mark, give or take 10 or so minutes.
They’re cool, but when it comes to speedrunning in Hades, we’re primarily talking about one format: Any Heat. As Vorime puts it “Complete the game as fast as possible using whatever heat settings you want in order to make the game faster.” Players can use any weapons, aspects, keepsakes, or skills, and can set the Pact of Punishment to any heat (hence the category name). Of all the categories, Any Heat is the most straightforward and the easiest to understand—and to break into.
“There’s a reason [Any Heat] is so popular,” SSDeville, another top Hades speedrunner, told me over Discord direct message. “It’s easy for anyone to take part without any additions to the game.”
Watch the fastest Hades runs and you’ll glean one thing: Everyone uses the same initial loadout. As of this writing, eight of the top 10 fastest times are held by players running through Hades with the Adamant Rail’s Eris aspect. The two non-Eris runs are held by Vorime. (One is an eight-minute run using the bow’s Hera aspect. The other made use of the Twin Fists’ Demeter aspect, and took 7:40. Vorime’s fastest currently verified run, a 7:16 mad dash, was completed with the Eris aspect.)
“Eris is so great mainly because of one feature,” said SSDeville, who currently holds a 7:53 with the Rail’s Eris aspect. “You can apply a buff to yourself by hitting yourself with the special, which gives you a 75-percent global damage bonus for eight seconds, which is absolutely huge and lets you just bulldoze through hordes of enemies.”
The Eris aspect might seem ineffective at first, since the special, a lobbed, area-of-effect grenade, grants a paltry 15-percent damage boost, but pouring enough Titan’s Blood into it can level the thing up to truly godly levels, as the leaderboards prove. That damage boost doesn’t just affect your standard attack. It affects all of your damage output—your attack, your special, your cast, your call, you name it. Even dash damage output is boosted. According to Vorime, “it’s a really good way to scale flat damage sources that normally are really difficult to scale.”
This is also why many Hades speedrunners go all-in on Zeus boons. Logic would dictate that a boon granting a significant percentage boost to your base damage—something like Aphrodite’s Heartbreak Strike, which increases your attack by 50 percent—would be the way to go. But “your base damage on the rail is, like, 10, so scaling that with a percentage doesn’t do a whole lot,” Vorime pointed out. A 40-percent boost to your base attack would produce a marginal effect. It’s far better to go for a bonus that adds a second damage source—like the chain lightning that comes with Zeus’ Lightning Strike boon—and then scale that extra damage.
You’ll also notice that Poseidon’s dash boon, Tidal Dash, is a popular choice among the quickest players. For one thing, it pushes enemies away from you, which is invaluable for getting out of tight spots and minimizing damage sustained. For another, it deals shockingly high damage compared to other dashes. Scale that with the Eris aspect’s special, and you can clear rooms in seconds flat.
For more casual sons of Hades, Eris isn’t easy to use. Trying to hit yourself with the lobbed grenade is distracting, at best. When trying to line up shots so I’d be square in the blast zone, I’d often get blindsided by enemies. Not ideal. Turns out, there are ways to optimize it.
“Basically, you want to aim and shoot the rocket where you see the enemies spawn, and also dash into it as it lands,” said SSDeville. “This way you kill them and get the buff at the same time.” You can also toss out a special while you’re reloading, a trick many players might miss.
“The buff actually lasts a pretty long time, so as long as you apply it to yourself at the start of the room, you’ll probably be okay,” said Vorime. (That eight seconds is considered a long time in the realm of Hades speedrunning should tell you just how fast these players are.)
But flying through the Underworld isn’t just a matter of skill and builds. It’s also a matter of knowing how the game fundamentally works. And players use that knowledge however they can to shave seconds off that clock.
Some key hacks can be found in the Pact of Punishment. Setting the “Extreme Measures” modifier to the second level, out of four, is a popular choice. With each level, the boss encounters for each area will change how they battle. Set it to one, and you’ll fight all three Fury sisters at the end of Tartarus, instead of just the traditional one. Set it to two, and Lernie, the bone hydra, will spawn in a central platform at the end of Asphodel. It’s a tougher fight, but the risk is worth it, since you can hit all of the monster’s many faces at once. Equip the Zeus cast, for instance, and you can attack every single one of the hydra’s heads with the push of a button. “It just generally speeds that fight up quite a bit,” said Vorime.
“Forced Overtime” is also, depending on the situation, another key choice. On paper, it speeds up your enemies’ movement and attack speed by 20 percent per rank. (There are two ranks.) But, according to Vorime, it also causes enemies to spawn more quickly. That’s key for shaving precious seconds off the clock.
The rest of it is largely up to the whims of the roguelike gods. Any Hades run is reliant on random-number generation. If you’ve played the game, you’ve surely come across so-called “survival rooms”—chambers wherein you have to face an endless wave of enemies for 45 seconds and accomplish the not-quite-Herculean feat of not-dying. There are are also rooms that require you to face off against Thanatos, the brooding god of death by natural causes, in a murder contest: Whoever kills the most enemies wins a nice health boost. Both of these randomized events take far longer than traditional chambers, and there’s no real way to make them go any faster. But your in-game time doesn’t increase while they’re going down, so it offers somewhat of a strategic edge to stumble upon these rooms. (It’s possible to deactivate random events by turning on the Pact of Punishment’s “Tight Deadline” modifier.)
There are a few other natural pause points in any given Hades run. The clock will pause in the first, enemy-free rooms of Asphodel, Elysium, and Styx. When you’re selecting a boon or a Daedalus upgrade, or when you’re mulling over choices in one of the game’s shopping kiosks (the Well of Charon or the Purging Pool), the clock will stop, too. And, according to the Hades speedrunning Discord, any story-driven rooms—the chambers that house Sisyphus, Eurydice, and Patroclus (or, as the community affectionately refers to the Intro to Literature icon, “Patty”)—don’t count either.
“You know, speedrunners love to go fast, so you’d think that saving a little extra time is awesome,” said Vorime. “But it does make the video a little less cool, which is kind of a thing we like.”
The pinnacle of Hades speedrunning is a competition fittingly called the Hermes Cup. Every other Friday, at 7:00 p.m. ET on Twitch, top-tier Hades speedrunners face off in a best-of-three real-time race. The first to beat Hades, regardless of any deaths or time wasted in the frozen-clock areas, wins. (The semis are currently scheduled for October 23, with a final, best-of-five match slated for November 6.) Competitors have to choose from a seeded pool of eight pre-selected weapon aspects, but are allowed to use whatever skills or heat modifiers they desire. And yes, the Eris Rail is among the pools of usable aspects.
When it comes to setting official world records, mods are strictly verboten. They’re largely not allowed in the Hermes Cup either, save for one exception called “the Hades Racing Mod,” designed by Hades speedrunners EllomenoP and Museus7. That balances out a common source of frustration: the Temple of Styx. When you reach the Temple of Styx, you’re forced to choose between five branching pathways. Only one is the correct choice—a chamber with a sack of food for the infinitely precious Cerberus—and you have to keep fighting through them until you find it. If things go wrong, you could find yourself battling through all five. Your competitor, meanwhile, might find the right pathway on the second try.
“It’s probably the most major RNG element to our runs. You can go from a world-record pace at sub-7:30 to a run that’s barely sub-9 or -10 minutes, depending on how many Styx tunnels you have to go through,” SSDeville said. But he also acknowledged that “it doesn’t matter as much as your mechanical skill and game knowledge ... It won’t matter if you don’t have the skill to really make use of that RNG and finish it with a good time.”
Vorime is similarly unperturbed. “It’s pretty in line with the rest of the RNG,” he said of Styx. “It feels worse, because every time you get to the end of a tunnel, and the sack isn’t there, you feel that immediate pain. It doesn’t creep up on you quite the way that getting a bad Elysium does, but it affects your time the same way.”
That’s why, when you tune into Hermes Cup heats, or when you watch speedrunners do their thing, you might not see streamers get as frustrated with Styx as you or I would. Hades is a dense game, loaded up with behind-the-scenes math, mechanics, and mysteries. The fastest players in the world may have cracked the code on Styx. They’re certainly figured out plenty of minutiae for shaving precious seconds off the clock. But there’s still a lot left to discover: Just look at the hot-potato game of world records. No game that’s fully understood could exhibit such a relentless back-and-forth.
It’s all tied into one of the true joys of Hades: This game imparts knowledge on you faster than a good professor, and certainly faster than you realize. Every person I’ve spoken to about Hades—and I’ve spoken to many players of all skill levels—has the same experience. They hit a hurdle. It seems insurmountable. A day or two passes. They get better, usually without realizing it, and look back at their previous roadblock with quaint recollection. (“Man, I can’t believe I was stuck on Theseus for so long!”) Even the best of the best are no exception to this rule.
“This game is very clearly not solved,” Vorime said. “I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff we’re gonna find in the future.”