Hades (Review)

If you’re not familiar with the roguelike subgenre, or more importantly if you don’t like it, then this game will be hard to explain and seem unappealing.  But quintessentially, the game is designed around a loop of dying and repeating until you persevere through to the end… and then do it again… Does Hades really benefit from this subgenre, though?


GAMEPLAY

…combat is fast, tight, and sweet.

As mentioned, you’re going to have to get used to dying over and over and over again.  That’s part of the game and subgenre’s core mechanic: failure.  But this also goes part and parcel with repeating the loop again with more knowledge and naturally some permanent upgrades.  As you continue through your loops, you’ll also naturally gain access to a wider range of gear and character upgrades to complement your increasing skill levels.  Once you find your mojo (and mine was the shield as it’s bullrush combined all three core aspects of combat: offense, defense, and repositioning), you’ll find the combat is fast, tight, and sweet.  That is… right up until you hit the grind.  Yes, I know that grinding in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad but let me tell you by my fifth successful escape, fighting the same enemies and bosses over and over again started to wear thin.  Yes, they do add some variation, but it’s far from enough.  Don’t be surprised that you might need a break from the game after you’ve grinded enough loops: each successful escape loop only lasts around 30 minutes.  So you won’t just fight over and over again; you’ll repeat fights not long after your last bout.  And therein lies the core issue: the loop is TOO short for its own good.  This is partially made up for in bonding with the other denizens of the underworld, and while there are certain standouts that made me want to bond with them more than others, no level of interest in their character changed the inevitable “ah shit, here we go again” feeling.  It’s a good thing the combat is so damned excellent because looping gets as tiring as the characters indicate it is for them, too.


CONTENT

…that’s a really healthy campaign length.

And by the 31st escape attempt, I had cleared the main campaign.  Removing some extended idle times as I relaxed my hands from the intense combat, that took me somewhere in the realm of 15-20 hours.  For a $25 dollar game, that’s a really healthy campaign length.  If you can accept the grind, just beating the game will get you your money’s worth.  You’re also welcome to keep building up your arsenal by continuing to bond with characters and also up the difficulty through bounties, but be warned: by this point, you’re simply chasing the grind.  Still, though, no complaints.


PRESENTATION

…there is a rare tonal balance my ears noticed here…

This is one of those excellent examples of using art style.  The hand-drawn appearances and low-frame animations combine with crisp, native 4K to look as if the entire thing is hand-drawn animation.  It comes across vibrantly, yet thanks to a solid 60fps, never skips a beat in responsiveness.  Unfortunately, though, the voice acting doesn’t quite keep up.  Some are just fine, others are passable (like Zagreus himself), but some just sound like employees.  So while characters like Dusa keep things spritely, other characters come across dull and over-processed.  There is such a thing as trying too hard to voice everything, and this is a prime example.  On the other side of things is the sound design and music, and there is a rare tonal balance my ears noticed here that mirrors the excellent art design.  The choices of sound effects and music composition complement each other in a way that is seriously rare, and I applaud both what I guess is the sound engineers and composers actually communicating and working together.  Every weapon was distinct against the music, every sound effect could be effectively heard while not drowning out the music.  There’s a naturally gifted sound designer on this dev team, I’m absolutely sure of it.  Last but not least, the story.  It’s serviceable for one simple reason: it ends too soon on a happy note.  If you know Greek mythology, then you are going to be like me and expect more out of the story… but you won’t get it.  While that’s unfortunate, it doesn’t break the impressive art style and soundscape this game provides.


CONCLUSION

…the grind starts to wear you down.

I’ve played enough roguelikes to understand the subgenre, and I have enough patience to understand its innate repetition.  However, the short loop works against this game and about halfway through successful escapes, the grind starts to wear you down.  Combine that with some uneven voice acting quality and a happy-ending Greek mythology story, and there are definitely cracks in the armor.  On the flipside, the armor itself is impeccably and artistically designed, fit for excellent combat, and makes all the right noises for your aural pleasure.  This is a better game than its price would have you believe.

I give Hades

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