Underneath my yellow skin

Hades is one hell of a good time

In my quest for the next meaty game I can sink my teeth into, there have been misses and there has been one game I’ve been keeping my eye on. It’s called Hades, and it’s a rogue-lite-like by Supergiant Games. Supergiant Games in an indie company that is beloved in the indie community as it were. Their previous games include Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. All three games were hailed when they came out, and I’ve tried each of them. I’m sure you can tell that I did not fall in love with them by the tone of what I’ve written, and you would be right. I tried. Honestly, I gave at least the first two a fair shake. I could see why they were held in such high regards, but neither of them clicked with me. The third just wasn’t my type of game at all, which I knew before I bought it.

I will say that each game looks gorgeous. Supergiant Games does aesthetics well, and while you can tell an SG game by the look of it, they change it up with each game. They all have vivid color palettes and a dreamy-like look to the graphics. From memory and a few stills, Bastion has earthy tones, Transistor is pastel-y, and Pyre has a more intense but darker color palette. Hades is just bright (but with the same richness of colors). I love the cartoony without being cartoonish feel to the characters (another staple of the games) and I love the theme of this game. I was obsessed with mythology when I was younger, so this is a nice way to scratch that itch.

I gave all three of their prior games more time than I normally would because they were so well-regarded in the indie community. I wanted desperately to like them, but I didn’t. Or rather, I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing. I thought each game was well made and could absolutely see why people were gaga over them. I couldn’t make myself like them, however, and I reluctantly moved on from each. Each time, I felt as if I were the problem, not the game, as if it were a personal failing that I couldn’t really get into the games.

This is the reason I was apprehensive when picking up Hades. In fact, I avoided it for a bit because I was worried that I would feel that way yet again. This game is more beloved than the others, if that’s possible, garnering outstanding scores across the board. The worst Metacritic score is 8.5. That’s the worst. I did watch a YouTuber try it out and liked what I saw, but who knew if it’d be the same when I actually played it? Still. I needed a game and it recently came out of Early Access. That meant it was on sale, so I picked it up. I was hoping it’d be like Binding of Isaac: Rebirth in that I’d be able to play it endlessly despite frustrations with it. BoI: R is far from a perfect game, but there’s something really comforting about playing it.

Hades immediately felt good when I jumped in. What didn’t feel good was that I got a note from the devs when I left one of the rooms saying that it hadn’t automatically saved.  It gave me three ways to try to fix it, which I tried. One of them worked for about twenty minutes before I got the message again. I did some more tinkering, but then at some point I realized if I just ignored the message, the game would continue and save at other times. In fact, the vast majority of times I could leave a room and have the game automatically save, and if I just went a bit past the message, the game would save again. I don’t know why this is happening and I don’t like it, but I’ve tentatively accepted it for now. I will be really mad if it causes me to lose a huge chunk of my progress later, but typical to my personality, I’m ignoring it for now.

What about the game itself? Well, I play as Zagreus, the moody boy-band sarcastic son of Hades as he tries to escape from Hell. I don’t know how old he’s supposed to be, but he reads as late teens/early twenties to me. We start in the palatial home of Hades which Hades runs like a grumpy middle manager. He is drowning in paperwork, and he’s constantly bitching about it. He also is irritated with his son trying to leave Hell and makes no bones about it. There are several NPCs in the house, including Nyx, Zagreus’s purported mother, Achilles, and Cerberus. I adore petting Cerberus’s one head (the other two don’t like to be pet) and chatting with him even if he doesn’t talk back. This is how you learn more about the lore, by the way, chatting up all the NPCs around you. I dig it even though I don’t like Hypnos because he always summarizes the way you die when you talk to him the next time.

This is a me-issue. I feel compelled to talk to each NPC after every run, which can get a bit tedious. It’s encouraged, however, as you get more lore/rewards from talking to the NPCs. I will say right now that Nyx, aka Mother Night, is by far my favorite so far. Not only do I love her design, but she’s Night! I mean, what’s not to like? From a mythological point of view, I’m learning a lot I didn’t know or forgot, and it’s been a fun adventure on that front. Then again, I’m a lore gal who reads every item description in a FromSoft game, so take that with a grain of salt.

Speaking of Dark Souls, I’ve started playing DS III again. It’s a relief that I’m able to play it for fun/comfort once again now that I’m done with the not-plat run.

Anyway, the rooms are procedurally-generated which is fine, I guess. The bloom has come off that particular rose to me. Not to say I hate it, but I’m fairly neutral in that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, yeah, it’s interesting to have different rooms each time, I guess, but it doesn’t really change–ugh. I’m not explaining this well. I appreciate it because each run is different. You have different enemies, gods, and rewards/boosts/buffs for each run which is at the heart of a roguelike. But, when I’m actually playing the game, it’s not something that is on the forefront of my mind. And, sometimes, relying too heavily on RNG is a way to gloss over the fact that the game is light on content. I’m not saying it’s the case for this game, but it can be.

One thing I always forget when starting a new roguelike is how underpowered I feel without any powers. It’s a little different this time in that Zagreus doesn’t feel helpless at the start. I started with the bow and arrow which is not my weapon of choice, but it works surprisingly well in this game. It’s called the Heart-Seeking Bow for reasons I do not know, but I’m sure I’ll find out or just read it in the Wiki. The controls are fairly intuitive, and I was off with my bow in hand. There is a dash which is really important to avoid getting hit as you’re invulnerable as you dash (I think), which makes me feel right at home.

One of the best things about a roguelike is a feeling of constant discovery. In the beginning, I know nothing as I go from one room to another, shooting arrows at the countless enemies. By the way, that is one of my gripes about the game–too many mobs. Never been a fan. One of my favorite things about the games is talking to the gods who show up to chat and give me buffs. Ostensibly, they’re helping me because they want me to get to Olympus and hang out with them. I say ostensibly because I don’t trust them at all. But I’ll happily take their buffs because they’re all dope. In fact, it’s often really hard to decide which to choose because they’re all so good. Chained lightning from my special? Hell, yes, Uncle Zeus! A fog that makes enemies dizzy and therefore open to attack? Thanks, Cousin Dionysus! Deflecting attacks? Yes, please, Cousin Athena!

The NPCs are fabulous in this game. There’s Sisyphus, a cheerful fellow who is always ready to talk and help Zagreus out. How about Skelly? He’s the training dummy upon whom you practice your new weapons as he tosses out bon mots. Let’s talk the training room. That’s where you unlock new weapons and see which new boosts the NPCs have bestowed upon you. You have to earn keys in order to unlock new weapons, which I like. I’ve tried all the ones I’ve unlocked, naturally, and I’m surprised to say that the Heart-Seeking Bow is still my favorite. It’s what I used to beat the first boss the first time (after four or five failures), and it’s baller. I mean, it makes sense because I’m a caster at heart and ranged is the closest thing to casting in this game (well, not exactly. There is one cast, but it’s not…never mind). Also, it actually does real damage, which is missing from FromSoft bow and arrows. In addition, with the tons of mobs, having a ranged weapon makes it easier to avoid damage.

Oh, and my second big gripe of the game is the boss fights. I’ve only met two bosses, but both have had similar frustrations. They have too much health, especially the first one. Plus, there are adds (additional enemies) in both the fights. I hate adds because it just feels like a way to artificially inflate the difficulty of the boss without putting too much attention to the boss itself. I want to learn the boss and get their moves down and deal with them, not the bajillion enemies they spawn around them. In addition, plinking away at a massive health bar for several minutes take away from the experience as well. With the first boss, there are two moves she does that for me it’s simply easiest to run around in circles until she’s done. In fact, I would say that thus far, the bosses are the least impressive/enjoyable part of the game, and it shouldn’t be that way.

One other small gripe is that the floors vary so much in tactics. In the first floor, dashing around is the way to go to avoid traps and such. The second floor, on the other hand, is surrounded by fire to which Zagreus is resistant but not fire proof, so overzealous dashing has bad consequences. In addition, in order to get to the next room, you have to go on these docks next to boats that are in the fire, and if you go too far, you get burned. The second time I beat the first boss, I had an almost full health bar and burned to death trying to get to the second floor. That was an instant enthusiasm killer, let me tell you. Weirdly, though, I found the second floor more manageable than the first. When I beat the first floor boss for the first time, I made it all the way to the second floor boss. Who is meh as well.

The gameplay is fun and smooth, and the package is slickly offered. I am having fun playing the game. I see why it’s gotten all the accolades it’s received. I enjoy finding out more about the characters, and I love how much content there is in this game. And yet. There is a small voice in the back of my mind that I cannot silence. It says, “Is this it? Is there more? Will there be more than just this?” Immediately, I feel mean when I write this down because the game is so freaking good. And there’s so much to it! And I’m having a great time playing it!

And still.

The solution is that I’ll just keep playing it until I don’t want to play it any longer. That makes the most sense to me.

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