Hades is undoubtedly one of the best early access games I’ve ever played. That’s no shock, given that it comes from Supergiant Games, which made the likes of Pyre and Bastion. It’s a company that makes good games.
It made another one with Hades, which slots better than you might guess into early access, given that it’s a roguelike. Since it’s a game meant to be played over and over and over again, it’s easy to walk away from and return to every few months. That’s what I’ve been doing! But with the recent release of Hades‘ “Long Winter” update, I think I can finally put my finger on what makes it so good specifically — not just as another Supergiant outing or another roguelike in early access.
Part of it is that Hades is just so damn sexy. I mean that in the more general sense; it’s a fantastic looking game, with the bold 2D art and thick shadows you can expect from Supergiant. I also mean that this game is thirsty — and the developers know it. It’s obvious in characters like Dionysus, with his bare chest out to there, and his blushing smile that’s as intoxicating as the poison powers he bestows. It’s even more obvious in Aphrodite, who is literally naked but conveniently censored by tastefully arranged pink hair.
But nearly every god or monster you meet has some form of come hither energy. The newly added Demeter is coolly welcoming; Artemis has the look of a wary hunter, but maintains eye contact with a hand outstretched; Hermes is more than ready for you to catch him if you can.
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Even the protagonist, Zagreus, is the object of passion for a gorgon with a painful crush and (at least for now) up to two ungodly characters you can romance between runs.
At the same time, each of the above-it-all entities seems equally ready to kill you — like Ares with his blood red sword, or the unarmed Aphrodite with her inhumanly colored eyes. Each god gives you “boons” to bring into battle (creating your own loadout of weapons and spells in the process). It’s a power play. It’s a constant reminder of how much deadlier these cosmic creatures are compared to your poor, ever-dying Zagreus. That playful power dynamic in and of itself is pretty sexy. Not to mention, it also mirrors our own, existing myths of Greek gods as capricious: just as capable of taking a shine to us as leveling nations. They hold all the cards.
The dynamic isn’t just a perfect encapsulation of how literally and figuratively attractive Hades can be. It’s a very good reason to keep coming back on its own. Supergiant Games has always done a fantastic job of blending strong, austere characters with tense, customizable action. Hades does it better than ever, with a literal pantheon of oddballs to fight and flirt with. And the basic premise opens up more avenues to get to know even your enemies, since Zagreus already resides in the titular land of the dead.
Each time you “die,” you’re just sent back to the House of Hades, where your asshole father (the god of the dead) waits to mock you. It’s not all bad, though. You have friends in the house. Some of them are the same people trying to kill you. Since there are no lasting consequences to dying in the underworld, most of the named bosses don’t mind chatting you up or accepting drinks. This builds up a level of closeness over time — unlocking special abilities in some cases, and the aforementioned romance in others.
The more upgrades you unlock, the farther through hell you climb, gathering more boons and creating more custom loadouts of deadly powers. I personally enjoy powering up the shield weapon with venom from Dionysus. That way I can toss my bouncing disc between foes and let them rot — hiding behind the weapon’s block function as they do. Zeus and Ares have some fun skills that let you passively damage enemies as you dodge. Meanwhile, Athena lets you deflect attacks back at your enemies, encouraging a very quick and reactive playstyle.
All the skills drip with personality. All of them mix and match into seemingly endless combinations. You feel faster, deadlier, and more unique the more you cozy up to each deity. The power dynamic doesn’t shift, exactly, but you can toy with it. Your athletic runs through the afterlife — free of permanent consequence — begin to feel playful, especially as you literally gossip about them with, say, the one-winged furies who try to whip you back into your place. One of those bosses is also, appropriately, one of the initial romance options in the game.
The interactions between abilities (and Zagreus with his frenemies) make Hades an astounding early access game. Returning to the game every so often never stops feeling fresh or rewarding. But the weird and sexy style will set it apart from the pack long after its full release. It’s worth investing some cash in Hades right now; it will always be worth investing some time, a few drinks, and impish banter with its colorful cast.
Thanks for reading Early Assess: a look at in-development and early access games you can play right now! Each edition of this column is meant to highlight the best games worth your time — even if they’re not complete. This time we focused on Hades, available on Steam and the Epic Games Store, based on its Early Access Patch 039 (an extension of the Long Winter update).