Let’s Talk Hades

There are a handful of game companies where I buy all their products, they are simply that consistent. Supergiant Games is one and Hades is no exception to the trend.

Incrementals/Roguelikes are all the rage. That does make sense, since developers make smaller packages and re-use it for dozens of hours of content. Assassin’s Creed recycles a ton of content, but it still adds small tweaks to the layout. Clearing that last fort on the map isn’t much different from the first one, it just happens to be on a hill rather than a bay.

A pure roguelike doesn’t allow for increments between plays, it expects the player to learn how to get better over time. Pure incrementals allow for the player to choose when to reset, and then provides some boost to the next attempt. You can find hundreds of these in mobile apps.

The merger between both is a challenge in terms of balance. You want there to be a cap to the increment in player power, but not so much that the game over screen never is a possibility after a few attempts. Conversely, you want the increments to be valuable so that people can “beat” the game. Tricky math, and as a general rule, players are much smarter than developers in that regard. Slay the Spire and Dead Cells are two recent examples of games that hit that just right.

Hades has more in common with Dead Cells, but focuses less on exploration and more on intense combat. The best Dead Cell runs simply blow through looking for specific drops. Hades forces you to clear everything in a room before giving you options as to the rewards in the next room. It’s hectic action with a period of respite afterwards.

Mechanically, the game has multiple levers to increment both the power of the player as well as the difficulty. It took me 17 tries to beat the final boss, and that first win had much less to do with the power increments than it did with my knowledge of the game.

The real beauty in Hades is the setting. Every character you talk to exposes more of the story, but only 1 conversation at a time, and often only after you die. And they are solidly written and drawn. Each one has their own motivations, slowing lifting the fog of the game as you progress. The friendly competitions with Thanatos, or great cooking of Eurydice are high points in the mess of tons of enemies. Even the bosses have dialogue that they expand upon after previous victories/defeats.

It’s easy to lose a couple hours to runs, a whole bunch of “one more turn” of old. Dying never feels like punishment, cause you’re always getting something from a run. And you never really feel cheated along the way, because you have more control over the room rewards than the high randomness of something like Slay the Spire. And once you beat the final boss, a whole new aspect of difficulty opens up, with a level of granularity that isn’t common in games.

And with any game of this nature, speedrunners are going at it. See video below, which took about as long for the whole game as it did for me to clear the last boss on my first attempt.

That’s fast.

An amazing game. Well worth the pick up. I’ll have a future post on some strategies I’ve found over many failures.

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