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Review: Hades (PlayStation 5)By Nayu At 11.09.2022 09:11

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The son of Hades, Zagreus, has a tumultuous relationship with his father. Like many teenagers, Zagreus is feeling rather rebellious. Done with his time in the land of the dead, he's decided he wants to head up to the world of the living, then on to visit his family in Olympus. Hades isn't too happy with this decision, and so, sets out a few roadblocks on Zagreus' path. Those roadblocks being… the entire power of the realm of the dead. Zagreus has to fight through countless enemies, yet has some help on his side though. The residents of Hades that Zagreus has built relationships with all hoping for Zagreus' success. Some, go even further, assisting him from the shadows. The main person to do so, is his mother, Nyx. She does so quite literally, as the Goddess of night grants the young godling a magical mirror with which he can enhance his abilities, not to mention, brokering assistance from the Gods high on Olympus for his quest.

These helping hands are key features of the game. Hades is a roguelike where Zagreus has to escape room after room of procedurally generated enemies and rewards, climbing higher and higher, gathering strength on each attempt to make subsequent attempts easier. It's a formula that has worked for a long time. There's no real experience gauge here though, no levelling up for Zag for each wayward soul he dispatches. Instead, strength is gained through enhancements on each run, and by spending the various currency acquired on those runs. Each room has a different reward at its end, often this reward comes in the form of a boon from the Gods. A glowing symbol representing one of the Pantheon - lightning bolt for Zeus, trident for Poseidon, wine goblet for Dionysus - opens a magical Skype call that reaches the Gods high on Olympus where they impart a little wisdom, a little exposition, and one of three "Boons." These Boons have a huge range to pull from, and each has various rarities and levels, enhancing their effects depending on the luck of the pull. It's these abilities that make the whole experience so much fun. Especially if Tyche is feeling generous.

There are countless builds to play with, countless combinations with very different experiences off the back of them. Especially when there are numerous different weapons to select and add into the mix too. It gives each and every run a chance of being a very different experience. Taking the fast-hitting Fists of Malphon and combining it with Zeus' chain lightning boon that fires off bolts of lightning that bounce between enemies on every hit, add in Hermes ability to increase the speed of all attacks, and Zagreus becomes a cross between the Flash and Muhammed Ali. Hammering jabs at literal lightning-fast speed. Take Coronach, the Heart-Seeking Bow, and combine it with Poseidon's ability to knock enemies back, and Demeter's boon to slow enemies means nothing can even get close. Picking which to pick up when, and how to focus on a certain build for a run is essential for success.

Success does not come easy, however. Between each of the areas within Hades, deadly bosses await, before them, a bevy of flavours of minions with all manner of attacks constantly keep players on their toes. Deaths come regularly, but so do pieces of Darkness, bottles of Nectar, Coins of Charon, and Gemstones. While coins are only retained during a run and lost upon death, the rest are kept for taking back to the basement, and used to improve things there. Pieces of Darkness can be used with Zagreus' magic mirror to enhance his abilities and grant passive buffs. From extra lives to use during runs, to more health, to extra damage with certain attacks.

Then there are Gemstones that can be used with the overworked contractor for refurbishing various areas within the realm. Purchasing safe rooms, unlocking pots of coin that can randomly appear, or treasure caches. All to make subsequent runs more rewarding and a touch easier. With more renovation options available for some of the rarer finds within the realm. Finally, there are the bottles of Nectar. For many this won't be much of a draw, they can be given to each member of the supporting cast and upon the first gifting, they provide Zag with a gift in return. An equippable charm that levels up with use, and has a wide range of abilities. From adding an extra life atop Zag's maximum, to dealing bonus damage when attacking from behind, receiving extra coin on each run, and more - but it's upon gifting more and more of these bottles that the real reward comes about.

Now, the gameplay in Hades is absolutely fantastic, but for some, the story will be the draw. Anyone who knows anything of Greek Mythology is going to adore this. There are so many little winks and nods that there's something for anyone in the audience. For the history buffs, for fans of FGO, for those who just loved Clash of the Titans. Each of the supporting cast has their own little story arc. The lovelorn Orpheus and his muse Eurydice are having quite the spat and it's driven Orpheus into a petulant depression. There's a tiff between the brothers Thanatos, the God of Death, and Hypnos, the God of Sleep. It's not just the residents in the house of Hades to build such bonds with either, each Olympian has their own bond to build too. Each delivering captivating and entertaining stories that intertwined the source material with modern takes.

It's not much of a spoiler to say reaching the exit is possible. Like many Roguelikes, the real game doesn't truly begin until after that hard-won first completion. It's certainly the case with Hades.
After the first completion, a brand new gameplay system is unlocked entitled 'Pact of Punishment;' a series of gameplay modifiers for each subsequent run that adds extra levels of difficulty to the attempts, but also brings new rewards. Running through a full escape gives rewards from the boss of each section. Titan's Blood from the first boss; a Diamond from the second; Ambrosia from the third. Defeat each boss a second time with the same weapon, and these covet rewards are removed. Replaced with a few pieces of Darkness instead. So, a play-through with every weapon is necessary to start stockpiling the good stuff - but, what about once a run with every run is complete? This is where the Pact of Punishment system comes in.

Applying negative modifiers raises the 'Heat Gauge' for a run. A run with a heat gauge that hasn't been completed yet gives another reward. Complete a run on heat gauge level one. Get another Titan's Blood, another Diamond, another Ambrosia. Then start another run, add some extra Pact of Punishment modifiers to get to heat level two, repeat. On and on all the way up to level 20 heat. Giving an impressive pile of currency items. There are some bonus extra rewards at higher levels too for those who can take on the challenge. This may sound off putting for some. Hades can be challenging to begin with and making it even harder? Thankfully, this caters to those too. There's a "God Mode" that can be toggled in the options menu that when activated allow Zagreus to grow more resilient with each death. Beginning with 20% damage resistance it increases by 2% after every return to the Styx, until it reaches the cap of 80%. It's wonderful to see such an easy mode feature to be added, so anyone can enjoy what's on offer here.

…But now that Zagreus has amassed this little cache of currency, what can he actually use it for? While at first, it seems that each can be used just for purchasing further upgrades from Hades' House Contractor. Each of the major rewards in-game requires these rarer currencies, often in much higher number. Each of Zagreus' weapons can be upgraded. Transforming attacks into more effective versions, granting passive bonuses to damage, and more. Each weapon also holds a special "Aspect" upgrade that when unlocked delivers a new level of godlike power. Diamonds are one of the hottest currencies in the game, needed for the major upgrades to the experience like getting a fishing rod, unlocking numerous hidden chambers and some major plot-related developments in the late game. Finally, Ambrosia is used to max out the relationships with each of the supporting cast. Resolving each character's story and granting a nice little reward for each.

The Greek God of Music is believed to be Apollo (along with the Sun and various other things). That is incorrect. It's Korb. Darren Korb. The musical director of the game who must have made some sort of bargain with Hades for the unfair genius-level power he possesses. Every single entry on the soundtrack is superb. It's required to get either a slamming subwoofer and surround sound, or the best headphones possible and to crank it up to 11. Coming to the PS5 it has received quite the overhaul on the performance front compared to Switch. Hades runs at a smooth 60fps and 4K constantly on PS5, and the lack of any load times is noticeable for those that experienced this on both. The PS5 also brings the customary Trophies with it, as if there weren't enough variables on each subsequent run to play through, with all the different boons to collect, all the weapons to try, all the items to gather - the addition of trophies with specific conditions simply gives even more life to this modern classic.

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Final Score
Absolutely, absurdly, ungodly, good. An honest to Gods masterpiece, the likes of which are rarely seen anymore. As fun on the first run as on the fiftieth. What makes a Roguelike special is one that can keep the player engaged long term and there are so many little elements that will keep its audience coming back again and again. It's hard to find a flaw. To find a way this could be better. Supergiant have set their bar high here, delivering a game that will be used as an example in numerous areas for years to come. Following on from [i]Transistor[/i], and [i]Bastion[/i], it's exciting to see what they'll do next.



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