Plumbing the Depths of Hades [Early Access Preview]

It must be hard to craft a good procedural experience. Be it roguelike, roguelite, or something in between, these games demand focus and time in equal measure and reward heavy dedication. Not only do they have to build a structure to keep both hardcore and casual players invested, but they have to rip the most faithful players away from their beloved classics like Enter the Gungeon or The Binding of Isaac. It’s a tall order, but few studios are more up to the task than Supergiant Games. As the studio is prone to do, it has jumped genres into the roguelite arena with Hades, and if its Early Access release is any indication, Supergiant might have another promising game on its hands.

Zagreus, the flame-footed protagonist, is a prince of the Underworld who hopes to escape from under his father’s iron fist. You have help from the rest of the Greek pantheon, who regularly send down boons that enhance your weapons and movement abilities, which you’ll need to take down Hades’ various deadly forces. The game is played from an isometric viewpoint and the arenas give you a little room to maneuver, which keeps fights intimate. Each randomized room poses an ever-increasing challenge, inching you closer to inevitable death.

Hades Early Access Preview – Treachery

So far, so similar, at least as far as roguelites are concerned. The well-executed gameplay puts Hades at the top of the pile when it comes to this category, but it wouldn’t be very notable if that was all it had. Thankfully, Supergiant isn’t just bringing their combat skills to the fold here. Between runs, Zagreus must march through Hell’s entry hall, enduring the harsh taunts of his father. He can chat with all manner of characters, and storylines play out as you return over and over with new gifts and skills. There’s also a codex that holds more background info about the world and fills in more as you converse with everyone.

Every run gives you a little more story, eventually revealing why Zagreus wants to depart Hell and adding new characters to chat with. There’s sometimes too little to do here and it almost feels superfluous when placed next to a robust combat system. There was one instance of a character returning to the home world after I interacted with them on a run, and I’d love to see more interactions like that interspersed in my travels. As is, the cycle can get repetitive, which is never something you want in something that’s supposed to be effortlessly repeatable.

Hades Early Access Preview – Gluttony

Hades Early Access Gameplay

As you’d expect, the writing is spectacular. However, it’s also completely optional, which is pretty smart. Even though Supergiant’s fans might come for the narrative, this type of game is likely going to attract players who are all about mechanical complexity. Hades will serve those players well even in its Early Access form. Each of the four weapons has a good variety of options and feel great to wield. All of them are viable options too and the smooth controls make it easy to see how someone could theoretically enjoy using the default sword the whole time.

I eventually gravitated to the shield, which is a weapon that proves how much I used to play Marvel Heroes. You have a bash attack and a bull rush, but the best option with this one is to throw the shield and watch it ricochet between opponents. Of course, you’re defenseless while the shield is flying, but you can keep running around and tossing it out as long as you’re careful. Add in chain lightning with every attack or increased critical hits and you’ve got one winning strategy out of many.

Hades Early Access Preview – Prodigality

Hades Early Access Combat Gameplay

That’s truly the key to Hades‘ success right now. I found my strategy and started learning the ropes, but other tactics will work for other players. Each power-up gives you three options to choose from, letting you build up your character in each run as you see fit. However, the power-ups don’t add too much out of left field as of yet. Outside of a few cool ideas, there just mainly stat boosts; the type of generic power-up that will bore you pretty quickly. Considering that the developer has already added at least one enemy to the game since its release, it looks like a given that Supergiant is going to expand every aspect before Hades reaches version 1.0. And it should if upgrades are going to be as important as they should be.

Even if the randomized mechanics aren’t fully fleshed out as of yet, the rest of the game feels extraordinarily polished. Environments glisten with a distinct style, and the 3D models hide their stiff movements behind plenty of flash and particle effects. Sound and music are also up to the quality you’d expect from a Supergiant release, with tunes I already know I want to procure outside the game. Best of all, the fully voiced characters react to what you’re doing in-game à la Bastion, which is a trick that never gets old.

Supergiant continues to be one of the most interesting development teams on the indie scene. Going to Early Access for their fourth game instead of staying the course is risky. You probably already know if an Early Access roguelite is going to be your bag or not. If you’re not ready to start your trip through Hades, this early build makes it seem like it will be worth the wait.

Hades was previewed on PC via the Epic Games Store with a copy provided by the developers.