Hades Gameplay Explained - How Good Is This Game?

Hades Gameplay Explained
Zagreus, son of Hades himself, is the protagonist of the game Hades.

Hades is a roguelike dungeon crawler where you play as Zagreus, the charismatic son of the god of the underworld, Hades himself. This well-thought-out story of Olympian drama will drop you seamlessly into an action-packed dungeon while simultaneously presenting you with a rich and stunning world. Join me as I journey into Tartarus and attempt to defy the will of Hades and fight my way to the surface world.

In this 2021 BAFTA winner of the Best Game award, you will generate bonds, renovate your home, and fight through scores of the underworld's denizens. However, is it worth the hype?


In the House of Hades

Zagreus banters with Hades in the House of Hades

Zagreus banters with Hades within the walls of the House of Hades

As Zagreus, you have been residing within the House of Hades along with several colorful characters including Megaera, one of the three furies that you will end up fighting before long. But, I am getting ahead of myself. 

The house is where you go between dungeon runs and the place where you can stop to talk to the other characters, complete quests, upgrade your dwelling, and gear up for your next run. You can even pet Cerberus, the three-headed good boy of a family dog. 

Rebuilding the House of Hades is a delightful respite for the intense action you will experience in the dungeon. As you collect resources and further character plotlines, this area will expand, and new characters will arrive. Much of the story of the game will happen here. 

Between the antagonization of Hades and the quips of your literal punching bag, Skelly, you will find your weapons, keepsakes, and the Mirror of Night. These are vital to building enough skill and power to break out of the underworld.


The Armory

Zagreus practices using one of his Infernal Arms on Skelly

Zagreus practices using one of his Infernal Arms on Skelly

Located within the House of Hades, before you embark into Tartarus, is your armory. Here is where you unlock and select which of your infernal arms or weapons you wish to take out on a run. As you meet and befriend characters out in the world, you will gain keepsakes that imbue you with further abilities. 

The combo of weapon and trinket selected will heavily influence your playstyle for that run. There is something for everyone here. You have weapons ranging from the quick and short-range fists of Malphon to the slower-paced ranged bow, Coronacht. 

Here, you will meet one of my favorite characters, Skelly. This mysterious training dummy appears early and is a fun and supportive sidekick.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the late-game events, but this is where you will access the Pact of Punishment. These pacts will increase the difficulty of a run keeping the game fresh and challenging for quite some time.    


The Mirror of Night

An early game look at the options available within the Mirror of Night

An early game look at the Mirror of Night

With the act of collecting resources, comes the need for something to spend them on. Enter the Mirror of Night. This is an artifact that will help you to accumulate power and allow you to further customize each dungeon run.

One of your first alliances will be with the goddess of night, Nyx, who is your stepmother. She will make the mirror available with the addendum that you have to grow the power needed for it to work. Que the family drama. 

At the beginning of the game, the mirror will be straightforward and limited. As you progress into the game, you will unlock numerous options and powers. This will lead to some lofty and game-changing decisions.

The resource you need for the mirror is Darkness which we will get into below.


Running the Dungeon

Zagreus fights his way through Tartarus

Zagreus fights his way out of Tartarus

Within moments of starting a new game, you will arrive in your first dungeon run. This is the core of the gameplay. 

Do you want to be able to get up close and personal with your enemies and sucker-punch them or turn a rapid-fire gun into what is essentially a missile launcher? You’ll get a chance to do both and so much more.

There are four unique levels separating the procedurally generated dungeon. Starting in Tartarus and working your way to the Temple of Styx, you will fight through rooms filled with various enemies, mini-bosses, and level bosses. Be sure to avoid the traps.

Upon completing each room, you will gain a reward. These are abilities otherwise known as boons, gold, resources, increased health, etc. This will allow you to build an array of combat capabilities and make each run different.

The ability to diversify your play styles is vital to replaying the dungeons. You will grow to look forward to starting a new run as much as the action of being on one.


Boons and the Gods of Olympus

Zagreus meets Zeus for the first time in Tartarus

Zagreus meets Zeus for the first time within Tartarus

As you battle your way up to the surface, you will start to encounter the gods of Olympus. These carefully crafted characters endow you with powerful boons that vary from character to character. Figuring out powerful combos that boons impart is an exciting portion of the game.

From Zeus and his lightning-powered direct damage to Poseidon’s ability to use waves to slam enemies against walls, the differing styles that the gods offer create an environment where each run offers something exciting. While some gods are more powerful than others, each god has something to add to your build.

Being a member of the Greek gods is a complicated matter. It quickly becomes apparent that there are unhealthy family dynamics brewing. 

As you meet more of your family and become familiar with their power sets, you will get to know their relation to the underworld and Hades. Navigating this dynamic and repairing relationships is a major plotline throughout the game.

The Greek gods are a dramatic and dynamic bunch and the folks at Supergiant Games have done an excellent job at representing them. Immersing yourself in these stories and doing what you can to mend these relationships is satisfying. If you’ve ever loved Greek myths, you’ll love seeing these characters come to life.


Death and Dying in Hades

Zagreus meets his demise and traverses the River Styx

Zagreus perishes and gets a trip up the River Styx

As you fight your way from Tartarus to the Temple of Styx and beyond, you are going to die time and time again. Sometimes it will be a respectable death by the Bull of Minos and sometimes it’ll be an embarrassing death when you step on a trap at the wrong moment. We don’t judge.

One of the hallmarks of a good roguelike is how replayable it is, and you will have much to do even once the credits have come and gone. 

On the one hand, it’s convenient that when a dungeon isn’t going your way it won’t last too long and you can still collect some resources. On the other hand, your best runs will feel too short and leave you wanting more. 

Every time you get a trip down the River Styx, you’ll arrive back home. This will result in the progression of storylines with characters back at the house. So be sure to check who has a story marker above their head and chat them up.


Collecting Darkness

Learning the lore of the resource Darkness

Learning the lore of the resource Darkness

One of the first resources you will encounter in the game is Darkness. It is the power of the goddess, Nyx. This resource powers up the abilities in the Mirror of Night and comes up in house renovations. 

This is one of the main resources in the game, and you will acquire a copious amount of it. If you are a completionist, you will need an insane amount. Here are a few tips for starting your Darkness collection early. 

Much of the Darkness collected will be in the dungeon. It is regularly available as a room reward, for defeating a level boss, or by buying it. When you select a weapon, once you have unlocked a few weapons, one of them will grant a 20% bonus to Darkness and Gems received during that specific run. Take my word for it, this bonus is worth it. 

There are ways to collect Darkness back at your house as well. The first is by completing quests off the Fated List which you will commission from the house contractor. Secondly, once you have the fishing mini-game unlocked some of the fish will reward Darkness when returned to the chef. Yes, that’s right, Zagreus fishes from the River Styx.

Good luck!


Chthonic Keys

Learning the lore of the resource Cthonic Keys

Learning the lore of the resource Cthonic Keys

The other resource I want to call out is more of an early-game one and that’s Chthonic Keys. Their primary use is to unlock new infernal arms and unlock or reset abilities on the Mirror of Night. There are a few other items you can purchase with Chthonic Keys via the house contractor or the resource director. 

Similarly to Darkness, there are numerous methods to acquire these keys. Keep an eye out for what room reward you will be getting during a dungeon run and for the ability to buy keys. Simultaneously, be sure to check the Fated List and fishing holes for additional rewards.

Unlike Darkness, this resource is one you will collect heavily in the beginning and reach a drop-off point where it becomes less important. However, you’ll always want to keep a few handy even once you’ve fulfilled their primary purposes.


Gifting Nectar

Zagreus about to present Achilles with some delightful nectar

Zagreus about to gift Achilles with some delicious nectar

Fostering relationships with the characters in the House of Hades as well as out in the dungeon, is vital to progressing the many intertwined storylines available. These plot lines are endearing, and you will grow an affinity for several characters you meet. They are well-voiced and unlock exciting extras such as a truly beautiful duet among other alluring music. 

One of the things that I loved about this game was the way that I would always stop and listen to the fully narrated lines delivered by the characters. I found myself interested in the delivery of the story and, even after I’d played through the game, I didn’t skim the dialog and skip through the VO.

The main method to building these relationships is through talking with the characters and giving them nectar. Nectar is a resource that you will acquire similarly to Darkness and Chthonic Keys. 

The story of family drama and the forging of bonds with these characters is part of what sets Hades apart from other solid roguelikes.


Charon’s Shop and Special Encounters

Eurydice offers Zagreus a delicious gift

Eurydice bestows a delicious reward upon Zagreus

The last element I want to touch on is some special rooms you can randomly encounter during a dungeon run. These are some spectacular characters you meet while escaping who offer versatility and powerful abilities.

The first is Charon the boatman. This fellow ferries souls down the River Styx. He runs a shop you encounter throughout all four levels of the underworld.

Collecting coins for Charon will be a treasure hunt that enables you to buy a random assortment of boons, health, and resources. While he is not a talkative character, there are some hidden interactions with him that I won’t spoil here. In the words of Charon “Krrr, Kraaauuugggghhhhh.”

The indicator for the rest of the special characters is a “!” on the room reward preview. It is typically advisable to interact with these characters when they appear on a level. Each of these characters will have a quest that you can unlock by befriending them in the same manner as the other characters throughout the game.

There are three of these special characters in total. That’s one for each of the first three levels of the game. There is Sisyphus and his boulder, the carefree muse; Eurydice, and Patroclus and his tale of great loss.

While I don’t have time to cover Chaos, a character I was willing to pay multiple blood sacrifices to learn more about, I do want to call him out. 

For all these reasons and more and to answer the question originally posed by this article: Hades is, in fact, not just a good game but a great game.

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From the rocky shores of Washington State, Stephanie approaches the coastline with wonder and curiosity. With a natural ability to spot keen details and a love of brewed ales, she was at home.
Gamer Since: 1998
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Vampire the Masquerade
Top 3 Favorite Games:Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Life is Strange

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