Video Game Reviews

Hades – Death Is Only The Beginning

Hades is a procedurally-generated rogue-light hack-and-slash developed and published by Supergiant Games—the studio that previously brought us such games as Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. 

The game follows Zagreus, prince of the underworld and generally chill dude, who is on a mission to escape the underworld and find his birth mother. Unfortunately, Hades—Zagreus’s Father—has forbidden him from leaving and ordered all the souls within the underworld to stop the prince’s escape. So, Zagreus takes up his sword and begins slashing his way to the surface. 

I’ve been playing a lot of procedurally-generated roguelike games recently, like Returnal and Enter the Gungeon, and was worried that I would be too inundated with the genre to really give Hades a fair shake.

[I cant take much more of this wonka gif]

 It turns out that, to me, Hades—like Hollow Knightis a nearly perfect iteration of its genre.

This game is amazing.

I know I’m showing my hand right at the beginning of this review, but I think it’s worth mentioning early on. It’s been a while since I was suitably impressed with a game straight out of the gate, but Hades really does deserve the praise that has been heaped atop it. 

With that out of the way, I’ll get down to the details of what makes this game so freaking good. That way, people who are on the fence (if there are any left) or who are interested but need more information can make an informed decision. 

Death Becomes Him

One of the strongest aspects of Hades is the way death is handled in game.

When Zagreus dies while trying to escape the underworld, the game does not restart like it does in Enter the Gungeon, or take you back to the beginning of a time-loop like Returnal. Instead, the story —and time—moves forward. The denizens of Hades’s palace know that you failed to escape and will talk to you about it.

Some conversations are more constructive than others

Now, death is not the ideal outcome. You need to escape to further the main story. But dying will give you opportunities to do other things, such as:

  • Further the individual storylines of the characters in the underworld
  • Buy new skills and abilities
  • Change out your weapon
  • Redecorate the palace interior
  • Learn to play the lute (later in the game)
  • Deepen your relationship with certain characters
  • Buy upgrades for the various regions of Hades to aid in your escape attempts

So, the more you die, the more you can do. This doesn’t mean you should aim for a death, but some of the best dialog is hidden behind many, many deaths. 

‘Tis a Boon

Now, I mentioned that dying allows you to buy new skills and abilities to further aid you in your escape attempts. There is, however,  another game mechanic that allows you to power up each run, but is lost upon death (or success):

Boons. 

You see, the gods of Olympus have heard of Zagreus’s plight, and have been moved to action. So, as you make your way through the underworld, the gods will occasionally lend you a modicum of their power to help you fight your way to the surface. 

What makes the boons so powerful is the way they stack and synergize. For example, Zeus’s boons focus on lightning damage. So, you might find a boon that allows your attack to hit nearby enemies with a bolt of lightning. If you find a secondary boon from Zeus, it might allow your lightning to strike twice, or to cause a secondary status effect called “Jolted.”

Effective against both babies AND demons.

By the time you’ve gotten through a couple of bosses, you might have over a dozen boons making you stronger and augmenting the way you play.

This makes each run almost entirely unique. This is especially true when you add in the different weapon types, which can further differentiate a playthrough since some boons are much more effective on certain types of weapons.

Unfortunately, this random boon generation can lead to some lackluster runs, but—if you die—you can start over and see what the fates have in store for you.   

Life After Death

Most of the characters in Hades are either gods, monsters, or shades (the spirits of those who have died). This means that they are all essentially immortal, and have been trapped in the underworld for aeons. 

This also means that Zagreus’s repeated escape attempts are upsetting the status quo, and each character has a different opinion about what is transpiring. 

Some characters are rooting—albeit mostly in secret—for Zagreus to succeed. Some want him to stop, and others are either indifferent or don’t really understand what’s going on.

It’s these characters, and your interactions with them, that are the backbone of the entire game. Sure, the gameplay is satisfying, and the mechanics are nearly  flawless, but coming back to Hades’s palace and getting to talk to everyone was the highlight of the game.

You see, the more you play through the game, the more you learn about everyone. And as we all know, the more you learn…

…and the more you know, the better the story becomes.

When you first meet some of the characters, they might feel flat. However, if you make sure to talk to everyone, you’ll start to see that each and every one of them…most of them… have a much more involved story than you would have originally thought.

I will admit that most of these interactions are short but sweet, but if you’ve played through several dozen times, it adds up to a serious amount of dialog and story. 

Death By Degrees

As a game where death is a part of the story, both figuratively and literally, it has a lot of replayability right out of the gate. You could probably play the game from now until the end of time and be hard pressed to see two identical runs. However, the developers at Supergiant Games took things a step further. 

When you finally do manage to succeed in escaping from the underworld, you can start over again with something called the “The Pact of Punishment.” This essentially allows you to make the game more difficult on subsequent playthroughs. What makes the pact mechanic so interesting is that you can choose how much harder you would like the game to be. 

Sure. Why not?

Think that the prices in the store are too low? You can up them by 40% to start with. Getting bored with the boss fights? You can give them an extra move set. Are the enemies feeling too easy? Well you can give them extra armor, or have them deal more damage, or even give the tougher enemies unique abilities.

These adjustments, along with different weapon aspects and keepsakes (little trinkets that give you special passive abilities) ensure that Hades has a hard time overstaying its welcome. 

Once More 

Overall, Hades is an amazing game. The gameplay and mechanics are some of the best I’ve ever seen. The level design, while repetitive, never feels stale. The characters stand out in all the right ways and are easy to sympathize with. And the story, while given in small bites, is extremely well done.

My only gripe with the game is it’s menus. I’m not a huge fan of how they were laid out, and navigating them can be kind of a pain. Though you honestly don’t spend a lot of time in them, so it’s not a big deal. 

I’m giving Hades a divine 9.5/10. It hits all the right notes, at exactly the right time, and manages to exceed any and all of my expectations (menus notwithstanding).

With all that said, I’m looking forward to whatever Supergiant Games does next, and I’ll try very hard not to condemn it for not being Hades.   

Video Game Reviews

Immortals: Fenyx Rising – A Legend is Born

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is an open-world action-adventure game from Ubisoft, the developers of everything from Assassins Creed to Rayman. I remember seeing a couple of pictures from the game a few months before it was released and, honestly, I was not impressed. It looked like something from the early 2000’s with updated graphics. So, I mostly ignored anything to do with it. 

Then, shortly after its release, I read a short review that compared it to Breath of the Wild—one of my all time favorite games. I was still a little hesitant, but I had just managed to secure a PS5…

Bingpot!

I needed a couple of launch titles to test the system out, so I grabbed Immortals: Fenyx Rising on a lark. 

It was one of the best decisions I’ve made (game wise) in a long time. 

So, if you were on the fence, as I once was, let me try and convince you that the grass is indeed much greener on this side. 

A Mythic Tale…

The story of Immortals: Fenyx Rising begins with Typhon—the biggest, scariest monster in all of Greek Mythology—being released from his subterranean prison. He subsequently defeats all the gods standing in his way and begins gathering power so that he can corrupt the world and remake it in his image.

Zeus, the last remaining holdout of the gods, goes to seek help from Prometheus. 

Now, Prometheus isn’t in any kind of mood to help Zeus, especially since Zeus chained him to a rock to suffer for all eternity.

So they weren’t exactly “friends.”

He does, however, propose a wager: If a mortal hero can defeat Typhon, then Zeus has to release Prometheus. If the mortal is unsuccessful, then Prometheus will help Zeus by speaking to the Titans. 

Zeus takes the bet because he has no faith in mortals, and either way it’s a win for him. So, Prometheus begins the “Tale of Fenyx, the mortal who will defeat Typhon.”

..And A Godly Heckler  

The whole game is, therefore, a story being told. 

This is one of my favorite aspects of the game for a number of reasons. The first is that, while Prometheus is trying to tell his story, Zeus continuously interrupts with little asides and anecdotes about how awesome he is and how terrible everyone else is. He constantly questions why mortals suck so hard…

Our creations give little evidence to the contrary

…and he’s pretty much out to ruin a good story in the most hilarious way possible. 

This dynamic is also an interesting way to introduce the various myths and legends of ancient Greek mythology. Prometheus usually gives you the standard version of whichever myth you happen to stumble upon, and then Zeus will chime in with his two cents. This injects a huge amount of personality into the story, which it would have lacked otherwise. 

More Than a Copy

The gameplay in Immortals: Fenyx Rising is eerily similar to Breath of the Wild In a lot of ways. You can climb just about anything, you have a depleting stamina gauge, you have a set of wings that are functionally the hang-glider that Link uses, and I could add about a dozen other ways in which it is similar. However for all the ways it imitates Breath of the Wild, there are a dozen more in which it sets itself apart. 

The first is combat. In BOTW, fighting enemies required an amount of strategy and preparation that wasn’t exactly tedious, but could border on it from time to time. This was especially true since your weapons could break. 

Fenyx dumps all the tedium and focuses on letting you run wild. The parry and dodge mechanics coupled with your godly powers and rudimentary skill trees make combat an ever evolving ballet of blades.

The second way Fenyx separates itself from BOTW is the previously-mentioned skill trees. While Link is basically the same throughout BOTW, Fenyx is constantly improving in significant ways. Her progression is similar to that of a Metroidvania protagonist, except your new skills aren’t required to beat the game. Her glide gets a movement speed increase. You even get a double jump.

Or triple or quadruple jump, if you’re good enough

The last difference (that I’ll bother to mention) is the potion system. While BOTW had a staggering amount of potions to make and foods to cook, which had varying effects, Fenyx opted to streamline this process. There are only four items you need to gather in order to create the potions that sustain you. 

That’s it. 

You don’t have to remember any complicated recipes or spend your time trying to figure out the right amount of ingredients. You simply take one of your four ingredients and create a potion out of it. You can increase the potion’s effectiveness by upgrading your cauldrons, but it is simple and wildly effective.

Got My Mind on My Puzzles and My Puzzles on My Mind

My absolute favorite aspect of Immortals: Fenyx Rising is the puzzles—and there are a lot of them.

The most fun I had in the game was going up to a high point, locating all the nearby challenges and puzzles, and then systematically completing each one. 

Sometimes a puzzle was as simple as pushing a block onto a switch. Other times you’d face an interconnected series of puzzles, each of which required you to scour an entire area for every rock, tree, and block in order to solve them.

Now where’s that switch?

Now, I will say that the variation on puzzles wasn’t extensive by any definition of the word. They were essentially the same handful of mechanics over and over. However, what they lacked in variety they made up for in execution. 

Sure, most puzzles involved moving blocks or shooting arrows, but the amount of diversity that was displayed within these confines was enough to keep me searching for more. 

I also found that there was, sometimes, more than one solution to a puzzle. While most were straightforward, others allowed for wiggle room. Can’t find the block that you’re clearly missing to hold down a pressure plate? Look for some rocks nearby and use them instead. Can’t find a large block to stand on to make a high jump? Exploiting your Ares’s wrath ability could give you the boost you need. 

This leniency where puzzles were involved led me to try increasingly obtuse methods to solve them… and it was an absolute blast.

A Hero Risen

Overall, Immortals: Fenyx Rising is an amazing game. The story, while simple, is entertaining, and the characters are hilarious and quirky. The combat is fast paced—even if it does eventually get a little stale once your enemies reach their difficulty cap—and the puzzles are plentiful and on-point. 

So, if you are looking for a game to really sink your teeth into, I recommend you do yourself a favor and pick this one up. 

I’m giving Immortals: Fenyx Rising an epic 9/10.

Zeus: What? you couldn’t just give a ten.

I mean, it was really really good, but it wasn’t perfect.

Zeus: Well, we’ll see how you feel once I turn you into a swan or a tree or something.