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If you follow video games at all, you’ve almost certainly heard of Hades. It was named Game of the Year by many people and publications, and for good reason. It’s impeccably written, has interesting characters, and it’s fun as hell (heh) to play, making it a seriously compelling game. And it’s addictive! So much so, that it’s directly responsible for my buying a Nintendo Switch Lite, so I didn’t have to fight with my kids anymore for the family’s Switch.

There is no character creation with Hades, which was fine by me, given how tight the writing and story are. You play the whole game from the perspective of Zagreus, who is the son of Hades, god of the Underworld. Zagreus is fed up with his dad and wants to get to the surface. To do so, he has to clear three floors, fighting a boss at the end of each, and then has to defeat Hades himself. Is it possible to do this in one go? Not a chance. And that’s one of the main reasons why I love this game so much.

http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/WP/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/zagreus.png

Zagreus frequently counters his dad’s hectoring with snark

I’ve seen Hades referred to as a “rogue-like” and as a “rogue-lite”, which is because of the gameplay mechanics. This handy-dandy article will give you the full lowdown on what those terms mean (FWIW, its publisher’s site calls it a rogue-like). In Hades, the rooms on each level are always randomly generated, so each run feels different. Zagreus hacks, bashes, or shoots his way through, killing everything in his path until he gets killed and winds up back at home. Hades taunts Zagreus each time he returns and others in the court offer interactions that range between kind/helpful and rude. In each run, you accrue items that can be used to upgrade Zagreus and his abilities, clean up the palace, unlock weapons, and build relationships with side characters.

Speaking of side characters, there are many! In the underworld, we meet Nyx, who is presented as Zagreus’s mother and she’s also sort of like the manager of the House of Hades. Cerberus is the very best boy a three-headed dog could possibly be, Achilles is a trusted advisor to Zagreus, and Dusa is a sweet, nervous floating Gorgon’s head who constantly cleans.

When Zagreus is out and about, killing his way through the Underworld’s levels, he’s also regularly visited by his aunts and uncles from Mount Olympus. The gods and goddesses each give him boons, which are basically abilities that only last for that particular run. Personally, my favourites come from Zeus (lightning abilities) and Aphrodite (causes weakness in enemies).

There are also a few love interests and you can let Zagreus romance any or all of them. My Zagreus romanced all three, and I love the sweet, bisexual, polyamorous boy he became.

http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/WP/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Thanatos.png

Zag’s boy-foe turned boyfriend, Thanatos

There are also six weapons to choose from, which are called the Infernal Arms. Whether you like to play with a sword, spear, shield (which can be thrown or bashed into enemies), bow and arrow, gigantic fuck-off metal fists, or a gun, there’s something for you. Each run, the game gives you an incentive to use a different weapon by making one of them glow purple, explaining that you’ll do an additional 20% damage if you use it. I only ever used the purple weapons because it seemed foolish not to take the extra damage, especially given how many times I knew I’d be running through the dungeons.

http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/WP/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Nyx.png

Nyx, plus Zagreus with those gigantic metal fists

How many times will you run through? I can’t say for sure, but if you love Hades as much as I do, it will be a lot. In fact, when I killed Hades the first time, which took 25ish runs, a friend told me, “Now the game really begins for you.” And she was right! As of writing this review, I’ve made 67 runs through the Underworld and I’m still not done yet. I can tell I’m getting close, but I suspect I have another dozen or two to go. I don’t want to spoil the beautiful story, so I’ll just say that I love its focus on healing all the broken connections in the Underworld and beyond.

My favourite thing about Hades, aside from its top-notch writing, is that it’s about progress over perfection. You don’t have to get everything exactly right, because it doesn’t matter if Zagreus dies. It’s not like the prince of the Underworld is even alive anyway. The game rewards you for doing your best and doesn’t punish you when you don’t get it right. And in the off-chance that you end up with a set of boons and weapon modifications that suck and you hate that particular run? You can do like I did and just walk Zagreus into the lava so he can die and get sent back home for more mocking comments from his dad.

For me, Hades is a perfect game. Not only do I not have any complaints, but everything just works for me. And, now that Zagreus is strong enough to regularly beat Hades, each run clocks in around 25-45 minutes, making it my game of choice when I know I have an hour or so to spare for short sessions. If you have a Nintendo Switch or a Steam account, I cannot recommend it enough. I suspect I’ll come back and play it all over again some day, happily sinking another 50+ hours into it.

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