Hades, the new early-access title from Supergiant Games, dropped onto the Epic Games Store right after its announcement at The Game Awards on Thursday night. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the game’s opening sequences follow that same pattern — setup, then flinging you right into the action.
I hadn’t realized until after I played a couple of hours of Hades how refreshing that is. You get a very short cutscene explaining the basic deal of the game: You are Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld. Your father, Hades, is terrible at actually being a father, so you’re set to escape the realm and join the rest of your distant family, the gods on Olympus. Then you start hacking and slashing as Zagreus. While the rest of the pantheon is there to aid you with skill upgrades and brief flashes of encouragement, there’s no guiding light. It’s just you and the darkness.
Every time I load up a game these days, I have to get over the hurdle of knowing I’m in for an introduction. I grab a drink, make sure my husband doesn’t need anything from me, check my emails, and then settle down for the inevitable opening cutscene and long tutorial. I get that, in most cases, it’s a necessary evil, and the game deserves the space to win my investment and teach me what I need to know. Hades rejects all of that stuff. Instead, the game gives you a sword, a goal and some big ol’ enemies. In the end, that’s all the game needs.
It’s not as though the game is short on polish. I laughed out loud several times at dialogue between Hades and Zagreus. Zagreus is a tough character to nail — he’s a brooding kid looking to get out from beneath his distant father’s thumb, and that could easily veer into the overly edgy — but his voice acting and dialogue perfectly nails the combination of annoyance, disdain and determination that make up the character. Sometimes he has flashes of regret or hope, but overall, he’s straightforward and better off for it.
The game is stronger for trimming the fat and allowing players to figure things out for themselves as well. I waited a moment for the seemingly inevitable “push W to move forward”; nothing. So, I tested basic movement with WASD on my own and found it responsive. OK, good. Left-clicking was a basic sword attack, and that was enough to clear some enemies. What happens if I right-click? That does a more powerful attack, but requires you to pick up the shard that empowered it or slay the enemy you hit with it. By chatting with the gods and leveling up talent trees, I quickly learned I also had a dash and a super attack. It was all organic and natural, and led to a sense of early mastery that felt rewarding.
Hades certainly made it easier for me to learn these things with a clear UI, simple control scheme, and well-communicated visuals ... but it simply gave me the tools and let me run with them, and I forgot how refreshing and fun the joy of simple discovery is.
From there, Hades goes ahead and throws more complicated enemies and more sophisticated weapon types at you. There are currently only 27 rooms to play through, which means Hades is relatively bite-sized as far as dungeon crawlers go, but that’s the nature of early access. There’s plenty of room for Supergiant to expand, especially with such a solid foundation.
We don’t know where Hades’ development is going to lead it, but the game is currently off to an excellent start by simply throwing you into the action and letting you learn. You’re going to die a lot, but emerging from that pool of blood is rarely frustrating. That might be because Supergiant is content to let you learn and fail at your own pace, instead of putting you on rails and holding your hand before you attempt to escape the halls of the damned.