From Supergiant Games comes a gorgeous game built on top of satisfying game play, beautiful art, awesome writing with voice acting, and a nice lesson in Greek mythology.
It is a game where you die over and over again, but with a little practice you'll observe progress as you get better. The randomized rooms, each unlocking a randomized rewards, are just the right sizes so that it takes short time to clear them. Once you are done, you often to get choose the next rooms to visit with previews of rewards waiting for you. The game is constantly punctuating action game play with decision making that have cascading impact as you progress through each run. There is something to do constantly, and there is always just one more room to keep you engaged.
Tying the randomized encounters are wonderfully flushed out characters, locations, and settings based on Greek mythology. Each god or goddess gives you the boons that rewards you at end of each room, and responds differently depending on how much of the overarching story you have uncovered, or what boons you have selected during your play-through. They also have unique personalities that are sensible for their well-known background stories but designed with 21st century additions. For example, it is interesting to see that the Olympians are not racially homogeneous, or that Theseus (the Minotaur slayer) is working with Asterius (a Minotaur). This game sent me to Wikipedia to for more Greek mythology, because the I know each name will lead to interesting reads.
I think Hades has a perfect system in place that balances difficulty and variety to keep players addicted. I am thinking and analyzing what make the game work so well.
Skill Build Up
Central to the game are the rewards in the rooms. They are always randomized; they may give you new boons (skills), change player character's status, and modify or strengthen existing skills. Sometimes a boon will not appear unless player already possess another boon. As each level has fixed number of rooms, and you get to peek at what reward is coming up in the next room, you must decide what to do taking into consideration skills you have, the chance that you may get something else to complement and round out your character, or even changing your strategy and play style. Early on in the game player will be given the choice to make the game much, much more challenging in exchange for items that can permanently improve your statistics. However such choices will change the enemies and game rules in such a way that you may end up selecting different skills.
Fun and Fantastic Skills
All the boons are given by one of nine Olympians: Aphrodite, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hermes, Poseidon, Zeus. A lot of the skills fit comfortably within the lore and theme of each Olympian. For example, boons from Zeus often has to do with lightning, and boons from Dionysus involve parties and getting drunk. From time to time two Olympians will combine to give you a boon, and it always has interesting side-effects. For players that have been playing for a while, they can strategize at a different level to plan their play-through, giving the game an added depth that long-time players can appreciate.
The six weapons (sword, spear, shield, bow, fists, gun), each having four variants and can vary greatly. For example, shield aspects are great for blocking attacks and charged counter attacks, but one variant allow you to throw it like a frisbee and follow you around on its return; you can throw another variant like Captain America. One of the fists gloves make you dash forward like Wolverine. Within a weapon type exists different potential play styles; chances are good people will gravates towards one or two that they like.
Limiting and Encouraging Choices
I feel like it is a design decision to seed many rooms with certain rewards that only level up a boon or add health to your character. The purpose, in combination with a large number of boons per Olympian and deminishing statistic improving progression, is probably to encourage different strategies for each run. The shops and wells of Chron also have high chance for 3 different boons, so player can choose to diversify skills. Whatever the reason for this design, I found at the beginning of the game it seemed a little overwhelming, both because there is a lot of reading to understand effect of each boon (the explainations as you hover over your choices are very helpful), and because until you try out everything you will not know what boon to pick.
I think the designers are right to trust that Hades offer enough replay value and players will eventually figure it out. Still, what if players don't invest enough time? I think the intricate stories did a great job to keep people going. Along with the interesting banters between characters, they are almost required to keep players engaged while they unlock a different weapon or make some other progress.
Finally, once you pay enough to the contractors, you'll be able to earn more than one resource from drops and treasure troves. For example, with upgrades you'll be able to upgrade a random boon with Nectars, or get extra gold with gems. This approach, gated behind a gameplay element, grants player another layer of strategy if they want to get involved, once they've learned and understood rules in Hades. For example, initially player will need Darkness to max out the attributes provided by Mirror of Night. However, Wretched Broker require trading gems for items that you can use to build relationships and upgrade weapons, making Darkness seems less useful as you progress. The Eureka moment for me was when I realized that if I specialize in Dark Regeneration and pay contractor gems for Underworld Renovation, collecting Darkness will restore my health and increase health points. So as you start out you can just focus on unlocking attributes, but later on it gives choices to get tiny bumps in health for each room, or choosing to go collect Darkness for more significant health benefits.
You can adjust difficulty of the game by turning up the Heat with Pact of Punishment. The higher the Heat, the more access you have to Interfal Gates with better rewards, but the game rules change so that any mistake will be much more costly.
Why would anyone want to turn up the Heat? Because the game will reward you with resources that normally takes a lot of time to acquire. For players that enjoy achievements, many of them are tied to turning up the Heat and beating the game with those conditions in effect. The Heat can make enemies faster, stronger, negate first strike bonus, etc. You may face bosses with new helpers or different attacks, or must finish the game against a time limit because you start to lose health when time is up.
This is great! Hades in the normal configuration isn't hard, and you even have the option to lower the difficulty if you just want to follow the story. I suggest, however, try playing for a while with the Heat turned up to 16. The reason is because it helped me to learn about the secondary moves and enemy patterns. Once you unlock Skelly's second statue, and you've tried all of the Heats to unlock Harsh Conditions achievement, you can turn the Heat down and it is a different game again. I found my movements more optimized, more precise; and with the game more forgiving I can reach the end much more quickly, try more weapon variants and boons. By being more efficient more of the game opened up.
Favorite Parts of Hades
The chef in kitchen that takes your fish who is always chopping away. It is so cool the way he sometimes slices his onions in mid-air.
So many other things to choose from, but I find myself to always going for these boons. A large part of the fighting mechanic is positioning your character to avoid damage and gain attack bonus, and most boons from Athena will give you more room for errors. Using keepsakes to make sure you meet an Olympian in the next level is also very useful to fulfill requirements to complete tasks in Fated List of Minor Prophecies.
|Owl Pendant||Equip this keepsake, and you will meet Athena soon. She has a lot of boons I find useful|
|Pom Blossom||It'll take a while to unlock this one, but every few rooms it will upgrade one random boon.|
|Phalanx Shot||This boon from Athena will give your Cast area damage and deflect attacks. At higher levels it does so much damage, that you can follow up with simple attacks to finish most enemies. Plus it'll lodge in the enemy, so you may benefit from doing more damage, or do more damage the Cast disloges.|
|Divine Dash||As you dash, shields appear around you, they do small damage to enemies and will reflect attacks. Useful to reflect enemy attacks back, and any damage you reflect will keep you alive longer.|
|Support Fire||This boon from Artemis shoots an arrow that will damage random enemies when you strike an enemy with your attacks. Looks like missiles flying all over the screen, and makes me feel like I am doing a lot of good work.|
|Strong Drink||This boon from Dionysus will completely restore your health and increase your damage by a few percent. Every time you finish a boss there is a well that you can drink from to leverage this boon.|
|Lightning Strike||As you attack your enemy, chain lightning bounces around nearby enemies. I feel like chain lightning attacks are more effective against enemies in Asphodel. Maybe it is just because I am attracted to glowing stuff.|
|Crystal Beam||This is a terrible boon to choose, mostly because it tracks enemies so slowly unless you have Crystal Clarity. But it sure is fun to watch if you enjoy having computer do the aiming and damaging for you.|
|Cursed Slash||You lose 60% of your health, but normal attacks will restore 2 health points. Great to practice with.|
|Greater Consecration||One of the many reason you chose Aspect of Arthur is because of the Holy Excalibur aura, and this boon make it bigger.|
|Rending Claws||Whack enemy with this boon and they are slower, then walk around behind to backstab.|