“These are people who can’t kill each other. They can try, but they won’t succeed. They have to deal with each other the hard way: the have to talk things out.” I’m paraphrasing Greg Kasavin from an interview he did as part of Episode 58 “Easing into Hades with Supergiant Games” from the show Eggplant: The Secret Lives of Games in the above quote. During the interview, Kasavin notes the infographic created by Supergiant Games for Hades. There are over 300,000 words with 8500 voices lines by Zagreus. This is a game where people spend a great deal of time talking to each to other. Living in the Underworld, none of them can truly die and, death after death, Zagreus, controlled by the player, has to do the “hard work” of reconciling them through one-to-two dialogue boxes each run. They are at the bottom — literally the Underworld –, and the only way for them is forward. This means dying over and over again, making small amounts of progress each time.
I started the game and reached the end of the Epilogue of the PC version of the game in October 2020. My first achievement, clearing Tartarus, happened on Oct 2, 2020 at 2:57pm and the last time I played on PC was Oct 25, 2020 at 12:03pm soon after I cleared the Epilogue.
Between Oct 2 and Oct 25, I played 75 hours of a possible 552 hours. This works out to me playing Hades for 13% of the total time of 24 days (starting at Oct 2 through Oct 25) I was playing it on PC. (Assuming six hours a night of sleep, that’s only 144 hours in the same time-period, 25% of the total time.)
Hades cares about statistics. Every successful run shows the total time, how many clears have been accomplished using other weapons, and each of their own best times. It also shows all boons collected.
There are a large number of builds depending on weapon and boons favored for certain kinds of play. Some weapons allow for range fighting and others for getting up-close and in the face of enemies. Between these base configurations, boons, gifts from the gods, change how they work. Twin Fists, an up-close weapon, can be augmented with the Long Knuckle boon, extending its range. The Heart-Seeking Bow, usually a long range weapon, can be transformed into a stronger, mid-range attack.
As shown in a recent three-weapon speedrun of Hades, there are also some boons preferred for clearing the game faster than others.
Hades unspools its content slowly.
Each character only gives Zagreus a handful of text per run. This means there is always new things to see, more information to learn, but the pace is tied to the player’s. To learn, you must first fail.
Achilles is a recurring character found initially off to the side. Upon talking to him across runs, he reveals a bargain he made and some unfinished business with another character, Patroclus.
Megaera, at first a boss enemy and then possible love interest after killing her many times, slowly opens (back) up to Zagreus about their previous relationship and a new, possible future together.
The main plot of Hades concerns the titular character, Hades. As the father of Zagreus, he has raised him along with Nyx, his adoptive mother, in the Underworld under a system of strict rules and with cruelty born of Hades’ anger over past events. However, one night — if there is said to be night — Zagreus learns a secret: Nyx is not his biological mother. Another woman, Persephone, birthed him and possibly left him.
Zagreus then sets off to break the one taboo of the Underworld: once there, you do not leave. No one leaves, ever. No one, that is, except this woman named Persephone, of course.
Fighting his way through the security of the Underworld, dying but growing in strength through each experience, he reaches her in her garden. Persephone, learning her son is not truly dead, is shocked, but no more so than Zagreus. Being born as a part of the Underworld comes with a price: leave its domain for too long and you die again, returning to it.
Ever so slowly, death after death, Zagreus races to his mother, Persephone, to try to convince her to return to the Underworld and try to reconcile with those she left behind, before dying again.
Run after run, Zagreus encounters new boons from an ever-decreasing number until the player has seen all of them. Performing certain actions unlocks artifacts, short-term bonuses; keepsakes, items changing the statistics of certain random boons or granting Zagreus additional damage or time under certain conditions; and even companions, powerful attacks from friends limited to a certain number per run; but the goal remains the same: make it to he surface, defeat Hades, and then talk with Persephone until Zagreus dies again.
Many, many hours into Hades, the player’s goals always change at some point. Maybe it is after a few runs or dozens of hours after playing it. But once the player is able to consistently make it to Persephone, the game changes. It becomes about the meta, the game within the game.
There are a number of different currencies in the game: Darkness, which unlocks new talents; Gemstones, used for addition beneficial additions to each biome; Diamonds, used for trade or purchasing aesthetic upgrades; Nectar, used to increase favor with a character (of which there are 26, including Bouldy); Ambrosia, used for unlocking high levels of favor and romantic interests; and Titan Blood, used to unlock different aspects of weapons and upgrading them.
The mid-game of Hades is not about escape, but collection. To see most of the content and to grow stronger through gaining higher-level talents, the player must collect all of these different resources and spend them. Some can make Zagreus stronger, but others work to progress the overall plot in various ways. All, though, are gained through accomplishing runs using different weapons and then under new levels of Heat (self-imposed difficulties such as a time limit per biome or tougher enemies).
The final goal, if there can said to be one, is to reunite the family of gods. This means maximum level of favor with all of them and, in the process, unlocking most of everything else. This is hours of work.
In the end, though, the game repeats. Zagreus, having come to a peace of sorts with his father, Hades, is tasked to continue. Keep testing the security of the Underworld, keep dying in the process.
There is no escape.