Through its Excellent First Few Hours, Hades II Entirely Justifies the Sequel Treatment

Games Features Hades 2
Through its Excellent First Few Hours, Hades II Entirely Justifies the Sequel Treatment

Even as someone who counts Hades among the best games in recent memory and spent dozens of hours scouring the Underworld, I was curious about what compelled Supergiant Games to make their first-ever sequel with the upcoming Hades II (besides the financial success of its predecessor, I suppose). It didn’t take long to get an answer to this question: top to bottom, their latest effort whips. While the game’s Technical Test is limited to an unfinished version of its initial hours, between its fast-paced battles brimming with new abilities, interesting changes to progression, and perhaps most importantly, its affecting storytelling and abundance of style, this experience is shaping up to be a godly follow-up.

[For those who want to remain completely unspoiled on the plot setup, skip this paragraph] Taking place years after the previous game, we follow Hades’ daughter Melinoë, who was only a baby when Chronos launched a surprise attack on the Underworld in a bid to control Greece. She was saved from the same fate as the rest of her family but hasn’t forgotten what was taken from her, dedicating her life to taking down the time titan. Much like her brother, her task is to escape an underground maze so she can reach the surface where Chronos is laying siege to Olympus.

If you’ve never played the previous game, it was a dungeon-crawling roguelike where you attempted to escape a shifting stygian abyss full of spirits and prominent figures from Greek mythology, all to face off against the titular god of Hades (who was your pissed-off dad). Like many other games with this structure, outside of each run, you’d gradually upgrade your character, unlocking weapons, abilities, and items that made it just a bit easier to reach the end of this labyrinth.

This general format remains in the sequel, but its progression systems have been replaced with new ones, and its battles have some compelling additional layers. Melinoë is a witch, and so each type of attack (standard ones, Special, and Cast) can be powered up with Magick to access new abilities. These require expending mana but can be quite potent, and while using the Witch’s Staff, I got access to powerful crowd-clearing skills that let me melt foes at a distance. With the more dexterous, close-range Sister Blades, I could use Magick to activate a potent teleportation strike and ranged dagger tosses. It was a joy to warp around the screen, using the weapon’s fast-hitting strikes to get in a volley of blows before retreating out of harm’s way. Regardless of which you pick, Melinoë has access to the Cast ability, which lets her place a sigil that locks foes in place, and this proved a flexible tool that seems like it will enable lots of rewarding builds.

hades 2

When battling foes, things still feel excellent thanks to the responsive controls, as you weave between a screenful of bullets and enemy strikes with the instantaneous, invincible dash. Now you can also hold the dodge button to sprint, granting additional mobility while you wait for this skill to recharge. In motion, it’s all just as satisfyingly twitchy as its predecessor, the additions fitting in so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget they weren’t there to begin with.

Also, like the previous game, you craft a build during each run as you accept the favor of Olympic gods and power up your core maneuvers. While there are some returning faces and upgrades, there are also plenty of new deities, such as Selene, who offers powerful ultimate abilities that can be charged up by expending Magick. It’s tough to appraise how these builds will come together over the course of a long run because the demo ends after beating the first boss, but I could already feel a solid amount of variety here, especially because these boons interact with the new Magick abilities in interesting ways. One run, I paired the fast-hitting Sister Blades with a Demeter upgrade that applied Freeze and an Artemis one that gave extra damage on backstabs, allowing me to use the Sister Blade’s Magick dash attack to close the distance and instantly freeze foes before pelting them from behind. In another run, I took a Poseidon ability that improved the damage of Special attacks, turning the Witch’s Staff’s normally wimpy special attack into a formidable flurry of aquatic blasts. Although things feel somewhat familiar, this is largely a good thing, as it retains the tight feel of what came while introducing lots of smaller mechanics that make room for new delights.

As for the changes to its overarching progression systems, nearly all of these have been overhauled in some way. For instance, instead of using the Mirror of the Night to purchase permanent upgrades, you instead buy Arcana Cards that grant important abilities, like additional lives and Magick regeneration. Although I imagine these are likely to change over the course of the game’s upcoming Early Access period, at least right now, they seem more streamlined than the equivalent in the previous title and can’t all be equipped at once unless you upgrade your Grasp stat (which can be improved by finding a particular resource during runs). Beyond this, there are other upgrade systems in place, such as being able to purchase improvements for your base (by brewing concoctions in a giant cauldron, no less) and crafting tools that can be used to extract resources from the Underworld, which in turn let you purchase more improvements. Together, it adds fun meta-progression that will likely make even botched runs feel productive.

All that said, there are plenty of satisfying roguelikes out there, and the thing that made the last game truly special was how it used its looping structure to tell a story about how hard it is to change as Zagreus attempted to break free of the hum-drum rhythms of his life, solve his family’s problems, and ultimately, find a place for himself to belong. Although it’s early on, that same blend of convincing characterization, witty dialogue, and excellent performances is alive and well here. I loved what I saw of Hade II’s gameplay upgrades, but what excites me most is how it builds on this world and its characters.

Like many sequels, the scope of this tale feels more grandiose than the last one, with our heroine poised as the only hope of stopping Chronos from destroying the pantheon and seizing control of the world. But thankfully, even with these elevated stakes, the first few hours maintain the type of grounded, personal drama that made it so easy to become invested in these squabbling Greek deities. Melinoë is obsessed with a family she never knew, her drive conveyed through the dogmatic recitation of a single line: “Death to Chronos.” But despite having a clarity of purpose that her brother initially lacked, the writing conveys how she’s dragged down by self-doubt and the pressures of being a savior, making her a similarly complicated and engrossing protagonist.

hades 2

Thankfully, she’s not in it alone, and her conversations with those in Erebus are delightful. In particular, her relationship with Hecate, her mentor and mother figure, is an absolute treat. While the Goddess of Witchcraft seems a tad cold at first, we quickly see just how much she cares about Melinoë, captured through flashbacks and attempts to instill her adopted daughter with some much-needed (and deserved) confidence. Similarly, talking with the rest of the gang offers a welcomed reprieve from all the dungeon-crawling; there’s the saucy tactician Odysseus, Mel’s close friend Dora, an adorable frog companion, and, of course, her Olympic family members, like Artemis, who she already has a close bond with because she’s one of the few Olympians who leaves the mountain top. Similarly, the character designs remain amazing, sporting incredible color choices, shading, ornate details, and tons of personality. It’s a testament to the game’s art that I’ve never been this hyped to see existing characters in slightly different poses.

On the one hand, it’s always best to temper expectations about an unreleased game. Hades II isn’t even in Early Access yet, and I only saw a small slice of what currently exists, so there’s no guarantee how the full thing will turn out. If I have one concern, it’s that it may be tough to balance this experience for both newcomers and those who’ve spent the last few years beating the snot out of the god of the Underworld. I hadn’t played the previous title in quite a while, but even with some rust, I beat the demo’s boss several attempts in a row until the game essentially kicked me out for playing too much. Although that’s obviously only the first major foe of many, I still think it may be hard to tune things so beginners aren’t crushed, while things are still tricky enough to capture the same feeling of triumph from besting Zag’s dad for the first time.

But to be honest, even with these very mild reservations, I find it difficult to contain my excitement for Hades II. It’s a sequel that seems to be building on everything great about its excellent predecessor through joyous battles, eye-popping aesthetics, and characters I’m eager to spend time with. I don’t usually play games before they’re fully done, but this one’s Early Access period can’t come soon enough.

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin