Hades 2 Review – Witching Hours

Just like the first game, Hades 2 has launched first in early access, allowing developer Supergiant Games to delicately tweak and balance gameplay, as well as add new content before its full launch. Hades 2, however, feels like a complete product right now. With satisfying combat that has far more depth than its predecessor ever managed, it raises the question: what’s left to refine? It’s significantly larger than the first game too, with more areas to explore, different routes to take, and a much bigger story to tell. If it wasn’t for its (currently) missing ending and a few placeholders here or there, Hades 2 could already emphatically be declared as a brilliant successor to one of the greatest rougelites out there. Hades 2 improves upon its predecessor in every way, making it a masterfully crafted sequel.

Instead of playing as Zagreus again, you play as his sister Melinoe, who was born after the events of the first game. Her family has been lost to the underworld, after the titan Chronos usurps the throne and takes over Hades’ domain. Melinoe, saved from the unknown fate of her family, has been raised to realize one simple goal: Death to Chronos. With the help of her mentor, fellow titan Hecate, and a cast of new and returning gods, shades, and all those in between, Hades 2 sets out strongly from the get go with a story that is gripping to watch unfold between runs.

Now Playing: Hades 2 Early Access GameSpot Video Review

For all of its improvements, Hades 2 doesn’t initially look or feel that different. Melinoe moves with the same speed and grace as her brother, albeit with some slight changes. Unlike Zagreus, Melinoe is far less dash happy, with a longer cooldown between each of her evasive bursts of speed that’s initially awkward to get used to. This is offset by a greater emphasis on maintaining speed through sprinting, which you engage by holding down the dash button right after executing it. This sprint provides the same degree of damage-avoidance, but feeds into additional offensive options too. And some enemies are designed specifically to punish a reliance on just dashing to encourage a shift in mindset. This sprint can also be upgraded with boons in a similar fashion to your standard attacks, letting your sprint shock foes with Zeus’ lighting, or knock back entire groups of them with the powerful waves of Poseidon. This tangible change is a taste of how Hades 2 approaches evolving a strong, established formula by making small, sometimes experimentative, changes that have a profound effect on the way you approach gameplay.

Nowhere is this more evident than the expansion of Melinoe’s offensive repertoire. She maintains the trio of options that her brother had with standard, special, and cast attacks; both the standard and special attacks are determined by your weapon selection before runs. This is already delightfully varied, with the starting Witch Staff offering a nice balance between safe ranged melee strikes, while others, such as the Sister Blades, demand a bolder approach since their limited range forces you to really get in the face of enemies before backing out to safety. Melinoe’s cast is also far more involved than Zagreus’ awkward red diamond projectile. In keeping with her witch abilities, Melinoe can throw down a circular ring that confines enemies inside it for a brief period of time, making it an effective crowd-controlling option at its default tier. Boons from the gods can radically evolve it though, letting you turn the defensive snare into a more offensive area of effect spell that decimates large groups of foes or inflicts harmful curses on them. These can also be combined with other boons that you have augmenting your standard weapons to create a deadly mixture of skills. Between the five currently available weapons and this new standard casting ability, Hades II already allows you to drastically differentiate your runs based on the equipment you choose before you start, keeping each one tactically engaging and satisfying to utilize.

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Where weapons were the sole differentiator to combat in Hades, its sequel layers on a whole new system to consider too. Melinoe has an all-new Omega attack available to her, which is available on top of your three combat abilities to further deepen the complexity of the entire combat system. These are powerful abilities that differ between each weapon, usually requiring a brief window to channel before you unleash them, meaning their usage needs to be considered and deliberate. They’re quite varied too; the Witch Staff lets you fire off a wave of damage in front and behind you when channeling its standard attack, while the Sister Blades instead give you the ability to teleport to a distant enemy when engaging an Omega attack on the same button press. Each of these Omega abilities is powered by magic, a new resource that you’ll have to carefully manage to get the most out of your build. Magic is replenished between each room you travel to, so you’re encouraged to maximize its usage for the battle at hand rather than forcing you to forgo it for a boss later on. Omega attacks can be unleashed frequently, and new abilities from boons feel increasingly powerful as they tap into the resource too. Magic has a powerful impact on the way Hades 2 plays, drastically changing how the game plays and feels, making its predecessor feel quite plain by comparison.

Additional combat variety is afforded to Melinoe thanks to all the gifts she’s bestowed by the various gods of Olympus. There’s familiar faces such as Aphrodite and Hermes, as well as entirely new ones. Hestia, for example, offers her flame-damage dealing boons as a way to introduce damage-over-time strategies to Melinoe’s repertoire, while Hera’s tricky-to-master Hitch curse lets you deal damage to those you’ve already marked simultaneously. Each boon gives you specific elemental abilities to play around with, letting you cobble together a combination that plays off each one’s strengths to make the most of a run. With more boons in the mix, as well as more ways to utilize the themes of existing ones across the swathe of new offensive options, there’s a greater depth to Hades 2’s builds that keeps each run feeling viable and exciting. It’s completely possible to have a run where the randomness of the boons lead to a doomed endeavor, but because of its expanded combat options and ways in which they can be enhanced, I’m confident that it’s happening far less than in the first game.

Hades 2 could already emphatically be declared as a brilliant successor to one of the greatest rougelites out there … (it) improves upon its predecessor in every way, making it a masterfully crafted sequel

This additional depth to combat is kept entertaining thanks to an entirely new roster of enemies to contend with, many of which demand a quick understanding of the new combat avenues available to you and how best to take advantage of them. Simple, slow-swinging brutes might be commonplace in the first few encounters of a run, but they’re quickly supplanted by seemingly neverending waves of small but deadly floating fish in later ones, or heavily armored soldiers that require quick reflexes to keep out of their wide-reaching melee strikes. Boss encounters are the true standouts though, ranging from an interesting roster of mid-bosses that you’ll encounter quite frequently, to the show-stopping skirmishes that await you at the end of each biome. These are massive climatic battles against Hades 2’s most challenging foes, each with their own fascinating theme around them. A standout is Scylla and the Sirens, which pits you against three foes with distinct abilities in a musically charged battle that borders on overwhelming the first few times you undertake it. It’s a layered battle that challenges you to cleverly balance which one of the three you’re going to focus on at a given time in order to take out their respective attack from the equation. This battle is an experience that’s accentuated by Hades 2’s exceptional soundtrack, composed again by Darren Korb. The music melds a thumping double-bass and roaring electric guitar with the smooth vocals of Ashley Barret, who continues to outdo themselves with each new game they feature in.

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Each of Hades 2’s biomes also marks a departure from the environments from the first game, which might be relieving to hear given you’ll be mostly traversing the depths of Hades again, albeit on a journey downwards rather than up. Alternative paths lead you to new areas that are bursting with color and character, with Supergiant’s distinctive art style shown in its best light here. The third biome currently feels like an outlier, trading the tight combat spaces for a more open approach to exploration that sometimes makes the path forward a little difficult to discern. But it’s a small blip on an otherwise outstanding reimagining of the depths of hell, which is accentuated by the nostalgic return of familiar spaces in the game’s later, and more climatic, sections. It’s surprising too that traversing the depth of Hades is not the only path you can take for a run, with an entirely different route to take during a run opened a few hours into your playthrough.. The choice of which narrative thread to follow, along with the quantity of content it added to the overall package, just further shows how much more ambitious Supergiant is with its first-ever sequel.

While you’ll spend the majority of your time dungeon-crawling your way to success, Hades 2 puts a bigger emphasis on what you do in between runs too. The Crossroads, a refuge that sits between the base of Mount Olympus and the depth of Hades, acts as the sequel’s analog to the House of Hades, offering up a multitude of base-building options that all have tangible effects on your effectiveness during runs. A large, bubbling cauldron in the center lets you combine resources to unlock new parts of the Crossroads, as well as helpful shops and newer resource types to collect during runs. A small garden lets you plant specific seeds that sprout while you’re out, folding back into the requirements for more expansion via the aforementioned cauldron. There are familiars to recruits, a training ground to hone your skills, and a variety of vendors to shop with in order to prepare to make the best of each run before you set out.

Paramount to character progression is a new arcana card system that replaces Zagreus’s sometimes one-dimensional upgrade mirror from the first game. It’s split into two components: one is a massive tree of unlockable arcana cards, each of which gives you an advantage of some sort during your run. This can be as simple as rewarding you with a Death Defiance, which keeps you alive after an otherwise fatal blow, or buffing your total magic and health even before a run starts. Others, like giving you the ability to deal additional damage to foes with two curses, or buffing damage as long as your magic isn’t fully replenished, define a tone and strategy to your run before starting, helping you craft your play style accordingly as you go. The number of arcana cards you can equip is determined by your Grasp; a numerical total that you can expand with a different resource as you chip away at runs. Each card has an associated cost depending on its overall effect, so you’re challenged to balance which ones to equip based on your capabilities at a given time. The more cards you unlock, and the more Grasp you obtain, the bigger advantage you take into a run, and thus the greater chance you have of completion. It’s a far more dynamic system than the on-off switches in the previous game, tying in nicely to the already deeper choices you have available in combat.

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Core too to the Crossroads, and integral to the way Hades 2 tells its tale, is the assortment of characters you can converse with between each run. Just like the first game, this is where Hades 2 really distinguishes itself from its peers in the genre, with the unbelievable way in which its script incorporates each of your actions fluidly into its core narrative to make it feel like this script is being written as you play. The new characters within the Crossroads are just as interesting and varied as they were before, whether you’re confiding in the sassy but insecure shade Dora, discussing strategy with Odysseus, or brushing up against the prickly nature of another of Nyx’s offspring, Nemesis. There’s a more dire tone to the overall narrative given the impetus to save your family and reclaim your right as heir to Hades, as opposed to the sometimes shallow rebellious plight of Zagreus, but it’s interwoven deftly without removing the brevity and sometimes hilarious writing that keeps this tale just as endearing.

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Being in early access, there’s still the potential for a lot of these mechanics to change, and Supergiant has already made it clear with its first patch that it’s willing to take big swings. Prior to the update, resource gathering was limited to an unlockable tool you could equip, limiting you to that specific resource in a run. That’s been removed entirely now, letting you gather any resource you’ve unlocked a tool for at any time, and instead just prioritizing the likelihood of a resource associated with a particular tool appearing if you equip it. This drastically reduces a lot of early-game grinding and gets you going with upgrades a lot quicker, which changes the balance greatly from what was initially established. It’s impossible to tell how much more might change before Supergiant plans to launch Hades 2 in a 1.0 state sometime next year, but it’s an indication of how this otherwise complete-feeling product still has room to improve.

On the horizon, Hades 2 still has a new area that is planned to be added, additional weapons, and some missing character art to fill in. And, most importantly, it has an ending to its story to introduce, but none of this hampers the engrossing experience that’s available today. It’s a drastic difference from the first game’s launch, which felt far earlier in the process and required nearly two years to reach a complete state. As it stands, Hades 2 is already one of the best roguelite experiences you can play today, with clever improvements on its established formula that just accentuate its strongest attributes. More importantly, it does this without requiring you to be the most well-versed player on what came before, but not at the expense of offering a new challenge to those that have spent hours digging away at the first game’s most brutal endeavors. Hades 2 is a game that I’m incredibly excited to continue playing every day, and it feels like a treat that it could get even better as time ticks away.

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