Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different result each time. Quite would he made of ‘roguelikes', then, is anybody’s guess.
The increasingly popular - and prevalent - game design trope tasks players with repeating procedurally-generated ‘runs’ ad infinitum, usually with character progress or resources carried over to increase incrementally the chance of success on each subsequent attempt.
Hades applies the formula expertly to an equally polished isometric action RPG brawler, creating sadistic assault courses from strings of standalone rooms populated by an amusing menagerie of netherworldly creations, dastardly traps and melodramatic deities drawn from Greek mythology.
Combat is crisp, chaotic and perfectly pitched on just the right side of frustrating. West Coast developers Supergiant Games - creators of quirky but celebrated indie hits Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre - conjure a surprising amount of tactical depth from half a dozen weapon types and a deceptively simple moveset comprising standard, heavy and ranged attacks; a rechargeable super; and a dash.
The magic is provided by boons - quite literally gifts from the gods your character Prince Zagreus randomly encounters on each run and which completely transform his attempt to ascend from Hades to Mount Olympus . Zeus imbues your attacks with lighting damage which can jump from foe to foe; Dionysus add a hangover effect which damages enemies over time; and Aphrodite allows you to charm enemies, who then fight by your side.
Hades was in ‘early access’ (ie released and then iterated upon on the fly) on PC for almost two years and the sheer volume of variables in this ‘finished’, fully-featured 1.0 release (also available on Nintendo Switch) is mind-boggling - and initially a little confusing. There’s around eight different forms of in-game currency alone, and enough upgrades and modifiers to give even Euclid a headache trying to track all the variables. However once you fall under Hades’ spell after a couple of runs the near limitless combinations of character builds becomes bewitching.