Hades 2 Early Access review – intoxicating combat elevates a familiar roguelike cycle

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One look at Hades 2’s free-flowing combat, intricate storytelling, and meaningful progression will tell you that it has deftly dodged the winner’s curse. A sequel is bound to draw critique, with anticipation that can lift or weigh down a franchise. Despite that, Supergiant Games’ follow-up to one of the best games of all time rises above the loftiest of expectations. While some of its flashes of brilliance are remixed mechanics from the original, a lot has changed, from the protagonist and her arenas to the reimagined Crossroads between runs.

As Zagreus in the first game, I spent dozens of hours trying to escape the underworld,  governed by his father Hades. Hades 2 lets you play as Melinoë and skips the family introduction as Chronos, the Titan of Time, whisks them away. The immortal witch Melinoë, raised by Titaness Hecate in alchemy and sorcery, faces a far more pressing threat than family feuds. Raised stakes set the tone for her tactical approach to combat, complete with a safe haven packed with fleshed-out characters. 

Voiced by Amelia Tyler, the excellent narrator from Baldur’s Gate 3, Hecate comes off as both strict and considerate, even as she tests you with blazing arcs of energy mid-battle. You’ll meet others between runs at the Crossroads (replacing the old House of Hades), like the amicable Odysseus and the bitter Nemesis. You still get to gift them Nectar to deepen your friendships, rewarded by keepsake rewards that ease your next run. Expect more of the nuanced storytelling here that Supergiant Games built its reputation on.

Speaking of runs, you’ll stumble into other living myths too, gaining Arachne’s temporary armor buffs and Narcisuss’ lavish presents on occasion. While you don’t need to be familiar with Greek myth to enjoy Melinoë’s journey, Hades 2’s careful reimagination of deities is a masterclass for myth buffs to feast on. Vanity, wrath, and sorrow are no strangers to Greek mythos and the game treats these themes with immense respect.

Hades 2 review: A player checks out the boons offered by Hermes in the game. Image captured by VideoGamer.
God boons are back and they’ve got even more effects. Image captured by VideoGamer.

Decisions, decisions

Hades 2 builds on an excellent composition of fluid combat fueled by your decisions. Melinoë’s basic attacks are tied to the type of weapon you pick, the boons you pick up during runs, and the resources you invest into her Tarot cards back at the Crossroads. Every decision cascades into another, letting you tap into Diablo-like synergies with decisions mid-run or before one. Players who haven’t tried Hades will be introduced to how important these choices are.

You start with the Witch’s Staff, packing medium-range melee and ranged attacks. The first alternative you’ll forge are Sister Blades Lim and Oros, favoring swift strikes that bring you closer to your prey. Forging silver lets you access the long-range Umbral Flames lances, the spinning Moonstone Axe, and the explosive Argent Skull, complete with attack patterns to master.

The old mirror’s permanent upgrades have been revamped into Tarot cards, with card unlocks opening adjacent ones in a grid, and a limit on how many you can activate. While her older brother Zagreus zipped between foes in a desperate dash for freedom, Melinoë’s kit is more tactical. Getting close to your enemies isn’t advisable, especially the screaming ghosts of Erebus, the first of many domains you’ll fight through.

Hades 2 review: A player fights Scylla, a boss in the game. Image captured by VideoGamer.
Bosses like Scylla feature an assortment of attacks. Image captured by VideoGamer.

Supercharged combat powered by familiarity

Melinoë’s 3D model is apparent when you’re circling foes and slowing them in your new AoE attack radius instead of merely dashing at enemies. Your attacks can also be supercharged with Omega abilities, using a limited mana pool to boost your attack, special attack, or cast moves. A Hex, an ultimate card of sorts, is another twist on the combat dance. These can benefit from elemental effects with boons, granted by clearing chambers during your run.

While all these moves can feel overwhelming, Supergiant Games understands that more does not imply better.

While all these moves can feel overwhelming, Supergiant Games understands that more does not imply better. Even in Hades 2, the old playstyle is perfectly viable. As the game opens up over its runs, you can rely on buffing an attack or two before experimenting to a greater degree. Want Hephaestus to lend a hammer to your new Sprint move? Or would you rather let Demeter’s freeze or Hestia’s scorch whittle away foes in your cast AoE attack? While gods like Aphrodite, Zeus, and Poseidon are back with updated boons, Artemis treats you like a big sister with her assists. There’s plenty here that lets Hades 2 carve out an identity, even from its predecessor.

Hades 2 review: A player checks the incantations in the Crossroads. Image captured by VideoGamer.
Incantations let you unlock powerful upgrades. Image captured by VideoGamer.

At the Crossroads, your choices shape your runs

In a genre built on learning from your stinging losses, Hades 2 uses death to teleport you into its second core pillar – the Crossroads. The biggest change here, besides it being an outdoor hub, is a Melinoë-sized cauldron next to where Hecate hangs out. Materials like flowers and metals (mined by unlockable tools) are used here to concoct incantations, giving you buffs or improving the Crossroads with plant beds, a bathing area, and a broker who deals in bones, ashes, and other exotic goods. Unexpectedly, incantations also influence the story.

You see, Eris, the goddess of strife, has a habit of lurking on your path, ready to “bless” you with a debuff that worsens with each encounter. You’ll need to circumvent this soft lock with the right incantation to further the game’s plot. Get rid of her as quickly as possible to make the most of your runs (unless you want a challenge). It gives you another nuisance alongside rival Nemesis, who will occasionally buy wares at Charon’s shop to reduce your item choices. They’re not outright annoying and add constraints to the upgrade-and-run loop polished to near perfection in Hades. 

Eris’ debuff is felt most in the game’s new boss fights. While Hecate tests you herself before you go out of Erebus, none of them rein in their attacks, mixing AoE attacks with streams of projectiles and unique patterns for Melinoë to learn and overcome. You’ll usually end your runs here unless an ill-timed Chaos buff-debuff combo boon drains your life force. 

Hades 2 review: A player uses an Omega attack against enemies. Image captured by VideoGamer.
Omega attacks let you consume mana for powerful moves. Image captured by VideoGamer.

Only a matter of time

There’s no visual blemish or performance shortcoming that would mark Hades 2 as an Early Access title. A dozen hours in, I’m still finding mini-bosses and somber callbacks to the original. I don’t press the brood button near my family portrait whenever I end a run. Instead, I hang out with the dysfunctional Chthonic entities I call home. Hades 2 has more surprises that I won’t talk about but they’re going to make longtime fans very pleased.

Supergiant Games’ first sequel builds on everything the original did incredibly well. Hades 2 carefully sandwiches more nuance between the original roguelike’s kinetic combat, gorgeous visuals, and heartfelt narrative. With each end comes an opportunity to clear an obstacle, deepen a bond, and inch closer to thwarting Chronos. It takes self-awareness and restraint to tiptoe between gluttonous choices and tactical depth. Hades 2 sprints on it.

Be it a marathon session or a short burst, this tightly woven formula carries the roguelike genre forward, as though Hades 2 is why the genre was created. In a world that reacts to your victories and setbacks, you’re never sore about losing. Like its familiar but new soundtrack, it promises a riot of surprises at every corner. Back in 2020, I saw Hades as a symbol of hope when systemic flaws and a pandemic ravaged the world. Four years later, Hades 2 makes a bigger splash and is a reminder that family, however estranged, is worth fighting for.

Reviewed on PC. Game provided by the publisher.

About the Author

Antony Terence

Antony Terence is a Guides Writer for VideoGamer. While he is particularly fond of city-builders, shooters, and strategy titles, he won’t turn down a good JRPG or a turn-based roguelike.

Hades 2

  • Release Date: May 6th 2024
  • Platform(s): PC
  • Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Roguelike
10 VideoGamer
Hades 2: Melinoe wields her dagger and sickle as she faces the player . Image via Supergiant Games.

verdict

Hades 2 carefully sandwiches more nuance between the original roguelike’s kinetic combat, gorgeous visuals, and heartfelt narrative. With each end comes an opportunity to clear an obstacle, deepen a bond, and inch closer to thwarting Chronos.
10 Fluid combat that makes every decision matter New progression systems that don’t dilute the experience Stunning art style brimming with personality A familiar soundtrack that puts you in a trance Well-written characters that support the narrative