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I’m Excited To Play Hades 2 The Way God(s) Intended: Early Access

Not gonna myth it this time

Supergiant

Hades 2 is finally here! Sort of. If you’re one of the lucky few who’s been admitted into the hotly-anticipated roguelike’s technical test, you can hack, slash, and cast your way through a small slice of the game right now. I have done so and come bearing predictable news: it rules. But if you’re still impatiently awaiting your tech test invite or – on the other end of the spectrum – if you view this whole pre-1.0 period as an agonizing, years-long tease, I have good news for you: Hades is meant for early access.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with all the recent Hades 2 hooplah, the technical test is set to last “longer than a week, but shorter than a month,” not long after which early access will launch with “much, much more to be discovered.” I blew through what’s already there in a single sitting, beating the game’s first boss, main character Melinoë’s mentor Hecate, five times in around three hours, at which point the game locked me out of doing any additional runs. So far, Hades 2’s structure feels extremely similar to the original Hades, but not in a bad way. Supergiant’s decision to preserve the first game’s basic formula – do a run, die in some capacity, talk to various denizens of the underworld, spend your hard-won resources on permanent upgrades and additions to the hub area, do another run – serves to emphasize the many smart tweaks it’s made to suit a new story. 

Melinoë is a witch, and witchy business suffuses the game’s entire identity. The first weapon she wields is a witch’s staff, which – combined with chargeable “omega” attacks, a new “hex” mechanic that charges up as a result of magick use, and casting circles that stop enemies dead in their tracks – allows for a wide variety of rangy spellcasting builds, especially when paired with scores of new boons from all the hot gods Hades fans have come to know and lust after. All of which is to say: Melinoë is more than just a Zagreus reskin. She moves and carries herself differently. She draws on different sorts of powers. She feels different – less a raging berserker like her older brother and more a fleet-footed sniper. In fact, when I unlocked the technical test’s other weapon, the melee-oriented Sister Blades, I felt downright limited compared to when I was wielding the staff. But that might just be a matter of personal preference. 

Other occult trappings dot the game’s landscape. The spooky, swampy setting of Erebus lays it on thick, emanating a gloomier vibe than anything in the original. There’s a colossal cauldron in the middle of the hub area, which allows you to brew up incantations that frequently add to or alter the world (for example, our old pal The Wretched Broker, who’s back and more wretched than ever). Melinoë’s stat-boosting upgrades, meanwhile, come from arcana cards that can be unlocked and switched out according to the needs of the situation at hand. Just about anywhere you look, comforting familiarity is drizzled with confident new flavor. 

Part of me wants to feel slightly disappointed, given that Hades 2 is coming from Supergiant, a company that’s thrown out radically different looks with each successive game. But even though I sank over 100 hours into the original Hades, the sequel already feels equal parts fresh and rock solid – with ample room for a slow-building surfeit of surprises. That, after all, was the original game’s greatest strength: peeling back its own layers at a near-perfect pace and then occasionally chucking in an entirely new idea or mechanic dozens of hours in just to keep you on your toes. 

That’s one reason I’m so excited to play it in early access: I have no doubt that my impatience will be rewarded with even more intriguing twists on a genre that Supergiant pretty much mastered on its first try. But the original Hades wasn’t just a demonstration of great game design; it was also a prime example of early access done right. I don’t just mean that in the sense of consistent updates and listening to community feedback. I mean that Supergiant knew from the get go that Hades was going to run the early access gauntlet and crafted its narrative accordingly. It made early access part of the experience, part of the lore. 

Problem is, I only really found out about that wrinkle right as Hades was on the verge of receiving its 1.0 update in 2020. I remember reading this excellent piece by Jay Castello at the time and cursing my across-the-board tendency to wait until 1.0:

The very idea of a true ending will also shift how the game has been built over early access. The constant additions of new areas, monsters, and stories has made the game itself feel like a myth of old, constantly shifting. The best comparison is Zagreus himself: Supergiant chose him because he doesn't have a lot of recorded information, likely because he was overwritten by Dionysus at some point. The game has been growing and changing in that same way for many months – even at one point adding a reference to these sorts of evolutions as Zag and Dio trick the bard Orpheus into believing they are one and the same. As I said, I'm excited for 1.0, and I'm hardly expecting Supergiant to keep Hades fluid forever. But we often consider a game's progress through early access as a straight line, and Hades is more complicated than that. At the moment, its ‘missing’ features and changing nature are themselves worthy of celebration. Like Zagreus' constant escape attempts, the journey has been just as important as the destination.

I love the idea of a story that changes with each telling – whose “incomplete” iterations aren’t necessarily worse, just different. The original Hades was especially interesting in this regard because, as Castello pointed out at the time, Zagreus’ quest could only ever end in failure so long as the game was in early access. He spent real-life years trying and dying millions of times, and Supergiant had to both narratively justify that and ensure that players didn’t feel like they were playing as Sisyphus instead of Zagreus. That’s a fascinating challenge, one Supergiant will again face with a new cast of characters in Hades 2. How will the studio approach it this time? How will it draw on the lessons it learned last time around? What story will the early access version tell? And how will players shape each iteration, including what ends up being the “final” version?

More than anything, I’m just excited that I get to be part of it this time. Maybe in the end I’ll decide that I was better off waiting for 1.0, but if Hades has taught me anything, it’s that fuck ups have more fun anyway. 

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