HomeTech Hades II’s bold and thought-provoking spin on Greek myth makes it worth playing right now.

Hades II’s bold and thought-provoking spin on Greek myth makes it worth playing right now.

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Hades II's bold and thought-provoking spin on Greek myth makes it worth playing right now.

tThe time comes for all of us, and in Hades II, not even the gods are spared from his wrath. This epic Greek mythology-themed action game is the first sequel from art studio Supergiant Games, which means it has the difficult task of surpassing a progenitor that won countless awards and critical acclaim. Fortunately, time is on the developers’ side: while you can buy Hades II right now, it’s under the guise of “early access,” meaning there’s still pre-order content here. Its creators are gathering feedback from players in hopes of eventually releasing a finished game that lives up to impossible expectations.

Perhaps the closest parallel to what Hades represents within the world of video games is Emily Wilson’s translation of The Iliad, which arrived on the heels of her highly regarded interpretation of The Odyssey.. While Wilson’s work helps recontextualize Greek myth for modern audiences, the Hades series has the bold goal of expanding those myths. The first game starred Zagreus, son of Hades, a rarely cited figure from the pantheon who sought to escape the clutches of the underworld. Hades II takes a similar route, placing players in the shoes of Melinoë, a character so dark that scholars speculate she may be a syncretization of Persephone. Esoteric figures like these are fertile ground for Supergiant Games, which has created a family drama that is only possible when it involves a group of feuding gods.

Melinoë seeks revenge against Chronos, the Greek titan who personifies time. In the original myth, Cronus rises to power by overthrowing (and castrating) his father, but Cronus is plagued by paranoia after a prophecy predicts that he too is destined to be overthrown by his offspring. To avoid this fate, Cronus eats his children (Hades among them), an act immortalized in the famous and disturbing painting by Peter Paul Rubens. They are later freed from her womb by his youngest son, Zeus, whose mother hid him to prevent him from being consumed, and Cronus is banished to Tartarus, in the depths of the earth. In Hades II, Chronos escaped his imprisonment and took Hades hostage, disrupting the realm of immortals depicted in the first game. Melinoë, a daughter of Hades, must now make her way in the underworld to defeat his grandfather.

Family drama… Hades II. Photography: Supergiant Games

While most games make the player fear failure, in Hades II death paves the way to enlightenment. Melinoë must navigate through ever-changing rooms filled with mythological dangers that are eager to kill her, and often do. It’s an impossible mission, worthy of Sisyphus, as each death strips the player of all the power-ups and blessings acquired during her last run. Many players will be drawn primarily to the frenetic combat: Supergiant Games fills dungeons with creatures so imposing that Melinoë has to slow down time to survive. You can collect resources for completely new power-ups or power up individual attacks with magic, which wasn’t possible in the first game.

Others, meanwhile, will fall in love with the sequel’s expanded cast of engaging characters, including the personified spirit of vengeance and Arachne, the cursed spider-like weaver. How these characters relate to the story may vary; Sometimes they will appear without warning to help you in combat, but other times, in true competitive Greek immortal fashion, they may appear just to show how much stronger they are than you. This interpersonal (or deity-to-deity) drama turns what is already a compelling game into something even more compelling. Even in its current unfinished state, it’s clear that I’ll be spending dozens of hours on Hades II.

But the game’s true revelation lies in its willingness to acknowledge the player’s actions, no matter how small. If the player loses an unusual amount of health in a single room, Melinoë will notice. If the player is defeated by a specific character, her friends at her camp will scold her for it, especially if she has bested them before. A boss may reference previous encounters to taunt Melinoë or acknowledge her own defeat. This flexible dialogue was in the first game, but it was often too brief. Hades II expands the breadth of the things he remembers, no matter how inconsequential they may be. As you play, the game becomes an amalgamation of carefully considered details that become deeply personal. For a hard-working player, these small but consistent recognitions of his efforts are a powerful encouragement to keep fighting against seemingly impossible odds.

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All religions, including Greek myth, are based on the premise that things have meaning and purpose: that someone, or some, built the world to be the way it is and that our actions have meaning. In Hades II, that’s true. In this world, the gods are real. Maybe they answer a prayer with a blessing, maybe their fickle nature hits you. Whatever the case, the player knows that the gods are always watching.

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