Hades II: It takes time to kill time

The game is also slightly different from the original. The underworld is now witch-themed, in a Halloween party kind of way. There’s a cauldron for brewing potions, and a shiny new witch’s staff as a primary weapon.
What’s changed most are the meta-progression elements. Sometimes, the entire point of a run is not getting to Chronos, but collecting resources to buy upgrades.
What’s changed most are the meta-progression elements. Sometimes, the entire point of a run is not getting to Chronos, but collecting resources to buy upgrades.

In Hades II, you play as Melinoë, the fierce and immortal Princess of the Underworld. When she isn’t fighting in battles with the help of powerful Olympians, she is in her bedroom, talking to her pet frog and ghost roommate. But I don’t envy her. You see, the Greek god of Time, Chronos, holds her father Hades, captive in the depths of Tartarus.

And she has taken on the rather futile attempt of defeating Chronos. I do, however, help her prepare for the fight at night. I arm her with weapons and powerful arcana cards that boost her health and magical abilities. I then follow her as she enters the dark forests of ‘Erebus’—the first level in her journey to Tartarus.

Each clearing in this forest is a battle site. She encounters several beasts, defeats them to receive blessings. The blessings are varied and randomised—a helpful Olympian gives her a special power, or she discovers materials for potions, or she shops for upgrades in Charon’s wells. She moves ahead, crossing many such clearings, with upgrades along the way—before she reaches the first boss battle.

At any point, given her limited health, she might die. At least, in the way an immortal god can die—by respawning in her bedroom, unscathed. She must then restart the entire battle. Like the original Hades, Hades II is also a rogue-like game. Failing repeatedly is non-optional. Go down the forest, kill beasts, get loot, die. Use the loot to buy small permanent upgrades, and re enter the battlefield. You get a little bit further ahead every time.

It is immediately evident that Hades II is much bigger than the original game from 2018. For starters, the new game has about a dozen new Olympians that “bless” Melinoë. You might chance upon Hestia, whose best power is inflicting a lasting “scorch” on the attacked enemy. Or Narcissus, who showers you with precious metals.

He resides in perpetuity in ‘Oceanus’, deep down in the underworld. I think the symbolism here is that he enjoys his reflection so much, that he now lives in the water realm. Yes, I now know a lot more about relationships, lore, and powers in Greek mythology than I ever cared for.

The game is also slightly different from the original. The underworld is now witch-themed, in a Halloween party kind of way. There’s a cauldron for brewing potions, and a shiny new witch’s staff as a primary weapon. A goddess with a big witch’s hat turns you into a sheep every time you meet her in battle. There’s also a trail of cobwebs to follow in the forest that leads you to an enchanted spider.

What’s changed most are the meta-progression elements. Sometimes, the entire point of a run is not getting to Chronos, but collecting resources to buy upgrades. Take the Arcana system—this replaces the magical mirror in the original game that provided permanent boosts. I consider this new system cursed and unfair, because there are limits to the number of holdable Arcana cards, and some of these are mandatory. Starting out with a weak 30 HP of health, means that Melinoë can’t get out of holding the card that has a 20 HP upgrade.

Now, that’s already one out of four cards that can be initially equipped. I can’t even swap this out for better cards when I need them further in the game. I do, however, like the potions system. It gives interesting add-ons to the journey ahead, like meeting new characters and unlocking bits of the story. Making friends with the underworld characters is also now more valuable — they give you keepsakes that provide bonus blessings, luck, and armour. Optimising and choosing the right weapon + card + keepsake combination is a skill that requires patience to master.

My biggest problem with Hades II is its steep learning curve. It’s punishing if you haven’t played enough of the original. The meta-progression balances this out, but only minimally. For example, if you aren’t naturally good at the game, you will still find your way to new story elements. But this is a game that’s constantly improving, which means there are opportunities for change. Hades II is currently still in Early Access, fixing its way towards its final release later this year. Priced at Rs 1,300, it is now available for the PC through Steam and the Epic Games store. It is expected to be out for console platforms in future. Buy it, if you’re willing to take the time.

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