Hades 2 Early Access review: Killing Time has never been better

Hades 2 Early Access review: Killing Time has never been better
Images via Supergiant Games

Written by 

Joshua Boyles


8th May 2024 16:46

With Hades 2, Supergiant Games has a monumental task on its hands, Sisyphean even. How do you deliver a sequel to one of 2020’s best games, iterating on its systems to deliver something that’s both familiar and new without taking things completely left-field? How do you produce a sequel to an indie megahit when you've never developed a sequel before?

After pouring hours into the early access version of the latest roguelike on the scene, it’s very clear that Supergiant is still at the top of its game. Despite launching into early access yet again, there’s more than enough content to keep even the most dedicated players occupied, and a gameplay loop that, much like protagonist Melinoë, stands the test of Time.

Where were we?

Melinoe in Hades 2
Click to enlarge

If early access wasn’t plastered all over the store page for Hades 2, you’d hardly know that was the case upon booting the title up. On day one, there’s already plenty of story to sink your teeth into, with the narrative picking up a considerable amount of time after the events of the first game.

You play Melinoë, the daughter of Hades and sister to the previous protagonist Zagreus. The Titan Chronos has overthrown the gods and taken your family captive in a bid to wage war on Olympus. Using your witch-like powers taught to you by your mentor and tutor, Hecate, you’ll fight through familiar arenas to end his tyranny.

The loop of Hades 2 feels instantly familiar if you played the first game. The Crossroads serves as the constant hub you return to between each run, with characters to talk to and equipment to upgrade with the materials you harvest during the night. Especially in the beginning, your runs never usually last more than 5-10 minutes, and The Crossroads offers a comforting space to reset before gearing up for another run.

Back into the fray

Hades 2 Combat gameplay screenshot
Click to enlarge

The combat tempo of Hades 2 will also feel familiar, with Melinoë using similar types of attacks. Basic attacks are paired with Special moves, and a Cast rounds off the trio to provide some AoE goodness.

Combos are more important than ever this time around, with a new resource thrown into the mix. Melinoë uses Magick to cast more powerful versions of her attacks, which can be done by holding down the attack buttons while in combat.

The action remains fast-paced, especially with the new sprint mechanic. Magick only regenerates when certain items are equipped or at the start of each encounter, so it’s something that you need to manage in each fight. This adds a balancing act to the game’s flow, which makes it feel just familiar enough for anyone who spent time with Zagreus, but will still keep you on the toes of your sandals.

Magick ties into the new Moon abilities, too, which can only be used once you’ve used a set amount of Magicka in an encounter. These are exceptionally powerful but require you to be equally as aggressive in your approach to the combat. With the thundering soundtrack by Darren Korb egging you on the whole time, I always feel like the game is pushing me to fight harder with each new run.

There are five weapons to unlock and use in the current early access build, and all feel decidedly different enough to warrant an entire playthrough with each. They’re also remarkably different to the ones Zagreus wielded in the first game, so you have your work cut out for you to learn the new rhythms in the transition.

Your starting weapon, the Witch's Staff, is remarkably capable, dealing reasonable damage at a medium range, and good zoning capabilities with its magick-imbued attacks. Meanwhile, the Sister Blades switch things up by letting Melinoë get up in her enemy's faces, before dashing out of danger in a flash.

Other weapons require more thoughtful, heavier attacks, or rely on ranged abilities entirely. Each caters to a drastically different playstyle, so you can easily find one that works for you, or test yourself by becoming a master of all of them - there's no wrong way to approach it.

Arcana Cards in Hades 2
Click to enlarge

Perhaps the most expansive improvement Hades 2 makes is how you can build out Melinoë’s abilities. Keepsakes make their return, but there’s now a new Arcana card system introduced to spice things up further. 

By upgrading your Grasp level, you can equip increasingly more powerful cards that augment your abilities. That could be recovering your full health meter for the first few encounters, or slowly regenerating your Magick level during combat. Unlocking these slowly builds up Melinoë’s capabilities over time, and lets you tailor them to a specific build or playstyle you prefer. 

There’s so much player agency in how you spec out the gameplay style to the point where looking back on the first Hades makes it look dated in comparison. It’s all presented in a thoughtful way, too. It would have been easy for these new gameplay additions to become overwhelming, but quality-of-life features like the forget-me-not mechanic (which pins required resources to your menus) keep things running smoothly in your brain.

Death to Chronos

Nemesis in Hades 2
Click to enlarge

I’m usually very sensitive to games that push the boundaries when it comes to difficulty, and don’t get me wrong, Hades 2 is hard - possibly more so than its predecessor thanks to the new mechanics to keep on top of. Thankfully, Hades 2 retains what made its predecessor one of the best roguelikes around - death never feels like the end.

While you still lose all of the Boons picked up along the way, you regularly pick up enough resources to further the development of The Crossroads. After just a few hours of play, I’m still unlocking new mechanics that continue to empower the protagonist, to the point where dying doesn’t feel like a chore - it feels like a new opportunity.

Catching up with all the characters along the way still feels like a delight, too. With recognisable voices such as Amelia Tyler of Baldur’s Gate 3 fame, or Asa Butterfield of Netflix’s Sex Education, the cast of characters and the voices behind them are strong. I’m usually one to skim-read lines of dialogue, but doing so here feels like sacrilege given the fantastic performances given.

Hades 2 follows in the same footsteps as the original, launching in early access with a full release slated for much later down the line. Where things differ this time around is that it really doesn’t feel like you’re missing out by jumping in before that 1.0 release.

There’s more than enough content in both the gameplay and the narrative that Hades 2 in early access already feels more complete than some AAA games do on launch day. Supergiant Games raised the bar for everyone in 2020, and it’s surpassed even its own lofty goals with this year’s ambitions.

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The Verdict So Far

Especially on handheld, Hades 2 innovates upon its predecessor in ways I didn’t even know it needed to. It’s quickly become my go-to time killer, whether I’ve got 15 minutes to spare or an entire evening to devote.

If you’re even remotely interested in roguelike games, then you owe it to yourself to pick up Hades 2. Don’t let the early access moniker fool you - there’s already content aplenty to keep you sated, even before Supergiant works more of its magick to deliver more.

Reviewed on PC and Steam Deck. Review code provided by the publisher.

Joshua Boyles
About the author
Joshua Boyles
Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.
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