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Rhys Wood

The Hades 2 Technical Test is so good it nearly made me lose my Duolingo streak

Hades 2.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time these last few evenings playing through the Hades 2 Technical Test, which I was lucky enough to receive an invite for after registering my interest on the game’s Steam page. Despite only featuring the first major level and some elements of the hub area, I've already found myself completely unable to put the game down.

This brief opening snippet of gameplay was so thoroughly compelling that it began to eclipse all the tasks I’d planned to do this week. Not least of all was a certain multilingual bird getting particularly irate with me. All of this is to say, when Hades 2 releases in Steam Early Access in the near future, be sure to make ample time for it, because as the game’s intro succinctly stresses: time cannot be stopped.

Family matters

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

Hades 2 is a direct sequel to Supergiant Games’ smash-hit 2020 roguelite. This time around you’re playing as Melinoë, immortal princess of the underworld and sister to Zagreus - the first game’s protagonist. Her titular father and extended family have been spirited away by Chronos, the Titan of Time. 

Chronos now threatens to destroy the underworld and instigate his own rule, which Melinoë, the Gods of Olympus and a small band of allies aren’t all too happy with. Instead of ascending to the mortal realm as Zagreus once did, in a neat twist, Melinoë will have to descend from the surface to the depths of the underworld in order to put an end to Chronos (and thus, time itself) and rescue her family.

It’s a fantastic spin that immediately raises the stakes, offering something much more pressing than the (still extremely compelling) internal familial politics of the first game. And what’s more, Hades 2 is still backed up by a terrific range of well-realized characters.

Melinoë herself is fantastic, offering a more measured, calculated personality than her hot-headed brother. She’s got some truly ice-cold lines, too: “His age doesn’t mean anything to me. The old are seldom wise, and often weak.” Her headmistress, the witch Hecate (who I was pleasantly surprised to learn is voiced by Amelia Tyler, Baldur’s Gate 3’s beloved narrator), is another highlight - her strict-but-caring nature provides a stark contrast to the brutish Hades himself. 

Tools of the trade

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

Melinoë’s combat abilities appear to be somewhat evolved from what was available to Zagreus in the first game. Regular attack combos, specials, projectiles, and casting abilities are still present here, but the princess of the underworld has some additional tricks up her spectral sleeves.

For one, Melinoë can charge up her attacks, converting them into mana-consuming ‘Omega’ abilities. These lend additional properties and utility to her weapon’s move set. For example, using her magic staff that’s unlocked at the start of the level, a charged basic attack now fires beams of light both ahead and behind her for big damage. And by charging her Cast ability (which by default creates a circle that slows enemies caught within it), you’ll cause the area to detonate after a couple of seconds.

Melinoë can also sprint by holding down the Dash button, which as you’d expect, is extremely handy for navigating each room’s arenas and helps you get into more strategic combat positions. This turned out to be incredibly helpful, as I noticed enemy density in Hades 2 was slightly higher compared to the original game – at least in this initial technical test demo.

You’ll still be collecting boons from the various Gods of Olympus which can transform the properties of Melinoë’s move set in various ways, such as spawning a tornado after dashing or causing your projectile to temporarily freeze enemies in place. The foundations of the first game all seem to be here, but some new systems have been added on top to further diversify Melinoë’s abilities in combat.

My favorite new addition comes in the form of Arachne, an adorable spider that can weave special dresses for Melinoë to wear. Beyond some fun aesthetic changes, these dresses also provide an amount of armor to protect your precious health, and powerful buffs to improve your chances against Chronos’ minions. However, you’re incentivized to take very good care of this armor, as taking enough damage will destroy it, alongside any buffs it added to your run.

Time after time

(Image credit: Supergiant Games)

While we’ve only been introduced to its initial level of Erebus and the first boss (which - spoiler warning - turns out to be Hecate, testing Melinoë’s combat prowess before allowing her to progress further and recreating that gorgeously animated reveal trailer), Hades 2 is already shaping up to be a supremely fun and remarkably polished experience. And while I wasn’t going out of my way to hunt for bugs or unintended oddities, I didn’t run into anything remotely game-breaking.

As you may expect from the talented Supergiant team, Hades 2 also looks and sounds phenomenal. Jen Zee’s iconic character artwork only gets better with each Supergiant release and Hades 2 is no different. Environments look equally stunning, and the voice acting is exceptional; there are already what feels like hundreds of unique lines, and across several runs I didn’t once run into instances of repeated dialogue.

We’ve yet to receive a firm release date for Hades 2’s early access, though Supergiant Games has stressed that it’ll be arriving soon. Until then, be sure to play as much of the technical test build as you can. Or if you haven’t received an invite, rest assured that Hades 2 is already looking like it could surpass the developer’s previous efforts. 

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