Newbie’s guide to exploring Hades

I resisted using the verb “surviving” because you don’t really survive in this game. You will die, and you will die plenty. The question is, how do you die smart? Roguelike and Soulsborne games are daunting to tackle because nobody really likes to see “Game Over” or “You’re Dead” over and over again. We play video games to relax and to escape. Yet sometimes, a great title comes along and you want to conquer it.

Hades, available on both PC and Switch, was a game that got me hooked on the roguelike experience as it balances out the dungeon crawling aspect while giving you enough power-ups to aid you in your quest to get out of hell. Unlike Celeste, the game doesn’t keep making you do the same jump over and over until you get better at it, it lets you play around and when you’re ready to keep doing the same jump over and over, it’ll be there for you. In short, it’s like riding a bicycle with your training wheels while the game lobs grenades at you.

As a roguelike newbie, here is my take on starting out in an unfamiliar genre. After about ten tries, I realized the rookie mistakes I’ve made and I rectified it by starting a new game. Unlike Moonlighter or XCOM 2 where the game punishes you with more randomized challenges because the game knows you’ve started “fresh”. Hades gives you an option of starting out with Hell Mode or starting out with a clean slate. If you’re still reading, here are some of the lessons I learned when I restarted.

You Can’t Take It With You

After a brief prologue, the game throws you into Tartarus where you’ll encounter four post-millennial teenagers shooting themselves in the head to summon their Personas. Still with me? Let’s start again. You enter Tartarus with the Stygian Blade in hand and you encounter simple enough enemies and the game introduces you to their bonuses. The first lesson you need to pick up on is which of the bonuses carry over after your death and which bonuses you lose when you die (and you will die) on this run.

Darkness (or Night Shards) is the currency used to learn skills from the Mirror of Night. In your first run, aim to get 30. Another bonus to aim to get are the Cththonic Keys, which unlocks weapons and slots from the Mirror of Night. You will immediately receive one in this run, aim to get three more. Though, the priority in this run is to earn 30 Darkness

One thing you’ll notice is at the end of each dungeon, you’ll come across passage choices with their unique icons. Learn the meaning behind those icons as they dictate what kind of reward you will receive after completing the encounter. For now, aim to get Darkness and Chthonic Keys. If it’s something else, try to get other permanent rewards like Gemstones and Nectar. If not, try to get Charon’s Obol (gold) or Centaur Heart (adds 25 HP), while you will lose them when you die, you can buy more health or extend your health as you try to get more keys and darkness. 

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

If you’re skilled enough to get pretty far or go deep, you probably don’t need this guide. However, if you’re a regular gamer just like the rest of us, your sword probably won’t get you far. If you haven’t noticed yet, the enemies start to build in number and they hit significantly hard. With 50 HP, you’ll probably last 5-8 dungeons if you’re lucky. You’ll return to the House of Hades and try to get comfortable, because you’ll be spending a lot of time here. Get familiar with your housemates, make sure you pet Cerberus and once you’re done getting acclimatized, you will enter your bedchambers where you’ll come across the Mirror of Night as I’ve described. Invest in Death Defiance, which resurrects you upon death with half your hit points. It gives you another chance in exploring Tartarus.

Once you exit your bedchambers, you’ll come across Skelly in the armory where you’ll be introduced to your arsenal: The Infernal Arms. Use a Cththonic Key to unlock Coronacht: The Heart-Seeking Bow. If you’ve collected three more keys, unlock Aegis: Shield of Chaos. Depending on your style, these two weapons are great for keeping far away from enemies while whittling down their numbers. 

The bow is great for long range power attacks and its special allows you to allot spread damage when enemies start to get closer. The shield gives you the chance to live your dreams as Chris Evans without keeping your calorie count to 1,000, eating too much protein, and doing too many burpees. You can block enemy attacks while your shield throw can keep your enemies at bay. The bull rush is a nice touch, but use it sparingly as it gets you closer to the enemy when your goal is to keep your distance. 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Your next goal is to collect enough Darkness, about 500-700 to be exact and 9 more Cththonic Keys. That way you can earn another Death Defiance extending your health further. Use five keys to unlock Infernal Soul and Boiling Blood. Infernal Soul allows you to use the cast command more frequently. This boosts your DPS against bosses. Boiling Blood further extends this boost; it’s a great long term investment. At this point in the game, you can choose to add more dash, increase backstab damage, or regeneration at a later time. The faster you build those skills, your mid-game to late-game strategy will be a lot more manageable.

The fastest way to earn Darkness is to equip weapons that have a bonus modifier to earn 20% more Darkness in them. Having unlocked the bow and the shield, you can also use the remaining four keys to unlock Varatha: The Eternal Spear. The spear is a combination weapon of the Stygian Blade and the Heart Seeking Bow. Great long range capability but you can also get close. It’s a great training weapon to learn CQB.

Another way to earn Darkness is to seek out Sisyphus, who randomly shows up in Tartarus. He will give you three choices for the bonus: Healing, Darkness, and Gold. Choose Darkness every time. With the 20% bonus, you can earn 60-70 Darkness at once. If you can’t collect Darkness, try to find Nectar and Gemstones. Once your Contractor is made available, use the Gemstones to build an Infernal Trove to earn about 24-38 Darkness by taking its challenge (provided you have enough HP). Vanquishing old bosses gives you about 60-70 Darkness when you repeatedly kill them again.

How To Win Friends and Influence Deities

Nectar is a helluva drug. Learn to give it to the right people and at this point, it’s better to give it to a variety of NPCs than to the same NPC. In my first run, I was just chucking it at Charon thinking it was a temporary bonus, but it turns out it is permanent. The great thing about gifting Nectar is that the first time you give it to an NPC, they give you a Keepsake, a piece of equipment you can use to take it to Hell and back with you. You can also power them up. The catch is you can only equip one at a time. If you have an extra ten Gemstones, build a Keepsake Case in Tartarus so you are able to switch between Keepsakes in the later game. In fact, prioritize building the keepsake case over the infernal trove. Your future runs will thank you later.

Which Keepsakes are great in your early run, you ask?

Give one to the goodest boy Cerberus as his Old Spike Chain will give you an HP boost and a fully maxed out keepsake will give you double your HP. That is equivalent to getting two Centaur Hearts from the get go. Having high health to start is a good buffer while learning the fundamentals. With a Death Defiance on reserve, you’ll probably get to second boss without breaking too much of a sweat. Actually, you probably won’t, but I’m being supportive.

Skelly is a good second choice as the Lucky Tooth gives you a second Death Defiance giving you two chances to traverse the landscape. I would switch between the Old Spike Chain and the lucky tooth when you cross over to the second area as by this time, you probably chanced a few Centaur Hearts to maintain a high health in the next half. At this point, you would probably expend a Death Defiance easily, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup.

For a third keepsake, I would go with Sisyphus’ Shattered Shackle. It gives you 40% extra damage on attack, cast, and special that has no Boon. As your current setup is to grind as much as possible by maximizing permanent bonuses, you’re probably avoiding the meddling of your Olympian relatives. So with this keepsake, it’s a great newbie equipment to keep yourself dealing damage and maximizing your earning potential.

Taking It To The Next Level

Once you’ve collected the 500-700 Darkness, unlocked the Eternal Spear and probably the next two weapons: Twin Fists of Malphon and Exagryph: The Adamant Rail, you’re ready to take on more challenges. By this time, you probably have enough backstab damage, extra infernal souls, enough keepsakes, and are on your way to building 1,000 Darkness to earn your third Death Defiance.

Boss Bonuses such as Titan’s Blood and Diamonds are rare drops and could only be acquired by defeating one of the bosses with a brand new weapon. When the Wretched Broker is available, resist trading these rarities for more Nectar, Keys, and Gemstones as you can acquire more of those in your journey and also by unlocking Fated List of Minor Prophecies from your Contractor. Titan’s Blood evolves your existing weapons and Diamonds give you more building options. 

Learn to time your Boons and Daedlus Hammers. Different Olympian Gods allow you to Summon their power or power up your weapons. Daedalus Hammer unlocks your Infernal Arms’ true potential. Experiment on what makes it work for you. Zeus gives you splash damage bonus, Ares gives you extra damage when killing enemies, Aphrodite slows enemies, Poseidon gives you knockback damage, Dionysus has poison (amusingly known as a Hangover), Hermes gives speed and movement bonus, Artemis boosts your critical, Athena has the power to deflect, and Kratos is coming soon on God of War Ragnarok. Each Boon ranges in Common, Rare, Epic, and Heroic rarities which increases the power-ups of said boost and with the right combination, you can do quite a bit of damage. Furthermore, watch out for the rare case where deities randomly give you a Duo bonus giving two for the price of one. Dionysus and Ares work wonders for DPS.

Finally, watch out for the denizens of Hell that give you some defining bonuses. Charon sells you wares for your gold that gives temporary passive skills. Early in the game, I’d use the gold to buy the permanent bonuses, but later on feel free to upgrade boons or earn extra boons to vanquish randomized bosses. Sisyphus can come in handy for a quick health recovery or gold to buy more bonuses. Eurydice increases the rarity or levels up your current boons. Then there’s Chaos who presents challenges where you can take a penalty like receiving damage if you use certain skills for a significant bonus later on. In the early game, I’d avoid entering Chaos because with your weakened state, it’s more of a detriment than an advantage. Later on, a well-timed choice can change the course of your exploration.

That’s it for me and those are the lessons I’ll impart to my fellow newbie adventurers. Take care and when unsure, you can always die and start again and again and again and again…

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