2020 has been a rough year, but if there’s one good thing to come of it, gamers, in particular, seem to agree that it's Hades, Supergiant Games’ latest title.
Hades is a roguelike game, which for the uninitiated means the core gameplay is built around procedural dungeon-delving, with a healthy dose of hack and slash to clear through wave after wave of baddies. Set in Supergiant’s imagining of the Greek Underworld, the player takes on the role of Zagreus, the recalcitrant son of the titular Hades, lord of the underworld himself. Zag is sick of eternity in the depths of (basically) hell, so he decides to break out, setting the stage for the game’s story.
And in classic Supergiant style, there’s plenty of story to be had, which is all the more impressive in a game where you will die early and often. Given the setting and the fact that most of the characters are gods, story progression through dying and finding your way back in the House of Hades to follow up with the game’s colorful NPCs is a refreshing fit. Perhaps that is what makes the game so addictive. When even dying is a way to progress, no element of play feels particularly bad.
Now, a few months after its official release, Hades is fresh off a stygian boatload of accolades, including a Golden Joystick for Best Indie Game and Critic’s Choice, and nominations for the upcoming *Game Awards’ Game of the Year, Best Narrative, Best Art Direction and more.
It’s also no surprise that a game like Hades would end up a popular title to speedrun as well, given its replayability and enjoyable hack-and-slash battle mechanics. I sat down with Aaron “Medic” Chamberlain, LEC Shoutcaster, former doctor, and one of the top Hades runners in the world to talk about his experience and what keeps the game fresh.
You are now a top 4 Hades Speedrunner, but what got you into speedrunning in general?
I’ve always enjoyed watching speedrunning. Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) and Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) are just such incredible events to watch and see games dismantled in. I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who could do it. For me to enjoy a run, it has to be minimal glitches, more about learning a build and perfecting a build, not to change the game’s engine — not that that isn’t a fun thing for some, it’s just not what I enjoy. Hades is actually the first game I’ve ever speedrun myself.
What is it about Hades that makes it such a good speedrunning game?
It’s just incredibly fun to play. I had 80 hours into the game before I even looked into speedrunning. The variation in combat — six different weapons each with four different aspects — you can have good times on any of them. You can’t be World Record pace on most of them, there’s one weapon that stands out above the rest, but the fact that you can find all these unique combos, the combat feels responsive, and you only feel punished only for when you make mistakes is what makes it great for speedrunning. There’s minimal RNG in the “something randomly jumps out and kills you”. It’s more like you can see what you are up against, you understand how you have to beat it, and after you learn the basic combos and mechanics of the enemies it becomes a very fun game just to pour hours into.
You mentioned a lot of options and minimal RNG. Do you feel that the RNG that does exist has a minimal effect or large?
I think RNG is always gonna have an effect — whether you have an epic or rare boon, for example. You can only ever plan the first boon for any area of the map (or level of Hades). And sometimes you get a natural boon that you’re looking for after, and that helps. So there is always a degree of RNG.
The thing that I like about the RNG is that for me to get my run to a 7-minute run (top 10 or 15 in the world), I could do that with bad RNG and good mechanics — not AWFUL RNG but relatively bad RNG. To really optimize it and get top 4 or 5, you have to do a lot of runs and hope that you get good RNG while still having good mechanics. So although there is an element of RNG, the runs are fast, and you can reset really easily. If you’re just looking to be top 50, It doesn’t play too much of a factor in my opinion.
Yeah, it points to the only thing that really messes you up on your time is making a mistake, which doesn’t feel too bad.
It’s how much time you want to invest as well. I put 500 runs into getting a good time — that’s probably 2-3 weeks of just grinding a single weapon. That’s a lot of time for a lot of people. But to get a medium-good time I think you could give me any weapon and I’d do 50-100 resets and would get to the top 50 of that weapon, just by being able to get used to the mechanics. The mechanics behind playing a weapon are much more important to get relatively good than the RNG of [boons].
...And the grinding isn’t so bad when the game has so much replayability! The game has been out for a few months now, so what has been the biggest thing to keep it fresh in your opinion?
I think there are two different aspects. As a casual player it was fresh for me because the story kept evolving — you keep getting these new snippets of information from the gods, and then you’d give someone some nectar and it would be a whole new story to come out of it, and then you get these duo boons and the gods start interacting with each other, and you have this rich story behind the whole thing.
Then as a speedrunner you have all of these different things you can do with each weapon — you get this [depth of] refinement. Do I wanna take this boon here? Is this small upgrade better than this small upgrade? Should I be switching around to something else?
For example, there’s this very commonly used boon that when I started called Sea Storm, which is a combination of Zeus and Poseidon which increases your damage with lightning whenever you knock someone back... And I found the more I ran, the less I wanted this boon when I was getting later into the run because it’s less effective than something that just gives you a percentage damage increase. You’re not using it as often. It’s those little adaptations or changes that kept [playing] interesting for me.
You find new stuff even though you’ve sunk hours into the game.
There’s a prophecies list in the game which is like “do all these things” and get bonuses — I still haven’t finished it. I have about 250 hours in Hades, and there’s still all of these boons that I’ve never seen. There’s just so much depth to the game that you don’t always expect in a roguelike — usually, you expect some but not the layers that Supergiant has put in.
Story is a huge part of this game, which is something we don’t often expect from a roguelike. Now, you’re a history buff, so how do you find Supergiant’s take on Greek mythology?
I really like it. The thing with Greek Mythology is what is "truth" when it comes to it? I find the degree of nods to mythology or stories I have heard about or read. I wouldn’t call myself a history scholar, though I know some stuff. For example, they’ve got [one aspect of the bow called] Hera’s bow. It’s these small things where they've taken the time to deliberately name something and put a little bit extra into it — instead of just giving it a generic name. Plus you can get other things like Arthur’s sword [Excalibur] and such.
So you mentioned one weapon that is better than the rest for fast clears, I think that’s the Gun weapon — the Adamant Rail. What is the optimized strategy at the moment for speedrunning with it?
It’s worth noting that the Adamant Rail is going to be nerfed in a patch, [Supergiant] is saying the start of December, so we’ll have to find new strategies, and it looks like all the records are going to be archived as well, so I’ll be chasing the World Record again in a couple of weeks’ time.
The optimal strategy at the moment is running the Adamant Rail [Gun] with an [maxed out] aspect called the Eris aspect. The reason that’s optimal is that when you use your special, your bomb, with the rail, you can stand in the explosion and get a 75% increase damage buff for 8 seconds.
So what you do is you go Zeus keepsake first, you get Zeus [Boon] on your attack, and then all you’re doing when you’re clearing rooms is you bomb, you dash into where the bomb is happening, and you get 75% increased damage for basically the rest of the encounter — most encounters don’t take more than 8 seconds to clear. Alongside that, you get Poseidon’s dash, which does a huge amount of damage for a dash, and you look for a Duo Boon called Sea Storm. And if you have those three components, you’re pretty much completely online. There’s a lot of small optimizations too — certain hammers you want to take include rockets and cluster bombs because then you have 5 rockets at once.
So that’s the essence of a run. I found out about that from a guide someone wrote online, and it took my time down from about a 20 minute clear to a 12 minute clear within three days.
So what about cutting down times on rooms?
There are a few different rooms that count as free rooms, which either are super fast to clear or stops the in-game timer. Thanatos and Survival rooms — the latter are only in Tartarus — both stop the in-game timer, so while you clear the room you aren’t advancing time on your run. Usually, you want to get Thanatos in Elysium because those are harder rooms to clear — saving more time at a harder stage. You also have fountain rooms, shops, and story rooms which are basically free because you can dash through them quickly. The story rooms are Sisyphus in Tartarus, Eurydice in Asphodel, and Patty in Elysium.
Oh, yeah, we always forget his actual name so we just call him Patty [laughs].
Now with difficulty added, how does that work for the heat mechanic for adding difficulty — I would think the optimal amount would be zero, but I have heard it’s actually nine?
Nine heat is the optimal any % clear. You run Extreme Measures x2, because on the Lernie fight it makes the heads a lot easier to group up, and then you can AoE them instead of having to clear them individually. And you run forced overtime x2 as well, which is 40% increased movement and attack speed, because it increases the spawn speed as well, so if enemies are spawning quicker you can kill them quicker.
Okay, I only have one more question for you, man: Medic at AGDQ when?
Oh man, I wish! I was very tempted to apply this year, but I know the guys who applied this year and got in, and they are really cool guys, so I’m looking forward to watching them. If in summer I am still speedrunning Hades, I’ll definitely apply and see if I can get a spot.