Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"Hades" Olympians Ranked (by Boon Strength)

I began my journey through Hades unsure of whether I'd ever be able to win a single run. One of my favorite combinations of boons early on, as someone who found (and still does, though I've gotten better at it) the fast-paced combat of the game particularly difficult when fighting enemies in close quarters, involved Athena's Divine Dash to deflect projectiles and a heavily upgraded Poseidon cast that did a ton of damage and complemented whatever Infernal Arm I happened to be using. (It remains my preferred cast whenever possible, mainly due to how much it can trivialize many of the tiny rooms in the Styx region if leveled up correctly.) The game allows you to build a combo like this on the vast majority of your runs by simply selecting the keepsake of your preferred god, then swapping it out for a different one later in the run. You may of course still not get the specific boon you want, but with three to choose from*, I found much of the time I did.

(* Of course, an option on higher difficulties can reduce your choices.) 

The downside of this strategy, however, is that other, potentially more powerful keepsakes sit unused for most of the run. It's also, frankly, a little boring and means the game loses the sort of improvisatory spirit that made fellow roguelike Slay the Spire one of my favorite games ever made. I love getting a particular card or relic in that game and having to design my build around it—sometimes it ends in failure, but it's amazing when it succeeds and you discover a fantastic new (and sometimes wildly overpowered) way of constructing your deck. The best option for replicating this feeling in Hades, I've found, is to use Persephone's Pom Blossom once you've unlocked it, as it lets you randomly level up boons after every few encounters. Add in the additional power-ups you get along the way, and your boons can become incredibly leveled-up. Meanwhile, not favoring a specific god means you can try out tons of new combinations. At this point I pretty much always use the Pom Blossom all the way through Elysium before switching to Skelly's keepsake (the one that gives me an extra life) before the last region. It's become by far my favorite way to play the game. 

The ways in which multiple gods' boons can work in synergy mean that, beyond its inherent subjectively, any list ranking the boon effectiveness of individual gods cannot possibly take into account all their strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if given the choice in a vacuum between the doom damage inflicted by many of Ares' boons and the hangover damage of Dionysus, I will personally pick the former every time. But are there scenarios in which Dionysus is the better option? Of course. Take this simply as what it is, a desire to start a fun argument over one of the best games in recent years.

Special Mention: Chaos 

I've included Chaos here because he does provide boons, but it would've felt odd to put him in with the Olympians simply because his function in such a different way. If I had, however, he would've had a legitimate argument for first place. I love Chaos boons, even though I basically never play with the keepsake that lets you enter Chaos Gates without losing any health. They're perhaps not a great option for players just getting started, but once you've gotten a handle on the early regions' enemy types, the temporary negative effects usually aren't too much of a hindrance (and you can make up the small health loss easily later in the run). At this point, as long as a Chaos Gate spawns before I'm about halfway through Asphodel, I'm usually taking it. The possibilities for adding significant strength to your build are far too great to pass up. 

9. Aphrodite 

Please don't strike me down, Lady Aphrodite! 

I have nothing against Aphrodite, and certainly I've had runs where her boons have served me well. My rationale for her being last has a great deal to do with my style of play. I find combat in Hades to be somewhat rhythm-based—I've gotten good enough at it that on most of my great runs I'm able to avoid damage successfully enough that I arrive at Hades with all my Death Defiance uses intact (being able to replenish them on occasion helps with that) and a more or less full bar of health. On those occasions I find myself out of rhythm for whatever reason, I typically wind up playing badly enough that the moderate reduction in damage provided by most of her effects would likely not have saved me. Perhaps even more importantly (as someone who loves building around a strong cast whenever possible), her short-range cast is by far my least favorite in the game. I use cast to deal as much damage as possible while staying as far away from enemies as I can, so this to me mostly defeats the purpose of that particular tool. 

8. Athena 

Athena's an odd one to rank, because (as I've already mentioned) I find her Divine Dash to be one of the most essential skills in the game for just about any build. On those occasions when it doesn't show up, being able to deflect using special or attack can be a solid substitute. (Her cast also deflects, but given you only have a limited number of casts available at any given time, I find it less useful for that purpose.) Many of my winning runs have featured at least one Athena skill. That said, once you've acquired that skill, I rarely see a compelling reason to acquire many more. And while several of her boons not based around the deflect ability have their usefulness (it's typically a good idea to delay buying an Athena boon if it's offered in Charon's shop in Styx, because she will on occasion offer a boon that replenishes a Death Defiance you may have lost in one of those damn tunnels), overall I think there's far greater value to be had elsewhere. But one good Athena boon is almost priceless. 

7. Demeter 

The chill ability is pretty fantastic—it doesn't really make foes that much slower until you've applied it a few times, but once you do it can give you a fair bit of breathing room. She loses a few points for a cast that, while I've warmed up to it a little bit as I've used it a few times, will probably never be my favorite—I like having more control over where my cast goes, and setting up a bunch of beams just isn't my preferred way of using that ability. (I've had at least one run where I forgot to use it half the time, because it's just not that intuitive for me.) I do like her call, though it's far from my favorite in the game. Bottom line: I'll usually opt for one of her standard upgrades for attack or special over anything else, though she does offer some other abilities (including healing and increasing boon rarity) that can be quality upgrades depending on the situation. 

6. Dionysus 

Dionysus' hangover effect isn't my favorite in the game in and of itself, but its damage output is still solid stuff, and it especially shines when it's complemented by one of his other abilities (such as foes with hangover being slowed down or taking more damage if three or more are affected). His cast is also among the game's best and has several ways to make it even stronger. There are definitely better calls in the game than his (I'd rather apply hangover with my attack or special than use a call for it), but that's made up for by a pretty impressive range of quirkier abilities. Among my favorites: Premium Vintage, which offers additional health for every bottle of nectar found and one bottle of nectar right away (not worth taking unless it's offered pretty early in a run, but it's great if it is); Strong Drink, which both makes fountains even better at healing and gives you additional damage when you use one; and Positive Outlook, which reduces damage taken once you drop below 40 percent health (can absolutely save you on the Hades fight where you'll likely spend a decent amount of time with less than 40 percent health). 

5. Ares 

The doom effect rules. Yes, it's a slightly delayed effect, but who cares? The two toughest encounters in the game (give or take that one obnoxious butterfly ball mini-boss in Elysium) are the last two boss battles, which are fights against bosses with a ton of health where the amount of damage dealt is the most important thing. And doom can deal just a ridiculous amount of damage when upgraded through straightforward pom of power upgrades and through Ares' own boon that stacks additional damage on top of what's already there. But that's not even the best part of Ares' group of boons. He has for my money the best call in the game—one that turns you into an impervious blade riff. This is both useful in standard encounters and even more so in boss encounters, when you can wait until your God Gauge is full and just take out an incredible chunk of your enemy's health while not risking taking any damage yourself. (In Hades' second phase, I like using it when he tries to use his flaming beams, which I still occasionally struggle to avoid.) The blade rift cast is also not a bad option as these things go.

4. Zeus  

As noted in my introduction, many gods work best in combination with one another. Zeus certainly can as well (I love his duo boon with Artemis, for instance), but for me he works best with simply more Zeus. His cast is awesome (the game's second-best, in my view) just because of how many enemies it can affect, but it becomes one of the absolute best options in the game if you manage to combine it with the boon that does additional "jolted" damage. Once you have that one, stacking even more lightning effects on top of it—such as hitting your foes with a bolt of lightning when you dash—can result in one spectacular build. Should you not manage to pull that off, though, the dude can still make your run much more electric. (See what I did there?)

3. Hermes 

Pretty much every Hermes skill is good to some degree. Additional movement speed or more dashes? Highly useful, especially for the fight against Hades. Greater Evasion? Not all that great when it's just a common boon, but if you manage to grab it at rare or better it's fantastic. Side Hustle? Stellar, so long as you get it early enough in the run. My favorite of his effects, though (and probably one of my top five in the game overall), has to be Quick Favor, which charges up your God Gauge automatically. Given how terrific some of the other gods' calls are, getting to use them more often can work wonders, especially in terms of helping you take down bosses. A Hermes boon typically won't result in any kind of overpowered skill combination the way some others might, but for sheer number of options that make a difference in just about any run, he's as good as it gets. 

2. Poseidon

Breathing room is for me the single most important factor in Hades, and nobody provides it more effectively than Poseidon. I've already talked up his cast, but I'll reiterate: I don't think there's a single more powerful tool in the game, so long as you get it early and upgrade it significantly by the time Elysium and Styx roll around. But the ability to knock away foes is still terrific even if it's just a standard attack or a special. To make matters even better, several other Poseidon boons can make those knock-away effects even more effective in a number of ways—again, this is especially fantastic when it's the cast but works in all circumstances. To the player who simply may be gathering resources in early runs, meanwhile, he offers a boon that grants you a random assortment of resources, and another that increases the value of certain chamber rewards. Almost no one else fits my style of play better than this guy.

1. Artemis 

Some may not like Artemis' reliance on random number generation—many of her boons are built around critical attacks that deal massive damage but only occur a percentage of the time. My response to this is similar to what I wrote about Ares—during boss fights a 15 or 20 percent critical chance is fantastic, as you'll likely be landing dozens of blows. Taking huge bites out of your enemy's health is imperative to me, as I am not well equipped to win a battle of attrition should things drag on for too long. Artemis also lets me do that in any number of other ways beyond simply upgrading my attack or special. Pressure Points, for instance, gives you a critical chance on every bit of damage you do—imagine the possibilities for combining this with, say, Zeus' lightning bolts, Ares' blade rifts, and many other boons offered by other Olympians. And if Poseidon's cast is the best in the game and Zeus' is second, Artemis'—a seeking arrow with critical potential—is a close third. There are certainly circumstances where I'd pick another option when an Artemis boon is being offered (for instance, a hypothetical scenario where I'm going for a strong Zeus build and it's between the two of them), but not many of them. 

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