Killing time in Hades: A comprehensive summary of the story so far

5.9.2024
By Meghan Sullivan, contributor

It's been a cold minute since Supergiant Games released their award-winning rogue-lite Hades in 2020, an addictive blend of snappy action and beautifully crafted storytelling inspired by the eschatological beliefs of Ancient Greece. But time has marched on (or in this case escaped), and Supergiant Games recently released its first-ever sequel, Hades II, in Early Access.

The Underworld has changed dramatically since the last time we visited, and chances are that fans may need a refresher course on the ever-changing netherworld and the chthonic capers that have taken place therein. If you need a reminder of past events—and a tantalizing taste of what’s to come—we’ve got you covered.

SPOILER ALERT: Just to be clear, we are going to talk about the plot of Hades in detail. If you'd like to experience it for yourself, stop reading.

Without further ado…
 

The story so far


On the surface, the plot of Hades is fairly straightforward: A teenage son (Zagreus, god of blood and prince of the Underworld) attempts to run away from home in order to liberate himself from an emotionally cold and distant father (Hades, god of the dead and ruler of…well, Hades). It’s a futile task, as Zagreus is bound to the Underworld and must always return to it, even when the player manages to survive long enough to reach the world above.

Yet something is driving Zagreus forward, and it turns out it’s not just the need to tweak his father’s nose. Zagreus’ real goal is to reunite with his birth mother Persephone, goddess of verdure (fresh greens) and former queen of the Underworld. This mysterious goddess is alive and living somewhere in the world above, though the denizens of the Underworld refuse to tell Zagreus anything about her or why she abandoned her family.
Hades Zagreus 1
If the player succeeds in reaching the mortal realm, Zagreus learns the truth: His mother Persephone is really Kore, daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter and a humble farmer. (The farmer goes unnamed, but is possibly a reference to Triptolemus, an agricultural hero whom the Ancient Greeks sometimes worshiped alongside Demeter and Persephone.)

Although Kore was raised as an immortal on Mount Olympus, she was always unhappy due to the incessant fighting between her family members. Feeling sorry for her—and knowing that his brother Hades fancied the springlike goddess—Zeus impetuously whisked Kore (now called Persephone) to the Underworld, “gifting” her to his brother and declaring that she would never have to return to Olympus so long as everyone kept her whereabouts a secret.

Hades and his new bride were dismayed by Zeus’s rash actions, but they fell in love and eventually had a child. Tragically, Zagreus came into the world stillborn, and a devastated Persephone left Hades for the realm of mortals where neither the Olympians above nor the Invisible Ones below could reach her.

Afraid the Olympians would punish his family if they learned what transpired, Hades kept his wife and son a secret—never revealing to Persephone that, thanks to the goddess Nyx, Zagreus was reborn.

If Zagreus forges a bond with his mother, he can explain what happened and convince her to reunite with her Underworld family. Persephone will then help restore relations between the Olympians and Hades, and the tale ends with her splitting her time between the two realms. (At this point the player can continue making runs through Hades under the guise of testing the realm’s “security system.")
 

The supporting cast


Though the story’s genius lies in unraveling a mystery, Hades's heart and soul is found in the humorous cast of really, really, (really) ridiculously good-looking people. Throughout his journey, Zagreus is helped or hindered by a number of gods, heroes, villains, and sinners, each with a remarkable memory—they endlessly comment on their various encounters with Zagreus—and their own motives for aiding or stopping him on his way out of the Underworld.

Among Zagreus’s mentors are Nyx (personification of Night and a maternal figure who pulls back the veil on his family’s secrets), Achilles (once a wrathful warrior but now a tranquil teacher), and Skelly (a wise-cracking skeleton who trains Zagreus to wield one of six powerful Olympian weapons).

Meanwhile, his enemies include the Furies (goddesses long feared for their role as avengers), Theseus (a pompous hero who labors under the delusion that nobody is as great as he is), and Hades himself, who would rather Zagreus go to his room than go to the surface.
Hades Zagreus Euradice
Aside from boon-gifting Olympians (their combat buffs really help in a pinch) and a dour dad, there's also a parade of quirky NPCs to interact with between Underworld runs. The affable sinner Sisyphus has landed in Thanatos's black book with his attempts to cheat death, while the very nervous and sweet Dusa is a unique and against-type take on the legendary Medusa. Their conversations with Zagreus are by turns silly and sweet, revealing the lighter side of what could otherwise be a very dark afterlife.

The most amusing antics however are saved for the mopey musician Orpheus, whose guileless nature allows Zagreus and his party-loving uncle Dionysus to get entangled in one of the funniest gags in the entire game: They trick the singer into starting an entire cult to Dionysus-Zagreus.

This harebrained scenario is just one of many playful winks to the mystic religion of Orphism, and understanding Orphism is requisite to understanding (and appreciating) the tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek humor hidden inside Hades.
 

A crash course in Orphism


Believed by the Greeks to have been founded by the legendary rhapsode Orpheus, Orphism was an ancient mystery cult that can be traced back to at least the 6th century BCE. Outside of rare grave goods and a few passing comments by ancient authors, most of what we know about this esoteric belief system is gleaned from the Orphic Hymns, a collection of 87 surviving prayers written between the 3rd Century BCE and the 3rd Century CE.

Though the hymns address myriad gods, the cult was mostly centered around deities who had completed a katabasis, or a successful journey to-and-from the Underworld. This short list of divine travelers included Persephone (whose trips to and from the Underworld represented the changing seasons) and Hermes (who acted as both a messenger to the gods and a psychopomp or guide for mortal souls on their way to the afterlife).

The central figure of Orphism, however, was Dionysus, who was famously (re)born from Zeus’s thigh after his mother Semele was dazzled to death by the thunder god’s lightning form.

For most Greeks, Dionysus was twice-born—but for the Orphics, Dionysus was actually thrice-born. Instead of rejecting a competing tale of Dionysus being ripped apart by titans as a baby and brought back to life via a heart potion, the Orphics simply folded the story into their belief system, which made Dionysus’s regenerative powers all the more impressive.
Hades Dionysus
In short, when Zagreus spins Orpheus an incredulous thread about heart potions, crazed titans, and a god coming back to life in Hades, he is referencing the Orphic tradition.

The Orphics hoped that by performing an array of purifying rituals and apotropaic rites (e.g. prayers meant to avert divine wrath), Dionysus and his chthonic kin would allow them to escape an endless cycle of death and rebirth and experience a happy afterlife. In other words, Dionysus was a savior of sorts.

It’s at this point we should point out that although he was tied to Orphic tradition at a later date, Zagreus is never mentioned in the Orphic Hymns. It’s likely this ancient and mysterious entity was combined with the god of wine purely due to his shared attributes as both a reincarnating nature deity and a son of Zeus.

Even if we don’t know much about Zagreus or the religion he eventually hooked onto, we do know the Orphic Hymns are rich in tradition and lore, and it’s clear that Supergiant had a ball rifling through them and plucking out the juiciest and most astonishing myths to help weave a spectacular tale of their own. The result is a heartwarming story about forging meaningful relationships through adversity—and what is the Greek pantheon if not an oversized family that spends most of its time fighting and making up?
 

The story continues in Hades II


This family feud continues in Hades II, although the sequel seems to pull back on the freewheeling humor of the first game and lean into the darker, broodier aspects of the Underworld. Things have changed there, and not for the better.

Spoilers for the start of Hades II follow: The story begins by revealing that Chronos, the Titan of Time, has not only escaped his prison in Tartarus but managed to take over the entire realm of Hades.

Zagreus (along with most of his family and friends) has disappeared, while the rest of the Underworld's denizens (including Zagreus’s baby sister Melinoe) have fled to the Crossroads, a transitional void between Hades and Olympus. There, chthonic refugees are watched over by Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, magic, and crossroads. (In actuality, Hecate was a liminal goddess who helped mortals transition between physical and spiritual boundaries. Her association with ghosts and witchcraft came later, a byproduct of being a chthonic deity that dwelled between worlds.)

In order to take back what was stolen from them, Hecate has spent years putting Melinoe through combat training. It’s the Sorceress Supreme’s hope that the surviving member of the House of Hades can put things right.
Hades Nemesis
Saving the gods from a Titan is a tall order, but Melinoe is clearly a capable hero. With a cache of powerful weapons and a mix of attacks, sprints, and powerful spells, the dark princess can hold her own against any opponent, including her friend and mentor Hecate (who stylishly models official Hecate emblems like a witch’s hat, a labyrinth belt, a torch-shaped staff, and crescent-moon jewelry.)

The daughter of Hades and Persephone is a survivor, and a sweet one at that, though she often doubts her capabilities and clearly feels the pressure of meeting other people’s expectations. (In contrast, the Orphics believed Melinoe to be a terrifying apparition with the ability to plague mortals with nightmares—a result of her being both a daughter and an angry aspect of the oft-victimized Persephone.)

Melinoe’s journey is a difficult one in Hades II, but thankfully not a lonely one. Like Zagreus, she’s joined by a cast of colorful characters that will help her grow throughout her expedition (whether they mean to or not), starting with the Olympians.

Making their divine debut are saucy goddess of the hearth Hestia, confident smithing god Hephaestus, the serene and stunning goddess of the moon Selene, and the god of enlightenment and prophecy Apollo (whose boons are very useful, to say the least).

Alongside the Olympians, we also get to meet a few new chthonic deities—namely Moros a.k.a. Doom (the attractive but aloof brother of Thanatos), the wily teacher and tactician Odysseus (also attractive), and Dora, a shade who mostly just hangs out at Melinoe’s place and makes sassy comments. Every single one is a joy to get to know, and each character provides insight into the complex relationship between the gods, the Titans, and the mortals who worship them. Their stories help enrich Melinoe’s journey in more ways than one.

It’s these stories and the compulsion to connect with other living beings that makes the series so compelling. Whether these stories are about an immortal teenager not getting along with a parent, or a divine daughter who feels the crushing weight of other people’s expectations, there is something incredibly relatable (and dare we say down to earth) about these gods.

Hades (and incidentally this article) is not just a history of the gods—it’s the history of human beings. And what a story it is.

Hades II is available now on the Epic Games Store in Early Access. And if you never played the original? Catch up on the story by picking up Hades and experiencing Zagreus's adventure for yourself!