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Art of Zagreus from Hades. He’s standing in front of a red background and wields a large sword on his shoulder.

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A Hades player defies the gods, completes ‘impossible’ run

‘I didn’t really believe it as it was happening’

Image: Supergiant Games
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

In an act that seemingly defies the will of the gamer gods themselves, a speedrunner has pulled off one of the most technically difficult and statistically unlikely runs in Hades. The run — which was a 64 Heat run on an unmodded and unseeded version of the game — was previously declared by some in the community to be “impossible,” because the odds of rolling the correct combination of powers are so low and the technical ability required is so high. Or at least, it seemed so.

In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the son of the god of the underworld. As Zagreus, you hack and slash your way through a series of dungeon chambers in order to escape your father and hell itself. Over the course of the game, players can tinker with the difficulty by choosing various combat modifiers; someone who has less familiarity with an action combat game can experience Hades in a variety of ways tailored to their abilities and preferences. On the flip side, the developers also have given players the ability to crank the difficulty up to nearly impossible levels.

One way to do this is through the Heat level, which imposes certain Pacts of Punishment upon Zagreus that increase the difficulty of the game. The maximum Heat level is 64, and changing the difficulty to this level essentially layers on tons of additional challenges and nerfs to Zagreus. Some examples of added challenges include no healing, enemies hitting 100% harder, and enemies moving and attacking 40% faster. Additionally, Zagreus doesn’t get any revives, so any damage you take is essentially permanent.

Hades is a rogue-like game, so each time Zagreus dies, he has to restart his escape back at the beginning — meaning that players will repeat the same series of dungeons over and over, collecting power-ups and learning more each time. A lot of what keeps the gameplay varied and interesting is that each runthrough offers different modifiers and builds; Zagreus will be awarded different power-ups, called Boons, by other gods and allies who are sympathetic to his escape attempts. This variation is what makes replaying the same dungeons so enjoyable time after time, but it’s also what makes the Heat 64 run so difficult.

As YouTuber Haelian explained in a video essay, certain pacts impose limitations that essentially require Zagreus to be awarded with specific Boons in order to succeed. The Tight Deadline condition imposes a time limit on each room, so you need specific power-ups that help do enough damage to complete each challenge in the allotted time.

With a condition called Approval Process turned on, you don’t get to choose which power-up Zagreus gets from a short list. That means you need to be lucky enough to roll the right power-ups to complete the challenge. By Haelian’s estimates, a player has a roughly 0.41% chance of receiving the first two basic powers needed to complete the run. If we factor in the odds of also receiving another damage source that’s really helpful but perhaps not necessary, the odds are 1 in 1,700.

Hades door symbols guide Image: Supergiant Games via Polygon

Then, on Wednesday, a Hades speedrunner named Jade shared a video accomplishing the run in full. Not only did she roll the perfect attacks in order to complete the run, but she was gifted with a reasonable fight against final boss Hades. And she accomplished it on the first day, within a few hours of attempting the run.

“I didn’t really believe it as it was happening,” Jade told Polygon via Discord. She’s been doing high-difficulty runs of Hades for two-and-a-half years, and has roughly 3,000 hours in the game in total. Still, she didn’t even expect to complete this challenge. Prior to this, she completed a modded run that guarantees the right boons and tried this run to get a feel for the challenge.

“Even right at the end, Hades can spawn several mini bosses, essentially as additional enemies to help him in the first phase. If you bypass every single RNG factor, except that, you still lose the run. Right at the end. That can be heartbreaking, which didn’t happen to me. I got essentially a middle outcome, which was good enough.”

The feat is extremely impressive. Not just due to the technical marvel of combat on display, but for the combination of sheer luck and determination to make the build work. In my years of covering games, I’ve talked to dedicated players who grind games for years in the hopes of finding a super-rare Pokémon or people who scour games for the right bugs, but pulling this off is like a mix of all kinds of luck and skill.

And although this a feat that represents the immense accomplishment of a single person, Jade emphasized how important the larger Hades speedrunning community means to her.

“I would also really like to thank the Hades speedrun community for all the love and support for the past two-and-a-half years. Their knowledge, their motivation, like everything you could possibly think of really just came from them. [...] There’s no emotions left to describe what I’m feeling. I’m just be so happy to have had the honor of participating both in this community and in this game’s history.”

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