(string music) – What does it take to make a great run-based game? Tight combat, of course. A variety of mix-and-match abilities that interact in interesting ways, certainly. Hades, an isometric beat-em-up from developer Super Giant Games offers all these things, even in its early-access launch state. Blending layered, mechanically meaning storytelling elements with an addictive, almost endlessly replayable structure, Hades is already well on its way to becoming a rogue-lite the likes of which we’ve rarely seen. You control Zagreus, son of the titular Greek God of death on his quest to escape the colorfully-drawn Underworld and join the pantheon of Greek Gods on Mount Olympus. It’s a good a setup for a rogue-lite as any, but what really makes the story stand out are the residents of Hades’ court.After each run, Zag returns to the palace, where the God of death and his rotating retinue reside. As you make progress, either by getting farther from home or through buying upgrades, Zag’s friends, servants, and mentors serve up intense hits of story in the moments between attempts to leave the Underworld. Layer by layer, their bits of gossip and anecdotes conjure a cast of beautifully articulated characters. Characters like Dusa, the adorably anxious Gorgon maid, and your mentor, the legendary warrior Achilles make it refreshing to come home and hear more about the Underworld and its residents. The fight to escape is effectively a gauntlet of wave-based combat challenges, in which Zag fights through room after procedurally generated room of demons and shades. As of now, there are a fairly limited number of arena constructions, and you will start to recognize the layouts quickly. Hades never feels repetitive though, thanks to the variety created by its in-run progression. Hades gives you the ability to create a new and exciting version of Zag in every run. He always has three attacks, a primary strike, a special, and his powerful Magic Missile cast shot.He also has a dash to avoid danger. These attacks start out weak and straightforward, but get stronger and more interesting very quickly. Each room you complete earns you some kind of reward, either resources to spend later on, or upgrades that enhance Zag’s abilities. Most notable among them are boons, powers from the Greek Gods that modify Zag’s core attacks or give him passive bonuses. Zeus, for example, can add chain lightning to your attacks that arcs to nearby enemies. As you find more boons, you mix and match abilities and create a fun and very powerful plan of attack. Your boons reset after every death, so every run feels like another chance to build a new and exciting character. Changing up your tactics run to run based on the upgrades you find makes the repetitive elements of Hades feel fresh, even after playing for hours.Not all is lost in death though. You can also use a resource called Darkness to give Zag permanent upgrades across runs. Rather than boosting core stats, like Attack and Defense, this perks are often situational, like enhanced damage when hitting an enemy in the back. Customization is king in Hades, so these upgrades can be redistributed at any time, which can be helpful if you want to adjust them to suit a new strategy.Hades’ biggest current stumbling blocks are its two boss fights, which appear at specific points in each run. They offer interesting attack patterns and a new kind of challenge to break up the generally samey wave-based rooms, but definitely overstay their welcome. The time it takes to learn their attack patterns and upgrade Zag stall out the otherwise quick and satisfying pace. And of course, failing to advance in the dungeon staunches the flow of the story. Hades nails the core elements of the rogue-lite, tight combat, meaningful customization, varied abilities that differentiate runs, and interesting progression, all laced with a meaningful story hook.It’s one of the few games where the fact that it will keep changing and growing just makes it more enticing to come back and play again and again over time. There’s a big difference between a great early-access release and a great finished game, but Hades has all the makings of something special. For more, don’t forget to check out the first 15 minutes of Hades gameplay. And for alternative rogue-lites, check out our reviews of Dead Cells and The Binding of Isaac. And for all things video games, keep it right here at IGN. .