One aspect of games that I love is the growth that characters can have over the course of the story. It's satisfactory in RPGs to see your characters grow and do more damage, but Metroidvanias like Axiom Verge 2 really get to show this off. Metroidvanias allows the player access to a limited region and through the acquisition of equipment or abilities expands the world, naturally presenting players with new obstacles and challenges. After getting a Hookshot you might remember a strange gap you couldn't reach before in the starting area that hides the secret to your next progression hurdle. In this way, the world grows not just for the player, but also for your character. How well does the player fit into the world of Axiom Verge 2 though?
Axiom Verge 2 is an indirect sequel from the original game, instead of learning more about Trace and Sudra the players take on the role of billionaire Indra Chaudhari. The game begins with Indra investigating an Antarctic Research Outpost whose members all disappeared over a year ago. Indra's motivation keeps continuously shifting throughout the game. What begins as "Find a portal to get home" gets convoluted and practically forgotten throughout the story. Introduced plot points didn't serve to develop or inform your prior motivation, but instead would shift your focus and practically invalidate what you'd already been trying to do. For Indra as a character, there's a point of no return where those goals she had are no longer relevant to her, but so many dropped plot points make the story feel extremely loose-knit.
Where Axiom Verge 2's story does succeed is in building up the mythos of the greater world. Concepts like the Breach and Worldstream that were lightly touched upon in Axiom Verge are further delved into in Axiom Verge 2. Players learn more about how these alternate realities are linked together and the makeup of the multiverse, allowing concepts like traveling between the alternate worlds to further develop too. The Breach, which had initially been described as a storm between these worlds and "deadly, cannot be passed" is now a playable location for you. It's definitely clear that Happ has an idea of the grand picture of all of these alternate worlds and their purpose and even sets up where this can take players in future installments of the game, it's just a shame that Indra's story feels so clunky in comparison.
One important story thread that Happ continues on is the idea of transhumanism. In a similar way that story revelations altered the way that Trace thought about himself in Axiom Verge, Indra also goes through a journey of change. Where Trace's experience of transhumanism still left him essentially human Indra's is much more drastic, and even though she questions herself a number of times it never seems to really shake her cool demeanor. This transhumanism is further explored by the Arm's, sentient weapons that are built by converting human consciousness into AI-like constructs. Already in Axiom Verge 1 and 2, we're able to delve into the human transformation to other humans, data, and machines each presenting its own differences on the world. While humans remain the same this evolution by augmentation is an extremely interesting concept in the way it's presented, this again is a concept I look forward to being explored further in future games.
While Indra's story might not have completely drawn me in the gameplay sure did. From as soon as you set down in Antarctica at the beginning of the game and get control the game feels good to play. Indra's movement is responsive and fluid and the pixelated world is absolutely gorgeous. While you start in this world's equivalent of a snowy mountain as you acquire new abilities like being able to grab onto ledges, destroy rocks in your path. One of the most versatile upgrades for exploration and combat is the ability to turn yourself into a drone. Indra will throw out a ball that will grow legs that's half the height of Indra. In this form you can still attack and freely explore the world, you're just also smaller and weaker.
Through the progression of the game, you get to really see Indra go from a human with an ax to break wooden boxes into a powerhouse of a being. This growth gets further doubled down upon as the game presses you to continuously backtrack to unlock more of the map. Areas filled with enemies that posed a serious threat to you can now be danced through with ease. Exploration in Axiom Verge 2 is a true standout among Metroidvania titles.
Combat is pretty standard in Axiom Verge 2, in both human and drone form you can attack with melee or ranged weapons. You'll encounter all kinds of strange robots big and small, some on land, some flying in the sky, or some swimming under the water. Even the larger "boss" style robots that you fight don't require too much of a strategy, you can tend to get up close and personal and just attack it relentlessly. If you're exploring and upgrading Indra chances are you won't have too much difficulty even if your plan is to take out every enemy in your path.
If you're not outright attacking an opponent you're able to use the game's hacking mechanics to spend nanites to inflict an effect. It might slow down an enemy, or jam their weapons, and some enemies you can completely take control over and have them assist in your fight. For most enemies you face off against there isn't really a need to hack them, many can be dispatches fast enough, but jamming weapons and slowing down your enemy can be pretty invaluable during the boss robots.
Unlike other Metroidvania titles where you'd defeated bosses to gain access to more abilities and progress further all combat except for two battles are completely optional (The two that aren't are story-based and you can't 'lose' them anyway.) This optional combat doesn't just mean as you retread old areas you won't be as interested in defeating the same enemies over and over again but that any of the boss characters you can just stroll right on by, there isn't any kind of roadblock for you to get past. The ability to have a "pacifist" run of the game isn't a new concept, but it's a very shallow premise. It's not that the player is equally rewarded for defeating bosses or skillfully navigating past them, it's just that bosses drop skill point upgrades that you'll encounter plenty of through natural progression. Instead of a reward for unique play Axiom Verge's approach is that killing drones or not killing drones doesn't amount to any difference.
The world of Axiom Verge 2 is a sight to behold. Each biome of the world, from the snowy tundras to mountainous ruins, the level of detail that has been put in is quite incredible. Unlike Axiom Verge, there's a much wider variety in the architecture and natural formations of Axiom Verge 2. A great example is the level of detail in the running waterfalls that you'll pass by, and even through. There were a number of times during the game as Indra delved deeper into some of the ruins of the world that caused me to pause to take in the intricate details of hieroglyphs and pictures on the wall. Your map screen is also highly detailed allowing you to easily remember places you've been by sight and not just remembering them in reference to a nearby landmark. Even the Breach was highly detailed but unique enough in its look to help you immediately recognize the difference. While in the Breach your view is zoomed in making everything chunkier and feeling less "of this world." One downside of the heavier pixelation is that it did get a bit harder to look at on the big screen.
Axiom Verge 2 is a fantastic Metroidvania title. So much has been done here to not just recreate the feeling of Axiom Verge but also to enhance and pivot it for Axiom Verge 2. It's so much of the same, but also with enough fresh and unique content to have it really shine. The story of Indra does seem to suffer at the hands of telling the greater story of Axiom Verge though. I'm more than ever excited for what's going to come next, but I can't say I feel like I feel close to Indra despite our time spent together. While the story does lack the real meat of the game is in the exploration and expansion of the gorgeous world. Even at times where I was lost or stuck looking for how to progress filling out the map was just as entertaining as there were new challenges to take on and sights to see. If you liked the first, or are even slightly interested in Axiom Verge 2 there's no better time to start than now.
TechRaptor reviewed Axiom Verge 2 on PC via Epic Game Store with a code provided by Epic Game Store. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.
- Added Depth to Overarching Plot
- Exploring is Fun
- Power-ups Make you Feel Powerful
- Indra's Story Seems Confused
- Pacifist Rewards Half-baked