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Posted on Oct 7th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Axiom Verge 2, Thomas Happ, Metroidvania, indie game, Nintendo Switch, action, platformer, pixel graphics

In 2015, Thomas Happ released a game that he had been working on for quite some time. Styled similarly to the classic Super Metroid, his game Axiom Verge was loosed upon the world, and in my estimation, it hasn't quite been the same. As if the "Metroidvania" genre wasn't already popular enough, this game created quite a stir, and has been met with much acclaim over the past few years, enough to garner a physical release across multiple platforms, including a special posthumous physical release on the Wii U. The amazing thing is that Happ created the game all by himself: design, programming, music, graphics, level design...all of it. In 2019, it was announced that he was officially working on a 2nd game. Initially, it was thought it would be a prequel. 2021 saw the release of Axiom Verge 2, and a forthcoming physical edition from Limited Run Games is also happening.

I was very busy when the game came out, so it was a couple weeks before I was able to purchase and download it to my Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, I was able to make time to play through it. I decided to stream my first run through the game, which I did. I managed to beat it my first time in 5 sittings, and I think I have somewhere between 15-20 hours into the game. I took my time, didn't rush through the game, and tried not to solicit too much help, so I could finish it as organically as possible my first try. Here are some thoughts about the game, and how I think it compares to the original.


Image linked from SlashGear

Axiom Verge 2 has a very different setup than the original. The story sees you taking control of a woman named Indra Chaudhari, CEO of the Globe 3 corporation. She's a very wealthy woman, but like many, has made mistakes on her way to the top, one of which is alienating her daughter. After the disappearance of your business rival, Dr. Elizbeth Hammond, Indra wastes no time in gobbling up her largest competitor company, Hammond Corp. This acquisition included an abandoned research station in Antarctica. As luck (or fate) would have it, Indra received a communication from the abandoned station shortly thereafter, from the missing Dr. Hammond, and that Indra would need to come to the station to see her daughter again. Landing at the arctic station with your helicopter, this is where you take the role of Indra, and begin to explore the station, to try and get the power running.

As you explore a bit, you discover one of Hammond's "Ansible" terminals, the initial computer technology that propelled her company to success. You get a cryptic message about a secret door nearby. Naturally, as this is an exploration game, you go looking for it, go through the door, and take the elevator you find down to a lower level. You're led to a compass, and then to a location where you fall down into some freezing water. Unfortunately, Indra drowns, and assumes she's done for. Instead, she wakes up moments later, only to discover she had been saved by the entity locked within the urn, known as Amashilama. Amashilama is an "Arm", which as she describes it, is an intelligent collection of machines. You quickly learn about the Lamassu, another, more large-scale intelligent machine, that in the alternate world of Kiengier that you now find yourself in, has been worshipped by a previous civilization, as if it were a god of some sort. Thus, your quest to find answers to your daughter's disappearance, and to get back to the surface of Antarctica, begins.

Grabbing onto ledges to pull yourself up is one of the new skills in this sequel.

One of the first things you'll notice when playing Axiom Verge 2 is that it immediately sets out to differentiate itself from its predecessor in a few ways. Unlike the first game, where you find a bevy of weapons and useful items, most of the upgrades in this game come from finding and breaking the various urns, each of which contains a different Arm that will upgrade Indra's capabilities. You'll also find little vials known as Apocalypse Flasks which, when broken, will give you some ability to upgrade Indra's abilities. Each upgrade takes a certain number of flasks, and of course, later upgrades require more flasks. You can upgrade melee weapon proficiency, ranged weapon proficiency, and also Indra's "infection" ability, which comes into play very early in the game, and becomes a central mechanic.

One of the early skills you learn is to create a field around Indra's body, which can then interact with various things in Kiengier. Enemy drones can often be "hacked" by infecting them with a virus, and can be made to do different things, such as slow them down, prevent them from attacking you, or in some cases, turn them to your side, so they will protect you. There are also posts in different locations that will open up new areas or doors, and only by interacting with those terminals by using this hacking field ability can you progress into a new area. It feels like an iteration of the Field Disrupter item from the 1st game, but one with more specifically defined boundaries, and a better sense of what you can do with each unit that you hack.

Like the original game, you get the ability to deploy a remote drone to access areas Indra usually cannot.

In addition, this game has a heavy emphasis on melee combat, where as the original game used almost exclusively ranged weapons. You do get some ranged weapon use in the game, through a couple boomerang-like weapons, and one urn upgrade that allows you to throw a boomerang that you can then change direction as it flies, but for the most part, you'll be up close and personal with the various drones throughout Kiengier. Because the drones all have a field of vision, most of which you'll be able to see a visual indication of, sometimes you'll be able to avoid combat altogether, which is often the smart choice. Some drone types will simply outclass you on all fronts, at least until you have an opportunity to upgrade Indra's lifebar, and increase her combat proficiency, or upgrade your infection ability, to give you more options for hacking an enemy drone. You can also hack the handful of bosses scattered throughout the world, to sometimes give you an advantage, such as stopping them from firing, slowing them down, or temporarily disabling some function. This is an important aspect of the combat in the game.

Once you receive the remote drone, you also unlock access to another dimension, which begins to tie the story in more directly with the game's predecessor. You'll see red, flickering portals in different areas on the map, and only the drone can enter those. Once you do so, you'll be inside the Breach, which players of the original will remember much discussion about, and you'll see glimpses of the world from the first game, many of the same enemy types you encountered in that adventure, and a lot of the same types of architecture and layouts. As you explore the Breach, you'll open a whole new set of areas that are specific to it, and you'll find additional urns that will unlock new drone abilities, as well as those that cross over to Indra as well. Some will be specific to combat, and some to helping with world traversal.

There are a handful of optional boss fights in the game, all of which are pretty dynamic and fun.

In terms of the graphics, this game is similarly beautiful as the first was, though in a different way. Rather than the very Metroid-like alien landscapes of Sudra from the original, the world of Kiengier looks suspiciously like Earth, with grassy areas, snow and ice, waterfalls, and large bodies of water. The many buildings scattered about the world look a lot like human constructions, and indeed, most are, based on the backstory the game weaves throughout the various notes you'll find during your exploration. Everything is nicely detailed and animated, and the overall character and enemy design is nice, though it does have a different feel from the original, and seems to perhaps look a touch more abstract. When you control the remote drone, and go into the Breach, you'll see things look a bit more overtly pixelated, and a bit of a hazy atmosphere, as a way to easily differentiate between the 2 environments. Players of the original game will recognize many of the visual motifs seen in the Breach in this second outing, despite the changes in how it displays while in drone mode. It's a nice way to help tie the two games together, and expands the Axiom Verge-verse further.

Audio in the game is another treat, much like the original. The soundtrack has a very different vibe, and is overall, a lot more upbeat than the pulsing electronic beats and atmospherics from the first adventure. Things are a lot brighter here, with some good melodies, and utilizing some different motifs from Eastern and Mediterranean traditional melodic structures and styles. Some of the themes are a minor take on music from the original, particularly in the Breach, but the new music is interesting and engaging, much like the original, but from a different angle. The plethora of music is great, because the Breach themes are different from those in Kiengier, so there's definitely more variation in this game. Sound effects are all solid, and there are even a couple "screams" from different enemy drone types, which evoke a similar eerie feeling to the growls that bosses in the first game would let out when you'd encounter them. There's still the annoyance of the incessant beeping that happens when you get low on health, but that's commonplace enough in this style of game that it's no more or less egregious than any other, but still notable.

The drones that rain fire down upon you can be a big nuisance.

Axiom Verge 2 has a bit more of a sprawling story that can be difficult to wrap your mind around, because of all the different components it references. You'll interact with many different Arms, converse with the Lamassu multiple times, and read notes that detail not only previous civilizations within Kiengier, but also another dimension, known as A'Ansur, as well as a couple references to the protagonist of the first game. It's a lot to take in, but thankfully, you can always go back to the menu, and reread old notes to try and tie together the story elements. There are a couple interesting twists that I won't spoil, regarding your interactions with a particular Arm, and the importance of the remote drone, that really change up the formula even further, and at least with my play through, drew me into the story even further. Seeing what Arms I could find next, or what new areas I could uncover were big motivators, and as I got closer toward the end game, I found myself striving for as much map completion as I could muster.

Comparing this sequel to its predecessor, I've already noted that there are a number of differences in this game, that help it stand out. The main driving factor here is whether you're looking for a large, open exploration game with run & gun elements, or a similar experience with a lot of traditional platforming and close-quarters combat. Depending on your preference, that may dictate which game you prefer. For me, I still think that I slightly prefer the overall combat of the original, though the melee combat works well enough in the sequel to keep it from becoming stale. The ability to upgrade your health, combat abilities, and drone abilities is a nice touch, and you may find yourself seeking out as many flasks as you can find, to try and max out Indra's stats.

Some of the architecture in the game directly references a number of ancient Earth cultures.

At the end of the day, this is a worthy sequel that expands enough upon the original game to have an identity of its own, while still having enough ties to the original to have the connective tissue necessary to expand upon the greater lore, and create possibilities for additional games in the series to tie in and further flesh out the idea of the Breach, and the interconnected universe and dimensions. After just a single play-through, I would say I still prefer the original, but I've had a lot more time with it, so that's normal. Subsequent plays of this game will probably reveal additional secrets I didn't find, and more familiarity with the world and the game's mechanics will probably make them feel more natural, and draw me in further. Regardless of my own preferences, this is another fantastic adventure that Thomas Happ should be incredibly proud of. I believe Axiom Verge 2 is another triumph, and despite the delays to get it released, I think it was well worth the wait. I'm looking forward to owning a physical edition of the game, and hopefully scoring a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, so I can continue to immerse myself in the world of Kiengier. This one's a winner.

Here's part 1 of my full streamed play-through of the game, for your viewing enjoyment!

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