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Review: A Great Metroidvania, Axiom Verge 2 Subverts Conventions

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

I came to Axiom Verge late, only playing the first game in series just a year or so ago. I knew it was considered one of the best retro-inspired modern metroidvanias, and it borrowed visually from one of my favorite games of all time: Metroid. Thematically and story-wise, Axiom Verge was its own thing. Axiom Verge 2 takes this even further away from Metroid, while solidly planting the roots for its own IP.

Axiom Verge 2 is a sidescrolling metroidvania. In it, you take control of Indra Chaudhari, CEO of Globe 3 Conglomerate. Her company has recently purchased the assets of Hammond Corp—a company whose founder had gone missing, leaving the company to fail. Indra receives a strange message from Doctor Hammond, urging her to go to an Antarctic research station. There she discovers a portal to another world that has suffered some sort of apocalyptic event. For fans of Axiom Verge who may be scratching their head and asking themselves, “what does that have to do with the first game?” I was in the same boat. There are definite connections, but you don’t have to play Axiom Verge to enjoy its sequel—which is the best metroidvania I’ve played in years.

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

The first Axiom Verge is mostly fresh in my mind, having played it not so long ago. While there are some mechanics that are similar between the two, Axiom Verge 2 makes a few changes to both the formula established in the original, and with metroidvanias as a whole.  Axiom Verge 2 cleverly skirts expectations at every turn, while still maintaining the hallmarks of what makes a metroidvania a metroidvania.

In Axiom Verge 2 you start off able to run, jump and soon attack. Eventually, through upgrades, you become much more mobile, and you even get the ability to deploy a small drone much like the first Axiom Verge. However, there are some notable changes to how the drone works in Axiom Verge 2 I don’t want to spoil for you if you somehow have managed to avoid any Axiom Verge 2 spoilers so far. The drone does play a larger role in Axiom Verge 2 than it did in the first game.

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

Exploration is one of the biggest parts of Axiom Verge 2. There’s always a new objective to complete, but to get to the latest blinking waypoint, you often will have to find items which will bestow upon Indra abilities which allow her to get past the next obstacle. That includes the ability to grab onto ledges, hack objects and drones, or turn into a mist to pass through metal grates.

Getting around in Axiom Verge 2 is, at first, one of the obstacles to overcome. In metroidvanias it’s not uncommon for me to wander around for hours, trying to find my way to the next item to forge my path ahead. I felt like I was more aimless in Axiom Verge 2 than usual—which is odd, because there’s always a marker showing where your next destination would be. Perhaps it’s because of these markers that I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a way through the level, instead of looping around to a previous section to find the item required to move on. But it’s most likely because Axiom Verge 2 requires passage through  a digital, parallel world that overlaps the “real” world. Sometimes it’s required to find your way through both of these maps before you can proceed—navigating in ways my brain had a hard time with.  Eventually, you will unlock fast travel, which is a huge quality of life upgrade and something I wish was present from the beginning.

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

Most of the combat in Axiom Verge 2 is melee-based. First, you start out with an ice axe and upgrade as you play and discover new weapons—they’re always melee, however, there are upgrades that allow you to shoot beams from your weapon, The Legend of Zelda style. Even when you’re in drone form, combat is a major part of Axiom Verge 2. While it can be avoided, some enemies are persistent and do a considerable amount of damage. If you die, you will respawn at the last checkpoint you unlocked, which can be frustrating if you’re getting into a new area and die before you can find a checkpoint.

Combat in Axiom Verge 2 can be supplemented with hacking by changing their behavior to your benefit. While I enjoyed the concept of the hacking mechanic, most of it felt useless. Most of the time I was avoiding combat moreso than engaging in it. There are boss fights, but they don’t feel like a major part of the game or its world. And that just illustrates one of the things Axiom Verge 2 doesn’t do well at, and that’s story telling.

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

I love the worldbuilding in Axiom Verge 2. It’s clever, and subverts the norm. However, the way the story is told is incredibly lacking. Everything from the strange, stilted dialogue to the lack of a meaningful impetus for the main character—sure, her daughter is missing, but that fact feels so disconnected from the action on screen it might as well have been another game. One of my biggest problems with Axiom Verge when I first played it was all of these amazing looking enemies and set pieces are just teased—we never get to play with them. I was hoping Axiom Verge 2 would remedy that, but it’s more of the same. I feel like the first two games are setups of something bigger, but how many more years can I stay waiting for the payoff?  Axiom Verge 2 stands alone as its own story with threads linking it to the original, but even then, the story is left unresolved.

Another gripe I have with Axiom Verge 2 is its art. It is simultaneously one of the more impressive pixel art games out recently, and one of the dullest. Now, the art direction being dull is completely my own opinion, but level features getting lost in earth tones isn’t: there were many times I didn’t even know some platforms were able to be jumped on, because they blend into the background so well. That’s a problem. Also, while I absolutely loved the first game’s soundtrack, most of the music in Axiom Verge 2 is a little disappointing.

Screenshot: Axiom Verge 2

Axiom Verge 2 is a great game. When held up next to its predecessor, I’d say it’s definitely an evolution. I really want to see the Axiom Verge story to its conclusion, but so far it’s been all build-up, and no payoff. But let’s not let that discount Axiom Verge 2’s great world building, level design, and metroidvania mechanics. It’s one of the best metroidvanias I’ve played in years.

 

Axiom Verge 2 is available now on Nintendo Switch and Epic Game Store.

 

 

 

An Epic Game Store key was provided to us for this review.

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