'Axiom Verge 2' Didn’t Give Me What I Expected

Is “discomfort food” a thing?

Key Takeaways

  • Axiom Verge 2 feels more confident than the original game, with a smoother flow to its exploration and action.
  • It's got every bit of the original's high level of challenge, however, and you'd do well to keep notes as you play.
  • It surprise-launched during a Nintendo press conference on August 11th, so even many of its biggest fans have yet to realize it's out.
Axiom Verge 2 Cover Art

Nintendo

There's a lot about Axiom Verge 2 that I think I appreciate specifically because I play a lot of video games.

The gamer-nerd term for this sort of game is a "Metroidvania," which is a portmanteau of the two most famous entries in this particular sub-genre. They're action-adventure games focused on exploration, where you slowly work your way into every corner of an open-ended sprawling map full of dangers and treasures.

Like its predecessor, the 2015 indie megahit Axiom Verge (which you don't have to play first), AV2 tilts closer to the Metroid than the -Vania. You're often alone, typically outgunned, and usually have more questions than answers, except you don't have time to ask them, because you are hip-deep in strange, angry robots at any given point in time.

It's a difficult, questionably fair experience that's nonetheless good at slowly bringing you further into its world. It's not quite as immediate as the first AV, which gives you a half-dozen weird alien guns and powers within the first 20 minutes or so, but makes up for it with fluid movement, interesting environments, and a series of mysteries that unspool one tempting piece at a time.

Local CEO Literally Too Angry to Die

Indra Chaudhari's daughter has gone missing, as have the rest of the scientists at her research station in Antarctica. Indra, who’s the controversial CEO of an international conglomerate, flies to the station herself to investigate. The scientists turn out to have accidentally opened a portal to another world, which Indra discovers by stumbling through it.

Screenshot from Axiom Verge 2.

That world, which might or might not be an alternate Earth, is still scarred by an ancient war, with hostile mutants and renegade combat droids stalking the ruins. One of the leftover weapons from that war, a sentient swarm of nanotechnology, infects Indra to save her life. That also gives Indra the power she needs to survive, as she continues her search for her daughter but makes her a pawn in a fight that she knows nothing about.

I think that's the story, anyway. One of the most interesting things about AV2 is that it goes out of its way to shun any kind of exposition. Indra knows her own story and never tells it to anyone else, so you're left to piece together her motivations from context. You're given just enough information at any given time to make you want more, which offers AV2's narrative a unique momentum.

It's one of the things that kept me playing after the first hour. AV2 puts you right behind the eight-ball at the beginning, where you're basically a vengeful mother with an old ice ax against an infinite army of laser droids. Every fight is potentially lethal, and while AV2 imposes almost no penalty for death, it can be frustrating.

It's also, as I found out relatively late, unnecessary. AV2 has been built so that most if not all of the fights in it aren't mandatory. Even its bosses are just particularly big robots, which you can destroy, hack, or evade according to your personal preference.

Screenshot from Axiom Verge 2.

Deviations From the Mean

That's a bigger deal than it might seem.

"Metroidvanias" are, by their nature, formulaic. You explore the map, find obstacles to your progress, and gather tools, skills, and resources to bypass those obstacles. You know from the beginning what’s coming. It's one of my gaming equivalents to comfort food.

AV2 plays with a lot of those expectations, however. The combat's optional, the map's lethal, and it shares the first AV's love of throwing you down bottomless pits without warning.

You also end up playing two characters simultaneously once Indra finds the power to create and control a little drone buddy. The drone has less health but quickly gets more mobility and traversal abilities than Indra ever will. That includes a grappling hook that's tricky but fun to use, particularly once you get the ability to load yourself into it like a slingshot.

Screenshot from Axiom Verge 2.

It's got a rough first hour, and I've accidentally "soft-locked" the game a couple of times now, but overall, AV2 is a positive experience. It's challenging, colorful, weird, and doesn't do much of what you might expect.

I do wonder how appealing Axiom Verge 2 would be to someone who hasn't burned half their life on games just like it, but the ways in which it's deliberately reacting to its genre might be my favorite thing about it.

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