Title: Axiom Verge 2
Developer: Thomas Happ Games
Release Date: August 11, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Thomas Happ Games
I have a soft spot for many takes on the Metroidvania genre. Unfortunately, aside from the Metroid series proper, none have truly captured what I adore about the genre. These non-Metroid titles instead opt for RPG mechanics to help the player brute-force their way through bosses. When the original Axiom Verge was released, I was enthralled from the moment I began playing it. The world felt grand and encouraged you to explore as much as possible. The sequel, Axiom Verge 2, captivated me in the same way.
The narrative starts with the protagonist, Indra, flying to Antarctica after getting a peculiar message from the elusive Hammond, who recently went missing in the same place Indra finds herself traveling to. Hammond’s message was simple and clear; “Come to Antarctica if you ever want to see your daughter again.”
Despite this initial lore dump, the rest of the story is interspersed, only granting plot-relevant text after certain powerups are acquired. This approach makes it straightforward for anyone to get into the heart of the experience without needing to go through an opening sequence that lasts too long.
Having the story this sparse made every word count, but regrettably, there were times where I found myself lost, especially when some of the dialogue felt like background information rather than the actual story. For instance, the reason Indra is even flying isn’t told to you unless you happen to linger on the start screen, which then depicts a brief text crawl explaining the backstory of the main character.
Having key elements of the story hidden inside collectible documents or by doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily think to do is one of my main critiques of Axiom Verge 2. At first, the collectible documents offer expected insight into the past civilization and what eventually made it collapse. Although, as you find more documents, there are reports from the main villain’s perspective and what exactly motivates them. These motivations would have been excellent to include inside the narrative proper instead of being relegated to easily missed collectibles.
This brings me to another point that players might find frustrating. Throughout the adventure, you are given waypoints of the next objective without being told exactly how to get there, which gives players a vast amount of freedom. However, there were many times where I found myself heading towards the objective only to find that I needed to backtrack to collect a new powerup or that a new location elsewhere that seemed irrelevant was actually where I needed to go.
To add to this, powerups were sometimes tucked into a corner of the room that you would likely miss if you were running past them. So, while I enjoyed scouring every inch of the map, it could make players waste minutes, if not hours. I frequently looked from the map to the main screen, searching for areas I hadn’t fully explored with every powerup I obtained.
The powerups you acquire are about what you would expect, such as the first being a bomb and another being the ability to climb. Nothing feels useless, and instead, every tool distinctly optimizes the gameplay experience. I never felt that I was forced to use them outside of traveling, though.
There is even a small-scale ability tree to upgrade certain tools and skills. This is accomplished by collecting blue urns that give you a set amount of points. Some blue urns are hidden in plain sight, forcing you to come back after you have the necessary abilities. Alternatively, they can be rewards for beating tougher bosses. The only ability that is required for you to upgrade is hacking.
Hacking allows you to make enemies turn on each other, open up gates, and receive health from select containers. This is a handy ability to have and is one of the first ones you receive. However, a few doors are required for you to open that require a much higher hacking ability, which can only be reached by collecting these points and raising them through the ability tree.
Axiom Verge 2, unfortunately, doesn’t make this point clear until you run into these doors. By then, you either leveled up other abilities or haven’t found enough points yet to start upgrading hacking. Granted, this encourages players to explore vast reaches of the map. Still, the title going into more detail about the ability tree and the necessity of hacking would have easily prevented needless frustration. They could’ve also shown the player that they can mark a spot on the map with a powerup to come back to later when they get the necessary skill.
Combat is primarily melee-focused, with your main weapon being a small hand-ax. But you don’t actually need to kill enemies outside of certain bosses. It’s also occasionally awkward because most enemies are either super low to the ground, attached to walls, or flying in the air. Every enemy feels like they were made with the ranged weapon in mind, which is obtained later, but by then, I was already used to killing everything with my ax.
Killing enemies is also mostly useless as the only resources you can obtain from them are health and hacking points. Both can be restored at a save point or through containers. While bosses give ability points when defeated, most common enemies are just health nuisances. I quickly found myself only engaging enemies directly in my way and avoiding them as much as possible to arrive at my objectives more efficiently.
An ideal fix for this design choice could have been to obtain the ranged weapon first and clarify that this will be your primary weapon. Instead, combat feels like it wanted to be unique and forgot to be designed around the melee weapon.
Axiom Verge 2 is a great game with undeniable flaws. The combat lacks focus regardless of what kind of player you are. Still, exploration manages to be enjoyable and engaging. This game is catered for Metroid fans. Anybody else might have a difficult time embracing its charm. At the end of the day, though, Axiom Verge 2 is a delightful time, deserving notable acclaim and overall success.
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