One of the most awaited indie games has finally landed. Is Axiom Verge 2 an experience as solid as the first game? Tommy says no...It's better!
The indie scene is as crowded as ever and it becomes harder and harder to stand out. Back in 2015, the Metroid-inspired Axiom Verge stood as a monumental pillar, creating waves in the industry. Creator Tom Happ hasn't been resting on his laurels, however, as he's been steadily working on a sequel ever since and it's finally here.
Mr. Happ deserves a standing ovation for his extraordinary work. This guy does everything by himself. Both the writing, coding, graphics, and music, and most of these are of the highest possible quality. Let's be frank, Axiom Verge isn't a perfect masterpiece, but magic tends to happen when a sole person can work whole-heartedly on their own vision.
It would feel natural to compare Axiom Verge 2 to the predecessor, but in reality these two games are very different. While the first game was a perfumed love letter to the Metroid series, the second instalment lurks around in Zelda's neighbourhood. Puzzles are a much bigger part of this game, combined with a parallel world system that brings associations to A Link to the Past and even Metroid Prime 2.
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We follow Indra in Axiom Verge 2. A woman trying to find her way home after an unfortunate meeting with a one-way elevator down into an alternative world in Antarctica. She has to navigate through wonderous forests and Mesopotamian ruins searching for smart devices to survive. Everything is happening in an isolated world, often surrounded by drones wanting Indra out of the way.
The first Axiom Verge was mostly about shooting anything moving, roaming around seeking new upgrades, then shooting anything moving again with the new upgrades. Meanwhile, this sequel drives down a slightly different path. Exploration and new toys are still fundamental, but everything feels more organic and a lot more elaborate. There are huge spaces and plenty of different roads to take throughout the game. In the end, I still feel the experience is a lot tighter and more linear though even if it doesn't really give this impression.
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Indra is not as into her firearms as Trace was back in the first game. Pickaxes, knives and boomerangs are weapons of choice and scrambles up the strategic approach when battling your foes. More often than not, I find that you are better off trying to sneak away, or hack their systems to escape their wrath. As much as I enjoy the hacking ability, I really wish the developer had made even more of it, considering the lack of effects variety.
There are a couple of impressive and huge enemies to fight, but unfortunately no proper challenging bosses. This might be because of the new auto save concept. When Indra dies, she will respawn at the last save point keeping all the gear she might have found along the way. This makes it a lot easier to get back to where you were without having to explore the same areas all over again.
The world is quite big, and it took me a bunch of hours to visit every corner. It might take some time getting used to the map before you get a real grip of what you are looking for. The different areas are separated in an okay way, but the unnecessary detailed backgrounds make it hard to distinguish what can be explored and not. I got stuck several times, only to realise there was a point on the map I had overlooked. The Metroidvania DNA is still floating around in the design even if it wasn't always fun wandering aimlessly back and forth hoping to find the correct way forward. There are too many dead-ends and a bit too few prizes for exploring the wrong areas.
A shame, as Happ has implemented a somewhat straight-forward upgrade system to increase Indra's abilities. This allows you to customise the game to suit your own style. This is quite unusual in a Metroidvania game, and I'll admit it feels refreshing. It is also possible to make your enemies stronger and Indra weaker in the main menu, which makes it possible to add some challenge for those who find it too easy. I like this a lot.
The music is also quite solid. It is not as good as the first game's soundtrack, but everything is more polished and fits the surroundings really well. My only complaint is the singing lady who appears on a few tracks every now and then. She is a bit too much and it just ends up being annoying.
Just like in the first Axiom Verge, the story is told through discovering newspaper articles and old stone tablets. Many of them seem like messy piles of foreign words and incoherent drivel at first before they start to make sense. It is very ambitious, but if you actually spend some time trying to understand, it is a really cool story. Without spoiling too much, you don't have to have played the first game before setting out on your Axiom Verge 2 journey, which is also nice.
I'll be honest. It took me a while to learn to love Axiom Verge 2. I think you will be quite disappointed if you expect this to be anything like the first game. This is a very different experience in many ways, and that is not necessarily a negative thing. Axiom Verge 2 is a better game than its predecessor with a better conducted and tighter design. Some graphical bugs every now and then does not ruin the overall impression. The speedrun mode tempts you to go through the game again, and knowing myself that is probably what I will do. After all, it is a very good game.
8 / 10
Plenty of fun and creative upgrades. Cool puzzles. Solid music.
The map is a bit uncouth. I wish the hacking function had a wider range of possibilities. The large, challenging bosses are missing.