When Axiom Verge debuted In 2015, it felt like a love letter to Metroid fans at a time when Nintendo seemed content to let the series lie dormant. It captivated players with its retro visuals, intense soundtrack, alien world, and thought-provoking sci-fi plot. Six years later, the Metroidvania genre is thriving, and solo dev Tom Happ is back with his latest addition to it. Not content simply to coast on past success, Axiom Verge 2 features a new setting, a new protagonist, and some significant shake-ups to the formula. How does it all come together? Let’s dive into our Axiom Verge 2 review!
Axiom Verge 2 review
Disclosure: I previously consulted with Tom Happ to make an article categorizing and explaining all of Axiom Verge’s many references to Mesopotamian civilization. During this process, I communicated some feedback to Happ from Assyriologist Megan Lewis, which may have been used to help keep the sequel’s references as authentic as possible. I was not directly involved in the game’s development at any point. I received an early copy of Axiom Verge 2 on Nintendo Switch for the purposes of this review.
Accessibility settings and difficulty
The first thing to notice in Axiom Verge 2 (other than that fantastic title screen music) is the new accessibility menu. In lieu of a more traditional Easy/Normal/Hard mode select, Axiom Verge 2 has accessibility options that let you customize the difficulty. You can increase or decrease the damage output by both enemies and Indra, the protagonist. There’s also an option to decrease the game speed, which seems like a win both for accessibility and for learning speedrunning tricks.
I played through the game on default settings, and I found it challenging early on but a bit too easy as I progressed. Some of that comes from being thorough in seeking out optional upgrades, but I’m glad I’ll have the option to crank up the damage on repeat playthroughs. Speaking of repeat playthroughs, you can once again turn on Speedrun Mode to cut out all the cutscenes and dialogue and focus on a faster time on replays.
Story – new but familiar
Axiom Verge 2 puts you in the boots of Indra Chaudhari, a billionaire tech CEO who has just taken over a rival company called Hammond Corp. Booting up the revolutionary supercomputer she’s just acquired in the spoils of corporate warfare, Indra receives a disturbing message:
“Come to Antarctica if you wish to see your daughter again.”
Indra heads to the Hammond Corp research base in Antarctica and accidentally stumbles through a one-way portal to another world. In order to find her daughter and a way back home, she must explore the mysterious Mesopotamian ruins that cover Kiengir and uncover the secrets they hold. The main story is delivered via interactions with NPCs, but like the first game, you can also find notes scattered throughout the world. These snapshots of life in the past help flesh out the world, and some give insight into the larger, ongoing story of the Axiom Verge universe.
Happ has pitched Axiom Verge 2 as both a sequel and a prequel, and the games can be played in either order. There are many common thematic threads between the two, including the multiverse, transhumanism, and the nature of reality. The new story stands on its own two feet, but the added context of the first game creates rewarding “ah-ha” moments.
Exploring the world of Axiom Verge 2
Like its predecessor, Axiom Verge 2’s gameplay revolves around exploring a large game world and collecting key items to open up new paths. But while the original had a rather strict progression for its key items (outside of save station manipulation), the sequel is much more intentionally open right from the start. Just minutes after the opening cutscene you’ll reach a fork in the road where you can choose to scale a mountain or descend to the ruins of an underwater city. Both are viable options that will lead to key progression items, unlocking even more areas. I suspect speedrunners will have a field day working out alternate routes through the game in the coming months.
The world of Axiom Verge 2 has a more open and organic flow to it than the first. Much of the game takes place outdoors, leading to more “areas” and fewer “rooms.” Regions are separated by simple screen transitions rather than doors serving as tight bottlenecks. The visuals reflect this new level design with more detail, a brighter color palette, and a far less “square” feel overall. Traversal through this world is smoother as well, thanks to upgrades like the ability to ledge grab.
Of course, an open, sprawling world is easy to get lost in, which is why Axiom Verge 2 features a much more robust map system than its predecessor. Once you’ve explored an area, you can view it on the map, zooming in for extreme detail. The full layout of each room is on display, including details like small platforms and pools of water. Like the first game, you can place markers on your map, but you’re no longer restricted to two markers per region, and all of the regions are viewed simultaneously.
Additionally, the game provides occasional direction in the form of Ansible communications. Indra can find these supercomputers scattered throughout the world, and each one will play a short cryptic message, then mark a far-off point on the map. However, you’re certainly not compelled to make a beeline for these targets. On several occasions, I completely forgot there even was a marker on my map because I was finding plenty of interesting areas to explore without direction. But they’ll certainly be a blessing for those who prefer a little guidance.
Completionists will also be happy to know that each region has an indicator showing map and item pick-up percentages, making a 100% clear rate reasonably attainable. More importantly, around a third of the way through the game, you’ll gain the ability to fast travel between save points. This makes all the difference in the world when you get a new item and want to revisit areas all the way across the map.
A bigger, better Breach
There’s also an entire second world and map in the form of the Breach. Pockets of Breach existed in the first game, but they were totally optional and randomly generated secret areas. In Axiom Verge 2, the Breach is a full-sized parallel game map, similar to the Dark World from A Link to the Past. And much like that SNES classic, this creates dimension-hopping exploration challenges, adding a bit of puzzle-solving into the mix.
Indra can’t enter the Breach directly, so that job falls to the drone. The Breach has its own distinct visual style, music, and enemies, making the drone gameplay a fresh change of pace from the overworld. The drone has far more upgrades to collect this time around, making it more of a playable character in its own right. It’s a welcome upgrade to a popular feature from the first game.
Revamped combat and bosses
The original game was all about the guns, but the sequel primarily focuses on melee combat. Whether you like this change or not may depend on whether you prefer the “Metroid” or “Vania” half of the genre. I personally found it to be the weakest element of the otherwise strong game formula.
The melee combat is serviceable, but not especially engaging. You’ll collect a handful of short-range weapons and boomerangs throughout the game, but they lack the diversity found in the first game’s gun arsenal. New weapons give you more power, speed, or range, but few truly change the combat in significant ways.
Shortly before release, Happ revealed that most boss fights in the game would be totally optional, as many players quit the first game when they couldn’t beat tough bosses. This is accomplished by eliminating strictly defined “boss rooms” with a single entrance and exit. Instead, bosses roam free in sizable sections of the map.
This created a tense and exciting moment for me early on when I thought I was out of a boss’s range, only to see it charging towards me seconds later. That same boss required clever manipulation of my surroundings to defeat, which was a wonderful change of pace from traditional combat. Unfortunately, few other boss encounters lived up to this early high point, and the mid-game recycles some boss types with minor differences. Defeating bosses grants you Skill Points to spend on upgrades, but these are also found plentifully in the wild, so they feel a bit underwhelming as a boss prize.
New features: skills and hacking
One of the biggest new features is the Skills system. Exploring the world thoroughly will reward you with items that grant Skill Points. You can then spend these to upgrade your Physiology, Combat, Infection (hacking), and Drone. It’s a good way to let players experiment with different playstyles, adding to the replay value.
Hacking is the other big new feature in Axiom Verge 2, although it finds its roots in the glitch gun of the first game. Indra can hack the game’s robotic enemies, reprogramming them with options like “Overclock,” “Allegiance,” and “Platform.” It provides an alternate approach to combat, supplementing the melee weapons. Hacking is also used to unlock doors throughout the world. This has the potential to add to the replayability and speedrunning options, as some doors require a higher Skill Point investment in the Infection stat than others.