‘Axiom Verge 2’ review: a daring departure that expands what’s possible in platformers

A glorious reinvention

Axiom Verge proved to be something of an ultimate expression of a Metroid-inspired game, with Giger-like landscapes, a sprawling world to explore, and a killer, otherworldly soundtrack. Sadly, hewing so close to Metroid meant the game lived in the shadow of its inspirations, never quite breaking free of Metroid’s orbit and threatening being something of an also-ran, albeit an excellent one. That also set up the budding series for something of a conundrum: Where does it go from here?

As it turns out, the answer is to completely rethink what Axiom Verge is about, and creator Tom Happ reworks nearly everything: Axiom Verge 2 is a game set on escaping the shadows cast on it by both Metroid and even the original Axiom Verge. This does have the effect of Axiom Verge 2 a more difficult game to love as a result – at least initially – and it certainly lacks some of the twists and turns of the first game, Axiom Verge 2 rewards players with some of the most creative design implementations ever seen in a nonlinear platformer along with an arresting new world to explore.

You play as Indra Chaodhari, the CEO of a company which owns a station in Antarctica whose staff went missing. Indra is going to the station, of course. Bringing Indra to the station is a mysterious broadcast from Dr. Hammond, a scientist whose company Indra bought, claiming that Indra’s estranged daughter Samara is there. Soon Indra finds herself drawn into another world and must explore to find a way out.

Axiom Verge 2. Image Credit: Thomas Happ Games
Axiom Verge 2. Image Credit: Thomas Happ Games

Immediately Axiom Verge 2 sets itself apart from its predecessor by way of its combat and how you interact with the world. Where in the original Axiom Verge you started with a gun that made you feel powerful, in 2 you start with an ice pick with a short range, though the enemies are no less dangerous than in the first game. To survive, Indra gains the ability to hack machines around her to do different things, like slowing down enemies or even changing their allegiance so they fight on your side. Eventually, you’ll get powerful enough that you can stop being so reliant on hacking, but it’s a nice alternate that gives you many ways to deal with enemies and traverse the world.

This can be jarring for players coming from the first game. Instead of a universally recognized symbol of power in a gun, you’re left with a small tool to fend for yourself with and a way to indirectly affect enemies to turn the tide of battle. You never get a gun here. The closest 2 comes to giving you one is a boomerang. At the same time, the world of Kiengir isn’t as immediately striking as the first game’s Sudra, which felt like it actively competed to out-Giger Metroid. The environments in 2 are a lot more grounded, with outdoor settings that feel like Earth. In this way, Axiom Verge 2 is something of a difficult second album, a radical departure from the first game’s identity and a possibly hard pill to swallow for some fans.

And yet when you really dig into Axiom Verge 2, a lot of its designs are daring and exciting. The world of Kiengir reveals itself to be a techno-Mesopotamian inspired setting complete with a very Arabic-tinged soundtrack. In the same way, the melee-focused combat, in concert with the hacking power, opens up a lot of possibilities. The different upgrades you can get to traverse more and more of the world around you push the boundaries of creativity in nonlinear platformers. And that’s not even considering the alternate world you explore as a drone, switching between the two worlds with increasing ease. Better still is how this alternate world, The Breach, manages to feel even more otherworldly than Sudra by giving it a chunky 8-bit style. Axiom Verge 2 truly expands what’s possible in the genre.

Axiom Verge 2. Image Credit: Thomas Happ Games
Axiom Verge 2. Image Credit: Thomas Happ Games

Still, that doesn’t mean the game is perfect by any means. There’s an unchanging emphasis put on exploration to the point where the flow of the game feels flatter than it should. Where the first game had boss battles to break up the exploration, here there really isn’t anything to fill that role. The scant few bosses you encounter are made trivial by the fact that you can’t die in them, and the only other thing to fill the void, the Breach segments, are essentially more exploration slathered on top of what’s already a game full of exploration. That makes Axiom Verge 2 a game that feels less dynamic and more contemplative in your wanderings.

There’s something to be said for this sense of contemplation, though. Slowly unlocking the map as you pass by Mesopotamian-inspired architecture with makeshift antennas attached gives the world a sense of place, making you feel like you’re learning more about it just by taking everything in. Axiom Verge may be more of a roller coaster with the dips and peaks to match, but 2 is something else entirely: a meditation on discovery and your place in the vast, seemingly infinite multiverse.

Axiom Verge 2 is – as mentioned – a more difficult game to love than its predecessor, but the effort is worth it as you find so much love and creativity put into it the further you dig. It absolutely escapes the shadow of both the first game and Metroid to create something all its own while also connecting that newly shaped identity to the greater game multiverse. It expands the possibility space not only for its own mythology, but also for the entire genre. And though it stumbles a bit when it comes to its somewhat flat pacing, its meditative nature sets it apart from the crowd, mirroring the series’ own process of contemplation for where it fits in the greater world of video games.

Axiom Verge 2 is available for PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC. This review is for the Switch version.

The Verdict

A triumphant answer to the question of what Axiom Verge is outside of its influences, and a clinic in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in nonlinear platformers. And though the pacing is less dynamic than the first game, the meditative vibe that it encourages makes it stand out.

Pros

  • Inventive setting
  • Creative powerups
  • A unique contemplative tone

Cons

  • Bosses are trivial
  • Exploration can get monotonous
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