Tom Happ doesn't want you to think of Axiom Verge 2 as a sequel. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. Instead, you should consider the solo developer's upcoming metroidvania as a companion piece to his original 2015 indie hit; distinct enough to stand apart as its own thing, yet intricately bound by delicate threads of connective tissue to its predecessor. As Happ himself says during a gameplay presentation in last week's Future Games Show - Spring Showcase, Axiom Verge 2 is a "complementary piece of the overall Axiom Verge puzzle".
"It is set in the same universe, and the storylines interconnect, but beyond that, I didn't want to restrict myself into thinking that if people really liked Axiom Verge 1, I really should give them more Axiom Verge, only bigger and better," he tells GamesRadar+ in an exclusive follow-up interview.
"There are of course similarities, since they're made by the same person, but I just tried to focus on making Axiom Verge 2 into the game it needed to be on its own, rather than focusing too much on how it needed to be similar or different from the first game."
On the verge
"When I started working on the first Axiom Verge about 10 years ago, I wasn't sure if it would just be a hobby project that only my friends and family would play, or if it would grow into something larger," Happ continues. "Just in case it turned out to be the latter, I decided to come up with a full picture of the entire Axiom Verge universe, taking place over thousands of years and featuring dozens of characters."
"Once I had created that big picture view of how everything interrelated to everything else, I decided on about six to eight substories that would each tell an important facet of the larger metastory. I decided the story about Trace and Athetos was a good place to start, although it takes place closer to the end of the metastory. I figured that if it didn't do well, and no one cared about this universe, it would be an interesting story in and of itself. Fortunately, the response was far greater than I had ever hoped for, so as soon as the first Axiom Verge released, I started sketching out the details for Axiom Verge 2."
In Axiom Verge 2, you play as Indra, who Happ describes as a "mysterious billionaire behind the worldwide Globe 3 conglomerate", exploring the harsh environs of Antarctica to find the source of a chorus of otherworldly voices calling to you from beyond the borders of reality itself. Happ is hesitant to reveal any more story details outside of that, teasing that even acknowledging the existence of spoilers is a spoiler in and of itself, though reveals that the narrative takes place before the events of the first game… mostly.
Suffice to say that not is all as it seems on this twisted version of Earth, which looks very different to the alien planet of Sundra that players explored in the original Axion Verge, as the developer explains: "Sudra is a very alien feeling world run by machine-like creatures, so the blocky tile sets really helped create that feeling of alien-ness. Axiom Verge 2 is set on an alternate version of the Earth, so in order to make it feel more natural, I created sloped hills, deserts, lakes, and mountains that didn't always feel like you were jumping from block to block."
As for how Axiom Verge 2 plays, again, Happ doesn't want to say too much. What is clear from its Future Games Show presentation, however, is that fans of the original will get to reacquaint themselves with the snappy tempo of its retro, side-scrolling combat, but can expect plenty of new twists, tweaks, and reinventions of the metroidvania mould along the way. Axiom Verge's widespread appeal derived in part from its old-school approach to unrelenting challenge, for example, but Happ says that this next chapter is "a bit more flexible" in its difficulty curves, giving players more options in terms of how they approach each encounter.
"I noticed a lot of people who found Axiom Verge 1 difficult may have been trying to play it like Contra. Just keep running and shooting until you get to the next save point. When people play a little bit more cautiously, often they can find ways to get to where they need to go without taking any damage. That said, some of the bosses probably turned out to be a bit harder than they needed to be!"
One man army
As the sole creator, programmer, artist, and writer for both games, Happ admits to feeling the pressure for Axiom Verge 2 to live up to the legacy that fans are now expecting of it when the game launches later this Spring, especially given how his own life and priorities have changed in the time between projects.
"When I started Axiom Verge, I was really only doing it for me. It was a way to play around with some game design ideas I had. I didn't just want to sit in front of the TV after work every day, so this was something that could keep my mind active. I had a full-time job, so if the game never went anywhere, I still had an income."
"Now my life is completely different. I have a family including a son with expensive healthcare needs. I now work on Axiom Verge full time, so if it doesn't do well, I have to worry about what we're going to do for money. But I'm definitely not complaining! I love working on Axiom Verge and filling in the metastory I sketched out about 10 years ago. I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to say that my full-time job is my hobby and vice versa."
It's easy to empathize with Happ's fears about the game's reception but, at the same time, Axiom Verge 2 has all the hallmarks of a title destined to succeed. In fact, with an established audience already eager to soak up the next story in the Axiom Verge universe, and a games market that is now more receptive to indie games than ever before, it's not irrational to suggest Indra's Antarctic adventure has a decent shot at becoming one of the biggest and best games of 2021. We'll be able to find out for ourselves when it launches later this year on Nintendo Switch and PC.
For more, check out all the biggest new games of 2021 to keep an eye on, or watch the new trailer for Axiom Verge 2 below.