The creative weapons of Axiom Verge

Tools serve dual purposes of exploration and combat

Choice is a key element in video games. Most engaging game moments involve players being put in environments with a host of tools at their disposal and being tasked with besting the challenge using their powers of choice, creativity, and analysis. I’m not just talking about the overt choice in game narratives — choose the blue pill to kill the monster and the red pill to spare its life — but subtle choices present in game mechanics. These choices stem from one tool, button, or player ability serving multiple functions.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s co-Director and father of historic franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong, had this to say about mechanics that facilitate choice:

“A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather can solve multiple problems at once.”

We can see that Miyamoto practices what he preaches. A simple but ingenious example is the jump action in Super Mario 64 (and most Mario games since). This one action, both in isolation and in concert with other actions, provides players unparalleled freedom in both navigation and combat. Mario can jump, long jump, do backflips and sideflips, wall-jump, triple jump, stomp, heavy stomp, and fly(!), all with one basic action used in different combinations and contexts. A game about jumping is not as simple as it sounds.

Basic jump and a higher jump
Weird windmill shit and backflip
Freeform navigation

But we’re not talking about Italian plumbers today. I’d like to take the readers through a game called Axiom Verge, an indie metroidvania with some of the smartest weapon design I’ve seen in recent times. Almost every weapon and special ability has two or more functions, aiding in both navigation and combat and allowing players to approach each environment with myriad methods of completion.

Let’s start, one weapon at a time…

Nova

This is the second weapon you get in the game. Firing it once launches a large projectile, and pressing the fire key again causes the projectile to detonate, dealing splash damage to enemies. For combat, the use is clear: firing it at groups of enemies to damage all of them at once.

But the Nova can also be used to activate out-of-reach switches and open doors blocking your path.

Laser Drill

This drill lets you cut through rocks blocking your path. This allows you to find shortcuts, destroy obstacles that slow you down, and reach hitherto closed off levels. Axiom Verge involves a lot of backtracking through levels, which makes finding shortcuts and quick progress vital to engagement.

Breaking through rocks
Finding shortcuts
Blasting weird grass that slows you down

But you can also use the drill on any enemy you see. While this does not make sense initially (the drill deals heavy damage but is very slow), you face enemies later in the game that are immune to your basic weapons. The drill is the most effective way to go here.

Drilling through enemies

Phasing and teleportation

Midway through the game, you get modified coats that allow you to phase through walls and teleport through short distances. The navigational use for this is clear. You can move past blockages to new levels…

Phasing through walls

…and combine jumping with teleportation to reach high surfaces.

Teleporting to high surfaces

Just like the drill eases backtracking by allowing the player to find shortcuts, the coats allow for enemy evasion and quicker movement through levels. Watch below how the player avoids the green enemy by teleporting…

…and here how the player uses teleportation to quickly traverse an area they have traveled to before.

True to form, these coats help with combat too. The final upgrade (red coat) actually damages enemies and breaks blocks that you teleport through. Watch below how a player uses the red coat to navigate a section of the game, rendering drills and other weapons obsolete…

Drones

One of the most interesting power-ups in the game, the drone launch allows you to deploy a drone that reaches nooks and crannies your character can’t. The basic navigational use is evident in the level design: whenever you find a narrow passageway, use the drone.

Using drones in narrow passageways

The drone is also an effective conduit for both reconnaissance and evasion, particularly after you get an upgrade that allows you to teleport to the drone’s location. Notice below how the drone is used to bypass enemies…

…and here, how the drone teleport is used to the same effect.

Towards the end of the game, as players have the entire arsenal of weapons and abilities available to them, these abilities can be used in concert to impressive effect. Feast your eyes on how this player uses the drone teleport and wall phasing to bypass a very tough section:

Address Disruptor

My favorite weapon/ability in the game. This gun modifies the physical properties of both enemies and the environment. Its primary use is to remove some glitched barriers blocking your path…

Passing glitched barriers

…but its uses for further navigation get very creative. In some sections, you can literally create platforms out of thin air…

…and turn bubbles into rising platforms.

The versatility of the address disruptor truly comes across when you use it on enemies. I would often use it on each type of enemy just to see what effect it had on them. Notice below how the enemy slows down when ‘disrupted’:

Disrupted enemy slows down

Or how this very annoying scorpion changes from shooting three big projectiles to one small one:

Disrupted enemy’s projectile slows down

Or, brilliantly, how these hives that shoot acidic spores start leaving health capsules after being hit:

To sum up, almost every weapon and ability in Axiom Verge has multiple uses in both navigation and combat. This makes each situation a test in player creativity and choice rather than a blatant spoon-feeding exercise of ‘do this, then that’. A player can choose to eliminate every enemy in a section using only the basic weapon, or disrupt all enemies to weaken them first, or use the drone to take some fire, or use the drone teleport and phasing to race through the section altogether, or some completely unexplored option.

The best part? The game doesn’t overtly point you towards any of these weapon and ability uses. You as a player figure them out. You as a player decide which ones you want to use and which ones you don’t. This versatility is the cornerstone of Axiom Verge’s success.

Let me know what you think of this! Are there any other games that embed multiple player choices in mechanics? Have you played Axiom Verge yet? You really should.

References (for both GIFs and content ideas):

Axiom Verge walkthrough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Du4qPXzbs&index=1&list=PL691tDYbcxx1rnDeaJjy23Go9ELugeG2Y

Game Maker’s Toolkit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7daTGyVZ60I

snomaN Gaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmCqZnhXoxg

Axiom Verge speedrun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8bCDVb_isg

I write and I don’t know things. Focusing on game design with some general stuff thrown in. For any writing requests, get in touch!

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