December 8, 2023

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I’m sort of a laissez-faire heretic. I was raised Anglican, at least until I began worshipping my pillow every Sunday morning instead. As such, things like guilt and penance weren’t massive themes. What can you expect from a religion that was the result of a severe case of royal blue balls? I did, however, do a lot of praying. After playing through Blasphemous 2, though, I find myself quite grateful that these prayers weren’t answered. God would be a being far beyond our imagination, how could they understand our whims?

I’d pray to fall ill before a big exam and I’d wake up covered in flesh-eating beetles or horrifically fused with the bed. It’s an interesting thought and Blasphemous 2 gives us a glimpse into what that reality would look like. As you’d expect, it’s idiosyncratic, intriguing and thoroughly disturbing. What’s more, our means to explore this world is a drastic improvement over the original Blasphemous. The end result is a game that is as enjoyable as it is unsettling.

Salve Regina

Rather than my usual habit of dryly summarising the plot, let me see if I can paint a picture of this world instead. In the world of Blasphemous 2, everything revolves around the Miracle. This is a vague, deity-like being that has bestowed its blessings upon the world and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, those blessings have reduced most of the population into tortured, grotesque versions of themselves. One lad had a dream about bees making a hive in his soul and awoke to find he was continually disgorging honey. I’d maybe just convert to Buddhism at that point.

The themes of guilt and penance are as strong as they were in the original Blasphemous and a large part of the joy is just seeing what you’re going to run into next. Talking to the inhabitants, you get the sense that the only constant in this dying world is faith. At times, it feels like you’ve climbed into twisted versions of classic religious paintings, as people bemoan what they’ve been blessed with. Like you’ve climbed into The Supper At Emmaus and everyone’s moaning about how they’re sick of eternally eating chicken. Into this world awakes The Penitent One, forced again to go on a journey of penance.

This time, his job is to prevent the birth of another child of the Miracle. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we tangled with the last one at the end of the original game. Not too keen to do that again. There’s a lot of world to fight through before we get to that point though. The core gameplay has been tightened up a lot. Jumping feels nice and smooth and chaining together a dash, slash and parry flows very well. Platforming no longer feels like a chore either, as everything feels a little faster than it did before. It crossed off one of the major gripes I had with Blasphemous.

Et Concepit De Spiritu Sancto

The tighter gameplay focus is crucial because the Metroidvania format demands backtracking. This became something of a frustration in the original but Blasphemous 2 makes exploration a joy. There are lots of unique items and small storylines to keep you poking around in the corners. The world is expansive and different areas feel distinct, both due to the visuals and Carlos Viola’s excellent score. There’s a lot fine attention to detail as well. In one area, I was bludgeoning what appeared to be monks lashed to coffins. After killing one, I noticed that the background of the area was littered with them, making me feel like I’d stepped into a bizarre mausoleum.

There’s a good deal of enemy variety too, each with their own unique death animations. The bosses all stand out too. It’s extremely impressive. On the subject of enemies, let’s look at the combat. This time around, we have a choice of three weapons: twin rapiers, a heavy flail and a chunky sword. This gives us a choice of fast, strong or balanced. I tended to flit between the flail and the sword, depending on the enemy, which reflects good design. They double as your movement mechanics too, so you can’t leave any to gather dust. There’s a strong dodge and parry focus, which is necessary as enemies hit hard. It’s still a brutally difficult game, not least because the Penitent One is a bit of a drama queen and takes a while to get back into the action after taking a blow.

Is it perhaps too hard? Well, my metric for that is to see whether I blamed the game or myself for a death. Invariably with Blasphemous 2, it was myself. The stun after being hit was frustrating but getting hit in the first place was my fault. So with that crossed off, do I have any gripes? Well, there are a few annoying enemy types, like the ones that pop up without warning and explode. I’m also not keen on the ‘Guilt’ system when you die. It locks off a section of Fervour (think MP) and increases the drop rate of upgrade tokens. That’s fine. What grates a little is that it drops defence. I don’t like mechanics that punish me for trying to learn enemy patterns. These are minor quibbles though, not really worth a flagellation. Maybe just a whip with a rolled up towel.

Verbum Caro Factum Est

Blasphemous 2 made me realise that the spice that’s been missing from a lot of metroidvanias is an interesting, unexpected world. It’s walking into a boss room and seeing a man suddenly explode into a gigantic skeleton or turn into what looks a giant iron maiden. It’s seeing a giant man carrying a baby, with a few extra features that are thoroughly disturbing. It all works together to create a wonderful atmosphere. The good combat and movement, and challenging boss fights, are the icing on the cake.

It’s worth mentioning that Blasphemous 2 doesn’t feel like a distinct entity from the original Blasphemous. It’s a direct story continuation from the DLC, for one. This lack of innovation might have knocked a few points off other titles but the world of Blasphemous is so idiosyncratic that I found I didn’t mind it. It’s just an interesting place to be. Now that the major gameplay frustrations have been cleaned up, the world has become a lot more accessible. If you fancy an evening of guilt, penance, and giant skeletons, then you can’t do much better than Blasphemous 2.

(Blasphemous 2‘s Steam Page)


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