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Blasphemous 2 Review – Unholy Pilgrimage

Whether it’s a giant woman willfully letting the Children of Moonlight deglove one of her hands; a bearded man leaking golden honey out of gaping wounds in his palms, face, and back; or a vendor that’s simply an arm protruding from a towering pile of goods, developer The Game Kitchen has a knack for creating surreal pixel art imagery. Blasphemous 2 sees the Seville-based studio delve further into Andalusian and Spanish culture, iconography, and folklore to concoct a gothic, quasi-Catholic world that’s as gruesome as it is fascinating. Inspired by the religious paintings of Francisco Goya and the architecture of cities like Seville and Cadiz, Blasphemous 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, mixing its unique and harrowing aesthetic with a gameplay amalgam of Metroidvanias and Souls-likes. Where the first game faltered, however, its sequel makes significant improvements, resulting in a thrilling adventure that doesn’t run out of steam.

As solid as the original game was, monotony did seep into its latter half due to a lack of variety–with one-dimensional combat limited by a single weapon–and some frustrating platforming. Thankfully, Blasphemous 2 rectifies both of these issues by introducing a robust combat system in tandem with more varied traversal that doesn’t rely on an overabundance of spike traps. You’ll still encounter the occasional pitfall intended to punish mistimed leaps, but plunging onto a bed of jagged spikes doesn’t result in instant death anymore. This is a crucial change since an expanded repertoire of abilities has resulted in more demanding platforming, yet you’re unlikely to feel disheartened if you do make a mistake while traversing this labyrinthine world.

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When it comes to story, Blasphemous 2 is as obfuscated as its predecessor. Much of its heady lore can be interpreted from dialogue with friendly NPCs and loquacious item descriptions, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll need an in-depth lore video to fully grasp it all. Nevertheless, the setup is rather simple. Picking up right where Blasphemous’ Wounds of Eventide DLC left off, Blasphemous 2 begins with the return of the all-powerful deity known as The Miracle, who is prophesied to give birth to a so-called miracle child. This forces The Penitent One to awaken from his final resting place in order to slay the unholy newborn and every other grotesque monstrosity in his path. Along the way, myriad NPCs will shine a faint light on the mysterious new world the Penitent One finds himself in and its hidden secrets, but only if you choose to seek out these ancillary threads. Much like the inscrutable fables of From Software, you’ll only take out as much as you’re willing to put in. This style of storytelling isn’t for everyone, but even if you can’t or aren’t willing to comprehend all of its machinations, the tales you do fully engage with are likely to engross.

Upon emerging from his grandiose coffin, your first task as The Penitent One is to pick a starting weapon. There are three distinct options to choose from, starting with the most powerful of the three, named Veredicto. This hefty flail has both a long reach and wide arc, making it perfect for smiting enemies without venturing too close. It’s not the quickest armament, but its sheer power increases your chances of stunning enemies, thus leaving them open for a stylish execution kill. Once you’ve generated enough Fervour–which is Blasphemous 2’s version of mana–you can also set Veredicto alight for a short while, letting you singe enemies with additional burn damage.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are Sarmiento & Centella, lightning-fast dual blades that swap strength for speed. Equipping this pair also allows you to block incoming attacks, making it particularly useful for fighting up close and personal. Ruego Al Alba, on the other hand, represents a middle ground between the two extremes of the other options. This blade is the most balanced of the three and also gives you the ability to counter incoming strikes provided your timing is on point. Whichever weapon you choose will dictate which paths you can access at the start of the game, since each one has a unique traversal skill associated with it. This adds consequences to your agency in making this decision, but it’s ultimately shallow since it doesn’t take long until all three weapons are in your possession.

Introducing three varied weapons is a considerable step in the right direction when it comes to improving upon Blasphemous’ one-note combat. The Game Kitchen doesn’t just stop there, though. Skill trees for each weapon create a palpable sense of progression as you unlock additional techniques and combos throughout the game. Since all three weapons have their own strengths and drawbacks, it’s unlikely you’ll cling to a single tool for an entire playthrough. Picking the right weapon in the right circumstance is key to overcoming the plethora of enemy types Blasphemous 2 throws at you. Whether it’s a mage conjuring fire spells from his bed while some poor, hapless saps hold him aloft, or a giant armored creature wielding a poison-coated hammer. Each sprite is wonderfully animated, and enemies tend to tear themselves asunder when felled, which never loses its luster. There’s also a satisfying cadence to the way combat flows, as enemies strike with clearly signposted attacks. Death is never too far away if you’re sloppy–perhaps by gambling on an extra attack or mistiming an evasive slide–but defeating each foe comes down to knowing their movesets and being precise in your actions, lending most encounters an exciting back-and-forth tempo.

Much like the first game, Blasphemous 2’s boss fights are a highlight, pitting you against a menagerie of varied and challenging foes. Some require the accuracy to recognize and then time when to avoid incoming melee strikes, while others take a page out of the Bullet Hell playbook by bombarding you with a dizzying array of projectiles. Memorizing which moves can be blocked and which need to be dashed through or jumped over is another age-old element of these intense bouts, but there’s also variety found within this familiar framework. One fight, for example, sees you battling on a pair of undulating chandeliers, forcing you to jump between them in order to chase down the boss or avoid their attacks. The only downside to these clashes are the unskippable cutscenes that typically kickstart each one. They’re usually fairly short, but when you’re attempting the same fight multiple times, it doesn’t take long for tedium to kick in.

This emphasis on precision is also reflected in Blasphemous 2’s numerous platforming challenges. They begin simply enough when you’re limited to a single jump and one weapon ability, but The Game Kitchen has fully embraced the Metroidvana rulebook this time around, so new traversal moves are gradually doled out as you progress through the game. You’ll discover plenty of dead ends that need to be revisited once the requisite ability has been unlocked, and as I mentioned before, each of the three weapons has its own unique ability associated with it as well. Veredicto, for instance, can be used to strike these magical floating bells to unleash a soundwave that opens up specific doors and reveals hidden platforms. Yet you also gain access to other familiar abilities like a double-jump and air-dash, to the point where you’re utilizing multiple abilities one after another to traverse a single room, swapping between weapons on the fly to reveal hidden platforms and destroy blockades. It sometimes feels decidedly old school, harkening back to some of the best 2D platformers where a jumping puzzle is as engaging as a frantic battle against multiple foes.

Blasphemous 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, mixing its unique and harrowing aesthetic with a gameplay amalgam of Metroidvanias and Souls-likes. Where the first game faltered, however, its sequel makes significant improvements, resulting in a thrilling adventure that doesn’t run out of steam.

As you gain access to more areas of the map, you’ll also begin to uncover complementary items that can be equipped to enhance The Penitent One’s skillset. Prayers–which function as magical attacks–are now a viable alternative to simply cutting everything down with a melee weapon, proving much more useful in combat than they were in the first game due to an increase in damage output. You can equip two of these potent Prayers at a time, which range from short bursts of fire to sizeable beams of mystical energy. Rosary Beads also return, allowing you to increase your resistance to specific damage types.

Most notable, however, is the presence of a sculptor in the game’s hub area. This humble craftsman gives you access to a slew of different figures that confer powerful benefits when placed upon the altarpiece on your back. You might find a figure that increases the stun power of your attacks, another that reduces the cooldown of your dodge, or one that improves the effect of healing items. How you align each sculpture on the altarpiece also matters, since certain figures react with one another to create additional perks. I placed two together that aligned to form another power, whereby executing an enemy would halt the passage of time for a few seconds. This proved especially useful when confronted with multiple foes, and is just one example of how these ancillary items can have a significant impact on Blasphemous 2’s combat.

There are a number of vendors located in the aforementioned hub area and beyond, allowing you to upgrade your health, hand over a knot to unlock another Rosary Bead, or simply purchase items. However, each one is spread out far enough–with doors, ladders, and teleportation devices in between them–that there’s some notable downtime whenever you need to visit a few in succession. This process wouldn’t be quite so tedious if they were closer together. You also can’t teleport between the bonfire-esque checkpoints you’ll unlock across the map, instead only being able to quickly move between a few designated points, so there’s a fair amount of backtracking involved that usually revolves around avoiding every enemy in your path. This is par for the course in Metroidvanias, but it feels unnecessary when the gameplay in between adds nothing of value.

Even with these issues, Blasphemous 2 is an excellent sequel that improves upon its predecessor in almost all of the ways it fell short. The addition of three new weapons–and the litany of ways you can augment your build–ensure that combat is engaging throughout, while traversal has also been expanded upon in positive ways, removing much of the previous frustration by focusing on satisfying challenges and a tangible sense of progression. Combine this with another fascinating setting and deluge of haunting imagery, and this is a pilgrimage worth embarking on. Blasphemous 2 Review – Unholy Pilgrimage

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