I spent some time piecing together the story of Axiom Verge as best I could manage. There isn't a whole bunch of information so I had to extrapolate on a lot to form a cohesive story line.
This post will be info-dense and while I also created a video that can visually help you understand things, I'd really suggest reading over the script I made for the video and then watching it to really grasp what's going on. I personally believe the game has a multiverse, there is just too much supporting material to suggest otherwise. However, just for completionist sake, I also included an addendum to include a single-universe, single-timeline theory for people that believe that is the case.
It's ~13 minutes long and Tom Happ (The creator of the game) said, "Amazing how much you've been able to glean from so little info!". Which is nice to read but notably absent was if I was correct or not. Haha, possibly wants to leave it open to discussion.
The link to the YouTube video is here:
In any event, here is the script I used to create the video. It obviously won't have as many images as the video, but I'll place enough in for those that can't or don't want to watch a video to still be able to conceptualize what's going on.
There are two theories that I have for the story of Axiom Verge. I believe Theory A or “The Multiverse Theory” is the correct one and it’s what I will explain in detail. In the end of the video I will briefly explain Theory B or “The Single Universe Theory” as well.
First, I'll introduce the cast of Axiom Verge, then I’ll lead with a chronological recap of the story. I'll conclude with a few theories I have on things that are not fully discussed in the story but might be referenced via general gameplay or notes. I should also preface that everything you see in this video may not be 100% accurate. As it is, I can see two different theories but, as time goes on and we find out more info, I’ll do my best with annotations and other youtube methods to keep this updated. Naturally, I will be sure to add links in the description field as they become available.
Having said all that, this should go without saying, but there are spoilers in this retrospective. So if you don’t want to be spoiled you should leave right now.
Alright, to start, let’s introduce who were going to be talking about.
There are three races in Axiom Verge. Humans, Sudran, and the Kuliltu (as the Sudran people refer to them) or the Rusalki.
We’ll start with the most important human: Trace or Athetos, also referred to as PatternMind by the Rusalki or Master of Patterns by the Sudran.
The boss fights that are encountered throughout the game are actually variants of Athetos himself. So they are humans, or once were. We know through the notes that Athetos describes them via codenames: A1, A2, A3, and so on, up to A9. And despite referencing to them as code names, they seemingly develop identities themselves. The variants that we know of are Xedur, Telal, Uruku, Gir-Tab and Ukhu. And of these variants, we only know that A3 is Telal. Other codenames worth mentioning are A7 who has a theory on the breach, A9 who seems to be more Athetos and less of a modified variant (or seemingly less corrupted), and Gir-Tab who helps Athetos decipher the Sudran language.
There is also Dr. Hammond, who is Trace’s assistant in Universe A but not Trace’s assistant in Universe B.
The Sudran are an extremely advanced race of people who developed the rebirth chambers, drones, and other machinery on Sudra. However, something happens in their history that causes them to become afraid of their own technology and begin to refer to their creations as “the old machines”. Just prior to the Sudrans reclamation of those tools, Athetos releases a pathogen which kills off the entire Sudran race. Notable Sudran people are High Priestess Eshinimma and Nin Urunna.
High Priestess Eshinimma appears to be the ruler of Sudra and Nin Urunna seems to be, at least, one of the higher guardians of the Sudran people.
In addition to the Sudran are the Kuliltu or the Rusalki. Athetos tells us that the Rusalki are masters of war. As referenced in the Sudran notes, the Rusalki resemble the “old machines,” which seems to indicate that they may have once been built by the Sudran and possibly are the reason the Sudran consider the “old machines” to be heresy. At the very least, the Sudran people are suspicious of the Rusalki and only grant them access to “the old machines” once they realize that they are all going to die anyway. There are five Rusalki and they all seem to have developed their own ways and languages.
Elsanova is the first of the Rusalki that you meet. More so than the others, Elsanova seems to be the most militant of the group.
Ophelia is the mastermind. She had two plans to take out Athetos, Plan A failed and Plan B worked.
Katrahaska from the Rusalki’s point of view is a traitor. She is killed by one of the other Rusalki via the “GateBreaker”
Veruska is capable of making Mind Worlds. There are a few ways to interpret this. One way is to say she is a daydreamer. Another way says she is one of the “mind machines” that Elsanova and Ophelia use to communicate with Trace. And yet another way is to suggest that Veruska is able to create fictional worlds, like in The Matrix.
Drushka is not directly encountered in the game, but seems to be a spy of sorts, and may also be similar to Veruska. Ultimately she seems to be on Ophelia’s team but is pretending to be working with Katrahaska and Athetos.
The only other thing noteworthy is that the Rusalki have bodies, of which we only see three:
- Elsanova’s serpentine body.
- A scorpion body,
- and a final squid-like body.
Regardless of which theory we’re talking about, the meat of the spacetime that we care about on Earth is New Mexico 2005. On the Planet Sudra, if measured relative to earth time, we're looking at 1000 A.D. through 2005 A.D.
What and Why are these things happening within Axiom Verge ?
Though they are a string of events that happen on Sudra in Universe C, I’m going to talk about these parts chronologically, using Earthtime as a reference. Starting somewhere around 1000 A.D., Trace and Dr. Hammond journey through the breach and enter Sudra. We know Dr. Hammond had to have accompanied Trace through the breach the first time, because at this particular moment Trace is still crippled and blind in a wheelchair from the lab explosion in New Mexico that happens in Universe A. The very first note Trace leaves is actually found near an empty wheel chair in the game. The note says, “We are going upstream - to the Filter, or whatever lies beyond - for answers.” From here there is a large time jump and Dr. Hammond completely vanishes from the story. Sometime during the next 500 years, Trace travels through the breach an unknown number of times and arrives back on Sudra in Universe C. This time, however, he is calling himself Athetos. At this point Athetos is far older and fully understands how to use Sudran technology. Here begins his plan to destroy the Sudran people. He creates variants of himself using rebirth chambers to help him translate Sudran texts and accomplish other goals, presumably to help create and deliver the pathogen. The Sudran people are aware Athetos is a threat but communication and force do not work against him. The High Priestess Eshinimma uses what the Sudran people refer to as The Storm Talismen, which we later know as the Breach Attractor, bringing the breach all around the planet. This forces the Rusalki to come to Sudra. Initially the Rusalki are angry with the Sudran people for forcing them to their planet, but they become allies if only because Athetos, realizing that the Rusalki are actually powerful war machines, is now trying to kill them as well. It’s unknown how long it took for the Rusalki to learn to communicate with each other, because they do have different languages, but eventually they unite under a common goal to defeat Athetos.
With the help of Drushka, Ophelia creates a plan using the knowledge that Katrahaska is working with Athetos to possibly ensnare him. That plan winds up failing.
But going by the notes alone, we learn that the Rusalki are asking the Sudran people for access to the old machines, even going so far as to "pardon" the previous transgressions of forcing the Rusalki to the planet when the Sudran used the Breach Attractor. Even though they are hesitant to agree, when both parties realize their fate that Athetos is going to win, out of desperation the High Priestess allows the Rusalki access to the old machines for good or ill. It's at this point that the Rusalki gain control of the drones and the rebirth chamber.
Now capable of wielding the old machines, the Rusalki manipulate the drones and use a device called “the gatebreaker.” They kill Katrahaska and start using the old machines to fight Athetos.
When they get access to the rebirth chambers, they see in the logs that Athetos actually first entered into the egg-shaped device hundreds of years ago. This is where Ophelia creates Plan B.
Even though it would be a suicide mission for any of the Rusalki to travel through the breach, Ophelia realizes that their last hope is to try and find Trace before he becomes Athetos. The only being capable of defeating Athetos is himself.
If the Multiverse theory is correct, the Rusalki note titled: English reveals that when Ophelia first went through the Breach it was right around 1555 AD. It’s during this time when the High Priestess and Nun Urunna die and the last instructions are given to the Sudran people. They are told to travel to the prisons below Council Rock where they eventually die en masse from the pathogen and the only Sudran remaining exist in a hallucinogenic/paranoid state.
While Ophelia is searching for Trace, Athetos continues to fight the Rusalki and strips from them access to the old machines. First he prevents them from using the drones. Then disables the power filter. This solidifies the Rusalki’s death sentence.
During these battles, the portable unit that prevented the pathogen from affecting Athetos is damaged, which forces him to be tethered to a permanent machine near the Breach Attractor. At this point, the only thing Athetos has to do is wait and he'll eventually win.
But Ophelia finds Trace in Universe B (most probably through a hidden passage) and pulls him through the breach as the lab explosion is happening back to Sudra. There, Ophelia is reportedly damaged and Trace from Universe B is rebuilt in the rebirth chamber. This is where the game of Axiom Verge begins.
Elsanova, who is running on emergency power, manages to convince Trace to help the Rusalki. While Trace carries out his instructions, Drushka informs Athetos or one of his Variants of Ophelia's plan. As a result, Athetos begins to create two additional Variants which we will see later in the story. Additionally Athetos leaves this in his notes: "if there is some alternate passage into the breach, we must find it". Introducing the possibility that the Rusalki have found another means through the breach that leads them to Universe B.
Now, even though Trace carries out heinous acts within the first few minutes of waking up in an alien setting, we must remember that the Rusalki have control of the rebirth chambers and potentially have the ability to rewire Trace to be more aggressive, even though it’s never alluded to or suggested.
We do know that regardless of the use of rebirth chambers, Trace immediately becomes infected with the pathogen and we see that Trace is actually hallucinating early on in the game. Eventually, as Trace progresses through Sudra and repairs the elements the Rusalki need to win the battle, he slips further into a hallucination. The fascinating information we learn is that the “Mind Machines” that the Rusalki use to communicate with Trace the entire time can not see his hallucination. This is a pivotal moment in the story, because it means that a Rusalki like Veruska can not have Trace in a Matrix-like world doing all of these acts. Elsanova has no concept of what he is hallucinating. This means Sudra is a real place and the pathogen is literally affecting him. She only knows where he was and dispatches the drones to collect him when the pathogen accelerates. He also cannot be cured of the pathogen until he is later healed by Ophelia who uses the nanogates they removed from Katrahaska.
During his hallucinogenic “death”, memories from Universe-A-Trace come flooding in. He begins to remember that he was blind and crippled in the hospital for months after the lab explosion, even though he never actually experienced this himself. Trace now realizes that he is Athetos AND the Rusalki knows he is Athetos but are keeping quiet on the information. Eventually, when he comes across an aborted variant--one of the “two new variants” that Athetos says he will create to “deal with Trace”--he lets Elsanova and Ophelia know that he recognizes himself as Athetos. We discover here that Universe-B-Trace wants to talk with Athetos and figure out what’s going on, but Elsanova--with the power of those nanogates--kills Trace. Trace awakens at a rebirth chamber and Ophelia implies that if he doesn’t follow the plan, Elsanova will continue to torture him until him until he concedes. Trace asks for a compromise to not kill Athetos (even though he knows that they will renege on that agreement) and Ophelia agrees. Trace continues to acquire all of the equipment he needs to ascend the elevator to confront Athetos, where the last battle begins. Before the fight happens, Athetos tells Trace that he did indeed create the pathogen because the Sudran people weren’t willing to let the old machines be of use to anyone. Athetos knew that the Sudran people were selfishly keeping the “forbidden fruit” to themselves, so he had to remove the Sudrans from his path. We learn that the only reason Athetos keeps the Breach Attractor activated is to keep the Rusalki, who are “war machines” on Sudra where he hoped he could kill them.
Ultimately, Trace succeeds in shutting the Breach Attractor down and Elsanova destroys Athetos. The next scenes show Trace back in New Mexico in Universe B. We know he is in Universe B because there isn’t a duplicate version of himself mangled from the lab explosion. He was in the same place that Ophelia removed him from, only he doesn’t have any injuries. He wakes up in the hospital wondering why no one thinks it’s weird and leaves the lab and Dr. Hammond behind to begin working on the Axiom Disruptor in order to try and get back to Sudra. It’s here that Athetos meets up with Trace and fires and presumably kills Trace in Universe B.
That’s the Multiverse theory.
The single universe theory is that the Rusalki never traveled through a hidden passage through the Breach. Instead they merely made a clone of the first copy still stored in the Rebirth chambers and at the end, instead of going back to Earth, he is technically in a dreamworld created by Veruska. Things that support the single universe theory are that Elsanova tells him to go to sleep and we see him laying within the tendrils of one of the Rusalki’s bodies and Athetos some how enters this dream world and tells Trace to “Wake Up.”
A crucial point in the story happens in the very beginning when Elsanova refers to the Axiom Disruptor as a “gun”. The only two people who we know can use the Axiom Disruptor are Trace or Athetos. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a weapon, as he can literally project any reality he wants from the tool such as the drill or Address Disruptor.
If the Multiverse theory is correct, Sudra could possibly be Earth in the distant future. Meaning the Breach is just a portal to other universes. The Sudran look to be humanoid in shape and leave similar skeletal remains. Additionally, one of the Rusalki notes left behind is titled, “English” which has this in it: "English, thought long ago succumbed to evolution's merciless, twisting lever, seems to be with us once again" Indicating that the language of Sudra was once English. It’s also worth noting that all of the Rusalki are women and have female humanoid faces.
And there is one other element that helps the multiverse theory. The address disruptor phases organisms and things. Sometimes we see completely different versions of organisms. Other times we just see multiple copies tiled in weird orders.
That’s all I have for Axiom Verge theories, if you have any other theories leave a comment below and explain why you think that is. Likewise, if you believe in Theory A or B, leave a comment with your thoughts.
Thanks for watching
That's the full script I wrote to the video retrospective. I'm also very interested to hear other theories or possibilities if anyone has any.