Axiom Verge lays out its events through cutscenes and Notes hidden around the game. These often hint at actuality, but are sometimes ambiguous. Thus, there are many ways to interpret the game's story. In fact, the main foundation of the game is to question what is real.
The Story Synopsis section describes the most straightforward interpretation of Axiom Verge's story. But the Alternate Interpretations section contains variations on this.
Please also visit the Lore Discussion Forum for questions, controversial ideas, and theories.
Story Synopsis Edit
Thanks to MrBeens on the GameFAQs forums for laying out the basis for this synospsis.
Trace is a scientist on Earth who works in a laboratory when a frozen pressure valve causes an explosion. Trace is severely injured in the explosion. For months, he is bedridden, blind, and paralyzed from the waist down. With little other stimuli, his mind turns to physics and the mysteries of the universe.
One day, Trace has an 'Epiphany that changes what we know about the laws of physics'. With the help of Dr. Hammond, he begins publishing his theories, but the scientific community is skeptical of this drastic departure from established science. They blacklist him and start calling him 'Athetos', a nickname that can be taken to mean 'one whose opinion is rejected'.
Using this new understandings of physics, Trace and Dr. Hammond are able to cross 'The Breach', which is a barrier between worlds. Crossing the breach, they find the world of Sudra. Sudra is a gateway world of sorts—its purpose is to regulate travel between other surrounding worlds. However, by the time Trace arrives, Sudra's civilization has collapsed, and its inhabitants no longer remember that purpose. The Sudrans have become an incredibly xenophobic society, shunning all outsiders and regarding their own technology with superstition and religious reverence. The Sudrans no longer permit travel between worlds. They see the Breach as a barrier to shut them off from all the outside universe.
Upon his arrival, Trace is still in a wheelchair, but he and Dr. Hammond discover Sudra's incredible technology and use a 'Rebirth' chamber to completely heal Trace. This chamber is one of the egg-shaped save points in the game. By using this chamber, Trace also inadvertently leaves behind an imprint of himself. This same chamber, years later, will be the starting point of the events of Axiom Verge.
For some time, Trace explores Sudra and makes contact with its inhabitants. Trace eventually decides the Sudran technology is too dangerous to bring back to Earth, believing it is connected to the catastrophic collapse of Sudra's civilization. Trace and Dr. Hammond then attempt to go "upstream - to the Filter, or whatever lies beyond - for answers."
In doing so, Trace discovers that there is a world beyond Sudra—one with an incredibly advanced civilization that the Sudran's have kept hidden due to religious taboo. This world is full of technological wonders that could end all war, strife, and sickness on Earth. It is unclear what happens to Dr. Hammond during this time, but we can consider this the point at which Trace's mind becomes twisted, and he begins to call himself Athetos. Athetos decides that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and that the only way to bring this technology back to Earth means destroying the Sudrans, who would refuse passage between Earth and the world beyond. So, he begins creating allies—genetically modified or "variant" clones of himself, using the imprints he has left in the 'Rebirth' chambers. He also convinces Katrahaska, one of the Rusalki (giant war machines that guard Sudra), to aid his cause. Feeling secure in his army, Athetos goes on the offensive with biological warfare, creating a pathogen that wipes out the Sudrans almost entirely.
The only thing that would stop him now are the three remaining Rusalki— Elsenova, Ophelia, and Veruska— who stayed true to their purpose of guarding Sudra. They battled against Athetos, his variants, and Katrahaska. Using Remote Drones, they manage to destroy Katrahaska and Athetos's mobile pathogen protection, forcing Athetos to retreat to a hideaway in Mar-Uru, far above the surface of Sudra. However before he does so, Athetos manages to turn off the Remote Drones, leaving the Rusalki nearly helpless, dormant, and degrading.
Since they cannot stop Athetos in this state, Ophelia comes up with a new plan. She will create a new copy of Trace, from his imprint when he first was healed, back when he first came to Sudra. Though it has been a long time, the Rusalki are aware that Trace was much kinder when he first arrived on Sudra, they theorize that using this imprint will produce a copy that will be more amenable to the idea of stopping Athetos.
This is where the playable events of Axiom Verge begin. The copy of the younger Trace is the player throughout the game, and by re-activating the Remote Drones, he is able to repair Elsenova to her more mobile state. Then, he finds Athetos in his hideaway above Sudra, and during the battle, momentarily disrupts the Breach Attractor, allowing Elsenova to come help destroy it entirely. After doing so, the Rusalki are once again free to move about above the planet's surface, and Elsenova chooses to kill Athetos. Once that is done, Elsenova sends the copy of Trace back through time to the point of the lab accident aftermath, altering history so that the event does not leave him injured...or so it appears.
"Back in time", Trace cannot stop thinking about Sudra, and devotes his life to returning. In the final cutscenes, he is near to his goal of returning, and we see a brief glint in his eye, indicating that he may be on the path of becoming Athetos once again.
But that's not really the end, is it? If you complete the game with a high percentage of items, you'll be treated to two important bits of information. First, watching the full credits shows a collapsed Trace, laying at what appears to be the base of a Rusalki body. Second, back on Earth, when Trace nears his goal of returning to Sudra, Athetos seemingly pays him a visit! Athetos tells Trace he cannot outrun himself; he tells him that it is "time to wake up" and then shoots him!
If you think about it, there's nothing in the game to imply that Elsenova can send Trace back through time. After defeating Athetos, Trace asks her how he can go back to Earth as a mass-murderer, to which Elsenova replies that he needs not worry—they have "taken care of it". What we do know, is that Elsenova is able to subdue the clone of Trace at will, killing him, or in this case putting him into a coma. Trace going back in time to the point of the lab accident is all a dream, contrived by the Rusalki, specifically Veruska who can create dream algorithms, to give Trace a happy state of being, but at the same time preventing any possibility that he might once again become Athetos. In this coma however, Trace's mind realizes what is happening, that his world is not real, and so it creates a "kick" that will wake him—Athetos coming to kill Trace.
Alternate Story Interpretations Edit
This section will contain any alternate interpretations to Axiom Verge's plot. Alternate interpretations are those that do not take the game's events "at face value", and instead, seek to read the subtext to define what really happened.
The Rusalki Released the Pathogen Edit
What if it was the Rusalki, not Athetos, who released the Pathogen?
Consider that the Rusalki are upset ("bitter") with the Sudran people (see The Storm (Note)). The Sudrans activated the Breach Attractor to shield their world from the rest of the universe, and in doing so they trapped the Rusalki on Sudra. Being trapped beneath the planet's surface seems to have detrimental effects on the Rusalki's health, as there is the notable imprisonment and subsequent mental health issues suffered by Oracca (see the Note of the same title).
First of all, we know that Trace is lied to throughout most of the game. So, we cannot take what either Elsenova or Athetos says at face-value. The Notes throughout the game provide more reliable information, and it's necessary to interpret the subtext.
This theory answers several questions that otherwise seem to be plot holes...
- Why would Athetos and the Rusalki become enemies in the first place? They both want the Breach Attractor turned off, and they both have a bone to pick with the Sudrans. Unless they don't. Maybe the Rusalki, frustrated with their deteriorating situation, decided to unleash the Pathogen on the Sudrans, and Athetos is actually trying to stop them.
- Why does the Note "Athetos" say that Katrahaska "got to" Athetos "before I had a chance"? If she had sided with Athetos to kill the Sudrans, then why would the other Rusalki care if she contacted him? Unless, Katrahaska "siding" with Athetos meant she was actually against releasing the Pathogen, and warned Athetos in the hopes he could help stop the Rusalki.
- Why does Athetos say he 'can't tell Trace everything, or his captors would kill him (Trace)'? Athetos may know that if he reveals the truth right away, the Rusalki will have to kill Trace, else he would side with Athetos. Instead, he goes along with the lie, but gives Trace a reason to believe Athetos is benevolent, and hopes Trace will be able to stop the Rusalki where he has failed.
- Why would Athetos develop a biological pathogen, that seemingly has no effect on the Rusalki. The Rusalki are certainly a much greater threat to him than the Sudran people. It would make more sense that if Athetos struck first, he would take out the Rusalki, and then kill the Sudrans...not the other way around.
- Further, Athetos seems unable to cure himself of the pathogen while Ophelia easily treats Trace after the pathogen causes him to hallucinate. If the Rusalki had the power to cure the pathogen, why did they not save any of the Sudran from the disease?
There is a single note called "Security Notice" that states "The intruder who commandeered the storm talisman is suspected of releasing a plague." But who has raised such a suspicion? It's possible the Rusalki used Athetos as a convenient scape-goat, to misdirect the Sudrans into believing that he was responsible for the Pathogen.
The Multiverse Theory Edit
Credit to Youtuber The Phawx for this interpretation of the Axiom Verge Story.
Let's assume that the events of Axiom Verge take place in not one, but many different parallel universes. In each of these universes, any number of events can have had different outcomes, leading to very small or very large differences from our own universe.
The main convergence point is the beginning cutscene—the lab accident in New Mexico in 2005. The lab explosion happens in Universe A, after which Trace and Dr. Hammond travel through the Breach to Universe C, where they find Sudra. They then travel through the Breach an unknown number of times (to other times and other Universes) before Trace return to Sudra, in Universe C, as Athetos. At this point in Universe C, hundreds of years have passed since Trace originally came here and used the Rebirth Chamber. Athetos now sets in motion his plan to release The Pathogen, and the High Priestess uses the Breach Attractor to bring the Breach closer to the planet. This also forces the Rusalki down under the planet's surface.
Much of the backstory events on Sudra can be read in the main section above.
The key difference here is that Ophelia's new plan, Plan B, does not revolve around cloning the original Trace. Rather, she wants to retrieve him from another universe—a universe in which he has not yet become Athetos. Ophelia travels through the Breach using some new method (hinted at in Trace (Note)). In her first attempt, she winds up on Earth during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (see English (Note)). During this time, Athetos disables the Repair Drones and Power Filter. Ophelia is eventually able to find Trace in Universe B, and pulls him through the Breach just as the lab explosion is happening. The Trace from Universe B is never blind nor crippled, but instead the Rusalki implant Sudran technology in him so that they can control him, and then he awakens in the Rebirth Chamber—and the game events begin.
After Elsenova kills Athetos, the Rusalki take the Universe B Trace back to Universe B, just after the lab explosion (in the Universe B timeline, he would have been gone for a very short period). We know this because the lab explosion has not injured him and there is no duplicate of himself.
But what about the cutscene when Trace remembers being blind and crippled? This occurs during his hallucinogenic coma induced by the Pathogen. Memories from Universe A Trace flood the mind of Universe B Trace and he believes these are his own memories.
And what about the bonus cutscenes where Athetos is alive, meets up with Trace and kills him in Universe B? That's difficult to explain. It is possible that this is an Athetos from yet another universe. Or it's possible that it's the Athetos from Universe A, coming to Universe B out-of-chronology, on one of his many trips through the Breach.
Simulated Universe Theory Edit
The note Axiom 1 (Note) heavily suggests that the universe is actually a simulation, which means that a PatternMind is someone who can manipulate the code from within the simulation to some extent. The Axiom Disruptor is a direct reference to this universal axiom as it is designed to corrupt and modify the running algorithms. The various glitches, in that case, would be actual glitches in the simulation - including the Breach. The Breach itself may be the boundary of Sudran, an early simulation with much narrower bounds than the Earth simulation, and travelling beyond the Breach from Sudran acts like an address overflow.
The reason Athetos can travel between simulations is because he realized the true state of the universe, and found a way to trick the simulation into permitting him to travel between universes.
This may also explain his disdain for the Sudrans; they are merely algorithms being run inside the Sudran simulation and not actual "people". How he considers mankind to be any different is anyone's guess though.
This also plays directly into Veruska's ability to create mind worlds. She is a massive computer, after all, and her purpose may be to extract information from enemies by simulating a world for them and convincing them, within that world, to reveal secrets (similar to Inception).
The Psychosis Theory Edit
"This may be hard to accept, but... your injuries were severe."
Upon hearing this Trace's mind broke. He couldn't deal with the possibility that he would never be able to continue as the person he was; he fell into a delusional state that worsened over time. To cope, his mind created a fantasy where, not only was he able to continue his work, he was an Einstein-level revolutionary. In the course of psychological treatment, he was told repeatedly that his ideas were little more than a fantasy. He responded to this with more delusions. Specifically, that the physics community couldn't see his brilliance.
This rationalization also created a problem for his mind. The physics community that he trusted for his entire professional career had to be wrong. To fix this cognitive dissonance he manufactured his trip to Sudra. This served as his own internally generated, "external" proof. In the process, his psyche became entirely trapped within his fantasy; his mind is the "pathogen" that pushes his delusion from a "miraculous discovery" to an unending horror where he constantly battles himself.
First there is the breach and the attractor. This represents the dividing line from Trace's internalized world and reality. To open it up would force Trace to deal with the outside world.
Next is the Rusalki. They seem to be the major aspects of Trace's mind. The main three could be seen to represent the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego. Veruska is the Id: the dreamer, the Wish fulfillment. But she is also the rage, anger, the one who can kill the others if left unchecked. She doesn't seem to have a sense of right vs. wrong; for example she is ready and willing to kill Oracca without much concern; in fact she delights in doing so in the dreams she creates for her. Ophilia is the Ego: the communicator; she is calm, compassionate, in control. And she is the only one who has ventured into the breach, the only part of Trace's mind to venture into reality. Elsenova is the Super-Ego: the guiding light, the morally absolute center. From the beginning she is what guides Trace. She also kills Athetos without hesitation due to moral certitude that he is evil. This is supported in a couple ways. In The Outsider, the author states, "Should I have let you kill her when I had the chance? I do not know what is right anymore." Which, if written by Ophelia, follows the Ego's purpose, to modulate the Id and Super-Ego.
This brings us to Athetos. He represents to Trace what he would become if he gave in to the treatments of psychiatry: the destroyer of this world, his fantasy. Athetos is also aware of what Sudra truly is, a delusion. This is why he cannot tell Trace everything. If he did his captors (the Rusalki; his Psyche) would have to face the music and the delusion would shatter, killing the hero Trace that doesn't really exist in the process. It is also why he is willing to kill the Sudrans with impunity, he knows they're not real.
Ironically, the two sides, Athetos and the Rusalki, require the same outcome to achieve radically different goals. Athetos' goal is to return to reality and begin rebuilding Trace's life. This goal, consequently, is why Katrahaska joins him in the first place. She represents Trace's former curiosity; once a vibrant, major part of his personality it was killed as a result of this delusion. The Rusalki on the other hand, simply want to maintain the fragile state of Trace's psyche, something they cannot do with the breach attractor active.
The also explains the sudden, unexplained disappearance of Dr. Hammond. At first, his friend regularly visits Trace. He'd listen to his stories, try to help him. Eventually, however, his patience with Trace's delusions wears thin. He simply stops coming after the stories become too fantastical for him, when they "discover" the miracle world.
Upon defeating Athetos, reality immediately starts to bleed in. The Rusalki, in order to preserve the continuity of the delusion, send trace "back in time." As a result, Trace begins to improve from his delusional state. Though he still has delusions (namely the "memories" and "knowledge" from Sudra and his ability to work as though he was never injured), they are much less deep than they once were. But because they are still there, so is Athetos. Ever trying to return to reality; trying to get Trace to stop running from himself.
- ↑ http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/792604-axiom-verge/71618532
- ↑ For more information on the meaning of "Athetos", see the Etymology Section of the Athetos page.
- ↑ See Faded Note (Note).
- ↑ Watch his video on Youtube for more on this theory.
- ↑ On an interesting side-note, the game Bioshock Infinite deals with this same situation, where the act of pulling a person from one parallel universe to another causes their memories to "fuse" in a way.