When I boot up Honkai: Star Rail to try its 2.0 update, I immediately take off to its new planet, Penacony, the Land of Dreams. As soon as I check into my hotel room, an introductory chapter passes me between pretty, charming people who seem to ask me the same question at every turn: Are you sure you want to trust me?
It’s a question that ties in with the recurring theme of destiny Star Rail sows in its prologue and strengthens it with narrative and gameplay told over the course of Penacony’s entry arc. While Honkai: Star Rail‘s side quests historically don’t change the fates of playable characters, they can for less significant ones. Its 2.0 update takes that one step further.
Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 highlights how players’ choices might not always be the right ones. That dynamic creates one of the mobile RPG’s most thrilling chapters yet.
This article contains spoilers for Honkai: Star Rail 2.0.
The new Penacony chapter is one big whodunnit where players meet suspicious strangers, each of whom has their own motives and is probably lying about something. It gives players the weighty choice to trust or not trust their new friends. When it pulled the curtain back on me at the end of the chapter, I felt I made the wrong decision. And I mean that in a good way.
The story kicks off when the Astral Express receives an invitation to visit from the Family, the mysterious organization of Harmony worshippers that typically don’t let anyone else into the circle. They, and even frowned upon organizations like the Annihilation Gang, received invitations to Penacony’s signature Charmony Festival.
Penacony introduces new characters from the arrogant IPC investigator Adventurine to the mysterious Memokeeper, Black Swan. Himeko and Welt, your senior Astral Express crew members, warn you that even well-meaning people can be hiding something. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have a secret, but having one means that the truth can be obscured truth if it means someone won’t get what they want.
And what do the residents of Penacony want? Freedom, cooperation, death … Whatever it is, it definitely isn’t your safety or well-being.
Honkai: Star Rail’s strengths lie in the intersection between the game’s narrative and its mechanics, and it especially succeeds when those tools align with the same purpose. In the 2.0 update, that purpose is creating a loss of control.
It doesn’t play out like a side quest. You can’t change the main story’s script. I’m told to make a decision that doesn’t matter, leaning into the dissonance I feel when the Trailblazer inevitably witnesses a shocking truth. It’s a chord that rang through my mind days after, like Aventurine’s declaration that he repeats to the Trailblazer before the interlude: “Allow me to make you an offer, one you can’t refuse,” he says. “No reason to choose otherwise, and no other choice.”
My adventures on Penacony left me reflecting on how I interpret what’s happening in Honkai: Star Rail as a player. I used to think that the Trailblazer was supposed to be me. After reaching Penacony, I realized that they were more like a vessel for me to experience the story as a separate person. I can make my own decisions about who to trust, but Trailblazer will do whatever it takes to move the story forward because that’s their job. In that case, Trailblazer will always feel betrayed by the end of this chapter.
I was surprised. However, when I reviewed the plot up until that point, I realized that I’d been given chance after chance to make up my own mind.
It wasn’t persistent. When Adventurine appeared in my room, I had the option to aggressively shoo him away because I didn’t know him (and he’s not very nice). When Acheron appeared in my dream, she didn’t demand anything from me. She only cryptically hinted at our powerlessness against the script of fate, which should sound familiar because of a certain Stellaron Hunter.
Star Rail‘s emphasis on choice started with Kafka’s final words to the Trailblazer at Herta Space Station: “When you have a chance to make a choice, make one that you know you won’t regret.”
At that point, it seemed like I was supposed to make choices. Even though they weren’t big, they had a palpable impact on the characters around me. Fast forward to Penacony, and that illusion of choice is still there. You can react in dramatically different ways, but they all push you toward the same chilling outcome.
By the end of Penacony’s first chapter, I’m exhausted. I don’t know who to trust. Everyone has told you since the beginning that you should stay vigilant. But I thought, hey, this is a happy-go-lucky kind of game, right? Isn’t at least one of them telling the truth?
Star Rail suggests you not make those kinds of judgments.
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