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What's new in Honkai: Star Rail 2.0?

From Penacony to the new characters Black Swan, Sparkle and Misha, Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 has lots to offer!

A new character, Misha, in Honkai: Star Rail 2.0.
Image credit: Hoyoverse
Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 is here, and we had a chance to dive into Penacony’s dream world ahead of time to see just what HoYoverse has been cooking. The answer is “a lot, actually.” Star Rail 2.0 is an impressive step up in quality for everything from storytelling to world design and even NPC interactions, and it might just be HoYoverse’s best work to date.

There’s also the usual buffet of new additions, Relics, Light Cones, characters, and some freebies as well.

We've broken down everything new in Honkai Star Rail 2.0 below, including a preview of the Penacony story and Black Swan impressions.

Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 story summary

Honkai: Star Rail 1.0 took a Genshin Impact-style approach to storytelling, with self-contained narratives that followed somewhat predictable patterns in each setting.

It worked, but it always felt like HoYoverse should do more with all these characters and stories, especially since, unlike Genshin, story and battles are pretty much all you’ve got in Star Rail 2.0. The Star Rail team evidently felt the same, as Penacony has a much stronger foundation that makes smart use of everything that came before.

The gist is this: That cutesy Penacony invitation from way back before the Express crew traveled to the Luofu is just a front for a big ol’ mess. The dream world, formerly an IPC prison and now run by a network of people called The Family, has old ties to the Astral Express and the Trailblaze path it follows, ties that may connect to a secret problem rumbling under the surface.

Penacony is essentially a Matryoshka doll of dreams, but instead of a tiny surprise at the center, you get something really screwed up. People visit here in the real world to enter the dream world, where they pay to literally have their dreams come true, and it’s all built on a dark, dangerous secret – the perfect setup for RPG drama.

Into this giant mess comes the IPC and business leader Aventurine, first introduced at the end of Belobog’s continuance story, who’s collaborating with Dr Ratio, who wreaked havoc on Herta’s space station during version 1.6.

The glitzy dream city inside Penacony in Honkai: Star Rail
Image credit: Hoyoverse

There’s a representative from the Masked Fools who’s clearly up to no good; a Galaxy Ranger with a very bad memory who, oops, might kill you on accident; Sampo, because of course; and a recurring theme of whales that’s almost definitely tied to the player character’s memory loss from the start of the story.

That’s just the first 15-30 minutes of your time in Penacony in a nutshell. One of my main complaints about Genshin Impact is that its story and character development exist in isolated bubbles that rarely ever intersect and have little significance outside themselves.

Honkai: Star Rail started life in a similar way, but HoYoverse threw that problem out the window this time. Character relationships and events that happened in past updates are still relevant and set the stage, so to speak, for a story that’s much richer and more thoughtful, and it feels like a proper space epic as a result.

Even connections with NPCs are deeper in version 2.0. Several characters have multiple things to say, and conversation paths frequently end in new quests that flesh out Penacony even further. My favorite was meeting a woman there on a business trip, using Penacony’s new emotion dial to make her angry, and getting a completely unexpected story about her time as a failed Trailblazer and a quest that tied her to the Express’ past.

What’s Penacony like in Honkai: Star Rail 2.0?

Penacony itself is easily one of the better examples of RPG worldbuilding I’ve seen in the last few years, with a much stronger, more confident tone than Star Rail’s previous worlds.

Penacony is the land of dreams, and while that – plus the overt 1950s-style animation influences – make it seem like a Honkai Disney World, HoYoverse is doing something much smarter than just creating its own Mickey Mouse.

The Penacony introduction is almost designed to show you how corrupt the world is. Only the super rich – or super desperate – can afford to visit here, and they forego reality in favor of a cutesy escape. But the stench of commercialism is never far away.

Billboards chase you down and spout the kind of trite “personalized” things you’d expect from a push notification or marketing eblast. A literal gang patrols the dreamscape’s borders to apprehend anyone who didn’t pay to be there, and, as one vendor tells you, dreams are just another commodity here.

Yes, it’s ironic to see a gacha game that wants your money say things about corrupt commercialism, but the satire is still executed well.

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Just when you settle into thinking of Penacony as foul and corrupt, the epitome of capitalist excess and something not entirely impossible for our own world, you meet Firefly.

Star Rail shifts into a different kind of story, then, one more in keeping with the likes of Fievel Goes West and the kind of big city dreamer story that used to be popular in films and on stage in the late 1900s. Think Thoroughly Modern Millie or even Thomas Meehan’s musical adaptation of Annie.

I realized what HoYoverse was aiming for, then. Penacony isn’t just the land of dreams. It’s the American Dream, specifically, or a version of it that existed unchallenged for several decades in the mid-20th century, a dream that you can come to this place and, no matter what your aspirations and how good or bad your intentions are, have a chance at bringing those goals to life. All this thematic richness works its way back into the story as well, so it doesn’t just exist to point at and move on.

This is still an RPG, though. Touching as Firefly’s story and this realization are, this segment ends with a reminder that she might try to kill you one day.

Honkai Star Rail 2.0 release date

Version 2.0 is out now! However, you’ll have to play through the Belobog and Xianzhou Luofu stories first, though, so you can’t dive into Penacony right away.

Honkai Star Rail 2.0 characters

Version 2.0 introduces Black Swan, Sparkle, and Misha,. HoYoverse gave us access to Black Swan and Misha, both of whom feature in the first round of banners, though not Sparkle.

That’s kind of okay, since Sparkle looks pretty straightforward – buff your allies’ crit rate and make new skill points.

Is Black Swan good?

Black Swan is stupidly broken in the best ways.

She’s a Nihility character, so her kit centers on degrading foes with damage over time (DOT). Her attacks apply Arcana to foes, and extra Arcana stacks appear when foes take DOT. For special Black Swan reasons, the number of possible Arcana stacks goes way past the usual five for normal DOT, and Black Swan applies different effects, such as defense reduction, when you get a set number.

HoYoverse has a slightly distasteful practice in Star Rail of making a signature Light Cone the equivalent of a Genshin Impact passive talent, and that trend continues with Black Swan. Yes, the game is designed to make money, but it still feels a bit icky. Thankfully, she works with most Nihility cones, including the free Fermata. Her Arcana damage counts as Wind Shear damage in most circumstances.

Fantasy dream creatures stalking the halls of Penacony in Honkai: Star Rail 2.0.
Image credit: Hoyoverse

And is Misha good?

Misha is for people who don’t have Jingliu and are fed up of trying Memory of Chaos without a decent Ice character.

Me, basically. He’s made for me.

Misha is a Destruction character, but instead of hurting himself, the rest of the party, or your skill point pool, he powers up when everyone else uses skills. His skill is pretty standard Destruction stuff and hits three enemies for a decent amount of damage.

His ultimate deals three hits to random enemies and gets one extra hit for every skill point your party uses, up to 10 hits total. What that means in normal speak is that Misha can shred enemy Ice toughness and is perfect in single-target scenarios like you normally find in the Memory of Chaos.

He’s not a Herta replacement in Pure Fiction, though, since you can’t control which enemies he hits.

Honkai Star Rail 2.0 events

Penacony’s limited-time events weren’t included in the review, but there’s a lot in store. Top of the list is a cute prison break game starring one of Penacony’s mascots that rewards you with a free 4-star Nihility character, perfect for Black Swan teams (don’t pick Luka).

There’s a battle event, a few tourism-style events that get you used to Penacony’s layout, and two free Rail Pass giveaways that reward you with 20 pulls in total.

What else is new in Honkai Star Rail 2.0?

A new world means new Calyx buds for new materials and some fresh bosses. Version 2.0’s first Echo of War-style boss goes heavy on making you use DOT to exploit weaknesses, so if you haven’t built any Nihility characters yet, it’s probably a good idea to start now.

Version 2.0 adds two new Relic sets as well, though no new Ornaments. The first works – Pioneer Diver of Dead Waters – works a treat for any character who attacks debuffed foes, and the second bumps up break effect. For now, that’s mainly useful for Xiyue and Ruan Mei, but it’s nice to have an option that isn’t Hackerspace for Ruan Mei at least.

New 4-star Light Cones are showing up in the Light Cone Store outside the Forgotten Hall and Pure Fiction stall, one for each path. They complement the game’s current battle system well, boosting effect resistance or break effect, for example, or giving Destruction characters like Blade an option that actually works.

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