Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 Review: A Sweet Dream Of Freedom

It’s undeniable that Honkai: Star Rail has been a captivating ride for everyone who has become a Nameless since the Astral Express first launched in 2023. From a space station, to a planet frozen and dying and even…an Eastern flagship? The trip has been a thrilling journey that always promises to take us starward.

Now, however, Star Rail asks us one question that should be in the forefront of each of our minds. Why does life slumber?

Editor’s Note: This review is from Honkai: Star Rail’s Version 2.0 all the way to the latest available patch at the time of writing, which is Version 2.3.

Let’s Catch Back up with the Crew

The Astral Express Crew is fresh off of their latest adventure involving Ruan Mei and an abandoned section of the Herta Space Station and Pom-Pom has decided that everyone needs a vacation. So, during a navigation meeting he tells the crew that they are headed to Penacony, the Land of Festivities, for a well deserved rest after receiving an invitation from the Harmony Family.

During this meeting he makes a few simple requests, most notably of all to ask around about a few former Nameless that have decided to make Penacony their home. The rest of the crew is excited as pop superstar Robin will be at Penacony for the Charmony Festival where she is slated to perform for everyone at the Dream Amusement Park.

However, once the warp jump begins the Trailblazer, the player character, goes from the familiar lounge of the Astral Express to a mysterious and eerie hotel with only one other person. This vacation might not be exactly what the crew was expecting after all.

Rise up into My World

Okay, so, this setup seems a little long but I find that the start of Version 2.0 can feel like this. It’s set up to be a lighthearted adventure with some mystery thrown in. The issue I find is that this hides the more interesting story that subsequent patches expand upon.

Although, upon reflection after my completion of the second update patch, Version 2.2, this felt like it was on purpose. The main theme of Penacony is freedom, safety and life itself, along with what truly is living. So, the fact that the main aspects of this is concealed to keep the players safe from deeper implications is interesting.

The issue that this presents is that some sections can feel like they have a very slow start, as the Trailblazer just kinda explores around playing games. It feels very different from the previous stories that were intriguing almost instantly. I would say Penacony doesn’t start really opening up until after a major story beat with a certain new character, who’s called Firefly. 

While Firefly is a pivotal character of the plot…when you meet Aventurine, the senior manager in the IPC Strategic Investment Department (who up until now, has been mentioned in the story here and there), my personal favorite character of the patch, becomes more of a forefront of the plot it’s hard to put down.

He is the most interesting character of this patch along with his backstory. Everything is a gamble for him and he is willing to risk it all for that big win. His personality is larger than life while constantly ensuring that everything is fair and that his win won’t always be what you expect.

This is when the question about freedom will start coming up and the true themes of Penacony start to rear their heads. Is it alright to keep people inside of a cage if letting them be free will only lead to their deaths? After all, Penacony itself is a beautiful dream that nobody in their right mind would want to leave. Every night is fun and even people who are terminally ill have a chance to actually live and work to pay for their treatments. Isn’t this a legitimate way to live life?

These questions while examples are very real ways that the theme expands upon itself leaving me thinking about what I would want to do. This is probably the darkest the story has ever gotten in Star Rail so far and it’s dressed up in flashing lights. Even to the end everything is flashy almost as if trying to distract the player from the darker elements of the story.

This is the best Star Rail’s story has been so far, and with the latest update patch, Version 2.3, closing up any questions. I can safely say that Penacony has been one of my favorite areas in Star Rail. Even though I just finished the main story I can’t wait for the next story to sink my teeth into.

Penacony’s New Meta

When it comes to Version 2.0, Honkai: Star Rail doesn’t reinvent its combat, which has been the same since launch. Characters are still aligned to one of 7 elements: Physical, Ice, Fire, Wind, Lightning, Quantum and Imaginary, and one of the (currently) seven Paths: Destruction, The Hunt, Erudition, Harmony, Nihility, Preservation and Abundance.

Each enemy will be weak to one or more of these elements, and each of the Paths determines the overall damage output and “role” of each character, making team building a mixture of exploiting elemental weaknesses and character function.

However, from what I’ve noticed, and one of my friends can also corroborate to this fatch is that, on Version 2.0, Star Rail seems to rely heavily on Weakness Break, as most characters that arrived after the release of Penacony either scales upon this particular stat or enhances it in some shape or form. This means that many of the bosses you’ll encounter have a large amount of defense and Toughness, and you’ll find that breaking them as fast as possible is often vital.

A Difficulty Spike Since the 1.0 Days

Ironically, this has made Version 2.0 the toughest that Star Rail has ever been. There were many times where I felt like I had to take a detour from the main story, as the game was forcing me to spend time building up different characters and delving into team building more often than I have had.

As I had crafted a team with Kafka, Sampo, Pela and Natasha that could destroy most enemies that I would come across in the previous Versions of the game, I thought…maybe this can work? But as the team notably started to struggle, the more damage was passing through, and Breaking enemies became gradually harder.

This eventually came to a head when I got stuck on Version 2.1’s final boss for about two hours that forced me to constantly rebuild my team until I settled on a “turtle team” including March 7th. Using her shields to make it impossible for enemies to damage my team while allowing her to attack during their turn.

Admittedly, I had taken a break, so my teams weren’t as up to date as they should have been making things more difficult on myself. However, the challenge was refreshing and once I worked on my teams and pulled out some of the more break focused characters the way to victory was clear.

What About The Puzzles of Penacony?

Penacony’s overworld has some of my favorite puzzles in Star Rail. The major two you’ll mostly encounter are a jigsaw puzzle and a mind bending puzzle going into a liminal space. The jigsaw puzzle is already mostly completed and players will need to place the missing pieces in their correct spaces.

Nothing is really special with the jigsaw, except perhaps that some of them will have pieces scattered nearby that the player must collect before solving it. Overall, it’s a pretty straightforward puzzle that rewards you with a chest for your troubles. I think having at least one of these puzzles be simple is a major boon and allows for better and harder puzzles to breathe.

The liminal space brain teaser has players lead Clockie, the mascot of Clock Studios and star of the Clockie cartoons, to gears to fix one of the many clock workers around Penacony. These include mirrors and movable blocks to create a visual path to the gear. These focus on the visual aspect as the character will even move through the mirror as long as the path to the gear is clear.

This is easily my favorite puzzle and while players can brute force them thus making sure that nobody will be unable to obtain the rewards. Although, it is much more rewarding to solve these using the pieces that are presented. 

One Day We will Wake.

So, why does life slumber? This is the question at the forefront of Penacony and whether or not being in reality could be better than living your life in a sweet dream. Without any spoilers I think that the answer is satisfactory and can let the player draw their own conclusions on what the answer actually means.

Penacony really is the land of dreams and festivities giving players a lot of new activities along with a story that while slow to start has the highest highs of the entire series. While those who are new to the game may feel like the combat takes a bit of a difficulty spike it isn’t so difficult that players will be stuck for too long. This patch will be a big reason for players to join the Astral Express for the first time and for those who have departed to return to the silver rails.


  • Penacony has some of the best puzzles in the game
  • Penacony is visually stunning and the areas are complex letting players explore
  • Penacony adds some of the best characters in Star Rail to the game


  • Slow Start to the story may leave some wondering why
  • Combat has the highest spike of difficulty compared to the ending of 1.0

Honkai: Star Rail


A great addition to Honkai: Star Rail while the beginning is a bit slow, once the gloves come off this is the best that Star Rail has been.

Estelle Mejia