The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium DLC knocked my thinking cap off

Posted on June 30, 2024

I have made my peace with looking up puzzle walkthroughs. Video games exist to show us a good time; why lock yourself out of the rest of the goodness just because you couldn’t complete one measly puzzle? But, if the thought of temporarily giving in the towel is just too galling for you, you can do what I do: just keep score. Did you have to look up 2 puzzle solutions out of 16? Congratulations, most sports coaches would call that a landslide win. Er, that’s the idea, anyway. I can’t say it really feels like a win if the score is more like 2  – 1 … in favour of The Talos Principle 2: The Road to Elysium DLC. Please don’t revoke my games journo card.

Listen, I’m not a puzzle simpleton. I beat the main game of The Talos Principle 2 without needing a walkthrough. But it can be tough to come back to it after half a year, after all knowledge of how to use its countless lasers and devices has long since dribbled out of my ears. And unfortunately for me, none of Road to Elysium’s three chapters bother to waste any time with warm-up puzzles designed to remind me of the mechanics. It’s straight into the hard stuff. Undeterred, I figured that just like always, I’d end up being able to do most puzzles in each three chapters. How hard could they be, right?

Orpheus Rising

In Orpheus Rising, you take the role of 1K again as you search for fragmented parts of one of your fellow robo-humans’ psyche. If you were paying attention to the readables spread across the areas of the base game, you’ll know that Hypatia tragically lost her partner Sarabhai in the disaster of New Alexandria which killed 30 others. By completing 16 laser-based puzzles, you learn more of Hypatia’s thoughts on love and loss from the perspective of a new, synthetic human. All of her musings and memories are quite thoughtful and sweet, just deep enough to keep you thinking without being heavy-handed enough to make your eyes roll. The setting of this chapter is purposefully reminiscent of the Egyptian areas in The Talos Principle 1, complete with the occasional QR code and interactive computer terminals placed throughout the small map for you to find. The environment objects will even occasionally glitch out, just like the original game.

This set of puzzles utilises only lasers, another back to the mechanics of The Talos Principle 1. You could call these the easiest set of puzzles in the DLC simply due to the lack of the other mechanics, but that would be selling it short. It manages to introduce new elements to the lasers that aren’t explored in the base game, like using your body to temporarily block the flow of the beams and controlling the trajectory of beams to devices with some thoughtful setup. Only the last couple of puzzles made me hardcore struggle, but I was eventually able to brute-force the solutions through trial and error. Those last few have so many lasers pointed every which way that I never truly understood the logic behind when some of the more complex connections worked and some didn’t, but whatever. Me: 1, Road to Elysium: 0.

Isle of the Blessed

This chapter contains some spoilers for what lies beyond the golden gate puzzles in the base game. It comes right out of the gate without so much as a warning, so you’d better be ready, unlike me. I’m someone who needs a carrot at the end of my puzzle or else I’m not going to want to do it, so this spoiler has basically erased any chance I might have completed those golden gates for myself, but never mind.

In this chapter, we swap from the shoes (feet?)  of 1K and into those of Yaqut, who was one of 1K’s more even-tempered companions. He’s testing out his puzzle skills in the Isle of the Blessed, an island adventure puzzle-ganza created by another new human just for the fun of it. This chapter is set on a lovely Caribbean island and has very “vacation” energy, explicitly stating that the puzzles within are only designed for the fun of solving them. As nice as the scenery is, without a bit of philosophy or story to help prop this one up, I felt puzzle fatigue start to set in. Yes, to my shame I could only get through about half of these before I caved and started looking them up. You can’t as easily brute-force puzzles that use multiple types of devices, so I had to admit defeat on this chapter. Me: 1, Road to Elysium: 1. The last chapter would have to be the tiebreaker.

Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss is the last and most frighteningly difficult of the chapters, and cemented my defeat at the hands of this DLC. This one follows Byron’s consciousness as he is trapped inside the megastructure during the events of the base game, which is the most compelling premise of the DLC. Set in a simulated world of Byron’s interpretation of infinite data, it’s a vast expanse of floating islands in a red-purple sky, and is a lovely backdrop to getting my ass kicked by the full force of The Talos Principle 2’s arsenal of puzzles. Like Isle of the Blessed, it uses all of the base game’s devices in truly devilish combinations that absolutely fried my brain, but made me weep with frustration when I realised the solution I’d been missing. Realistically, I think at this point I had just completely fried my puzzle-solving ability. Suffice to say, I did not beat this chapter without copious use of a walkthrough.

“GG to you, Croteam.
You made an absolute
beast of a DLC.”

If I had given myself more time for trial and error and some hard thinking, I think I could have solved a lot of the puzzles that stumped me. But I’m actually glad I threw in the towel, because I learned something from this DLC. I am not like Yaqut, who gets satisfaction just from having solved a puzzle. I need that puzzle to mean something tangible, at least in-game; I need a story to progress, or a mystery to be revealed, to get that hit of dopamine. This DLC’s main purpose was to provide more puzzles, not a new overarching story, so I think that if  I had persisted, ignoring all fatigue and frustration, to finish each puzzle myself, I think the sparse story elements here would have left me wanting, like I had pushed myself to the brink of madness for nothing.

So at the end of my match with The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium DLC, the score stands at 2-1: a loss for me. I can’t help but feel kind of disappointed that I couldn’t get through it on my own merits, but I’m still satisfied. Why? because I knew my limits, bypassed my frustration, and was able to enjoy the lighter story elements without feeling like I’d worked too hard for not much reward. Oh, and GG to you, Croteam. You made an absolute beast of a DLC.