PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 2, 2023
While I love a good puzzle game, The Talos Principle (2014) was one huge gauntlet of puzzle after puzzle with only minimal story in between, which almost made me bounce off it completely (I bounced off The Witness for the same reasons). The Talos Principle 2 massively expands the narrative elements of the series with exploration through a gorgeous world, engaging characters, and fascinating dialogue, all while maintaining high-quality puzzles.
Set some hundreds of years after the end of The Talos Principle, you play as a newly minted robotic human in the city of New Jerusalem. With your creation, the city has finally achieved the prophesied “Goal” of 1000 inhabitants and is in the middle of celebrating it when a mysterious apparition calling itself Prometheus appears and invites you to explore a nearby island that is giving off a strange energy reading. You set off on an expedition group to investigate the phenomenon, which turns out to be tied to a system of puzzles surrounding an enormous pyramid-shaped “megastructure”.
The puzzles are spread out over 12 different gorgeous environments, far more varied than in the original game. It makes sense; the first game was taking place in a simulation, so it could get away with a lot of re-used environments. But The Talos Principle 2 takes place in the outside world post-humanity, leaving planet Earth to heal from the damage they caused. The seas are as clear as glass, and there is plenty of lush greenery. It is beautiful, but also hauntingly empty. Together with the melancholy sound of string instruments in the background music, it paints a very lonely picture of the world. It primes you to start thinking about the ethical quandary the new humans 2.0 face: do they constrain themselves within the stifling society they have built for themselves to preserve nature as it is, or do they expand and grow, and risk making the same mistakes as the ancient humans?
By nature, The Talos Principle 2 cannot help but de-mystify aspects of the first game, as it answers almost all of its lingering questions in explicit detail. You learn exactly what happened immediately after exiting the simulation, what the new humans do, and what the state of the earth is.
As much as I appreciated the minimalist storytelling of the first game, as well as its open-ended climax, I love that the sequel tells a traditional tale driven by character motivations and goals. The first game was about the individual; this game is about the many. There are multiple characters to talk to, learn about, and debate with, and the game provides you with plenty of dialogue options so that your character can express your opinion on the events of the story. Although your choices may not have a drastic effect on the narrative, the themes that its sequel explores are fascinating as fiction, yet also terribly poignant to our own history, and so being made to choose from various ideas and opinions made me think more abouy where I might actually stand.
It might come off as a little heavy-handed in some places — the references to Greek mythology are a bit Philosophy 101 — but the themes are not just preachy “really makes you think” brainteasers. The questions being asked are woven into the story perfectly so that the characters have real reasons to ask them.
Red light, Blue light
If you asked me, I would have told you there was no way you could create dozens more puzzles with nothing but coloured lasers and a few gadgets, but Croteam has proven me wrong. Returning from the first game are crystal ‘refractors’, which are used to relay a colour-coded laser from one place to another to activate switches, and jammers that can disable walls that block your way. Many of the new devices introduce ways to manipulate or transport the coloured lasers around, and it’s astonishing just how many great puzzles can be made out of different combinations of these devices.
There are many, many more devices than just these — far too many to list all of them, however my favourite has got to be the teleporter, which finally offers a way to take devices with you through those pesky purple gates, which normally prevent devices from passing through it. There are no tutorials that show you how these devices work, and yet I never once felt like I was left in the dark. This is because each device is one at a time in ways that make it easy and fun to experiment with them, so that when you fully master what they can do, it’s extra satisfying.
The difficulty of the puzzles is quite fair; each environment has eight of them, all labelled 1-through-8, with the difficulty scaling upwards as you go. There are always 2 bonus puzzles within each environment, which you can complete instead if you are stumped by one of the main puzzles, and as a last resort, you can use a Prometheus token to bypass a puzzle completely; though these are rare and well-hidden in the world.
These bonus puzzles and a handful of extra environmental puzzles go towards unlocking a set of mysterious golden gates. I don’t know what lies beyond them at the time of writing; although a little birdie told me it might be some forshadowing for Talos Principle 3!
The Talos Principle 2 breaks up its puzzles with decent periods of exploration and dialogue with your fellow expedition teammates. This helps pace the game and can serve as a much-needed break from throwing yourself at puzzle after puzzle. You can also find interactive terminals similar to the ones in the first game, with what must be more than a hundred different messages from ancient and robotic humans alike that each share a little more of the world with you. Most are completely skippable, but if you’re a fiend for readables like me, you’ll love finding each one.
I did experience some stutters and lags, and even a few crashes in my time playing. The game warned me that its performance was better when played on a solid-state drive rather than a hard disk drive, which is what I’ve been playing on, but I hardly think that explains quite the number of lags and crashes I experienced. The lags sometimes cause dialogue to cut out or end early. Luckily, the very frequent autosaves mean it doesn’t drag the experience too much, and performance can always be fixed in later patches.
- New puzzle elements greatly enhance the existing puzzle formula
- Vastly expands the story in new thought provoking ways
- Optional content is rewarding, and doesn't overstay its welcome
- Beautiful and varied environments accompanied with a gorgeous soundtrack
- Performance isn't the best on HDD drives
There wasn’t much to improve about the original, but Croteam has succeeded in creating an incredible sequel in The Talos Principle 2. The puzzles are better, the world is larger, and the narrative is even more thought-provoking. Top it off with a breathtaking environment and a moving soundtrack, and this just might be the puzzle game of the year.