Title: The Talos Principle 2
Release Date: November 2, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
As a fan of The Talos Principle, I have been anticipating the release of its sequel with impatience but also a hint of worry. After all, the first entry was everything I wanted in a game of its genre: clever puzzles, fantastic world-building, just the right amount of philosophy in a unique storyline, and just the right amount of difficulty. So how would developer Croteam, also known for the Serious Sam series, tackle this challenge once more?
Humanity at a crossroads – the world of The Talos Principle 2
New players can jump straight into The Talos Principle 2 without playing the previous entry – you are given a very comprehensive exposition of the prequel’s lore within the first half an hour. However, I would still warmly recommend it to anyone interested in playing it – it is a story best discovered at your own pace – especially since that feeling of gradually constructing the story from the pieces you are given was what made it one of the best games of 2014 for me.
The Talos Principle 2 takes place thousands of years into the future. After humanity has been wiped out by a disease, Athena, the player character from the first game, has created a city populated by robots who consider themselves humans, aptly named New Jerusalem. This city and its inhabitants are driven by what everyone refers to as The Goal: creating a perfectly balanced society consisting of 1000 humans, free from the desire for endless expansion, which has doomed humanity once before. You are number 1000, often referred to as 1k, and with your birth, The Goal has been achieved. But not everyone seems to agree on how to move forward after this.
On top of that, resources such as power are already scarce, sparking conflict within the confines of the city. If defining your purpose within a suddenly aimless society wasn’t enough for the characters to grapple with, suddenly a huge apparition, referred to as Prometheus, appears and speaks ominous words of warning. With a small team, you set off to the small island from which Prometheus emerged to investigate.
The story, while always having been a highlight for the franchise, is much more at the forefront in this second entry.
After the initial tutorial, I spent almost an hour reading through lore, exploring the city, and speaking to various NPCs about their daily struggles without a single puzzle in sight. Instead, I was delighted by the depth of the world-building, the quirky and lovable characters, as well as small references to the first game. Even years later, everyone is grappling with what it means to be human, and you will often be asked to weigh in. All of this leaves you wondering: What is the right decision for humanity? Is there even a right decision?
What is certain is that it won’t be an easy choice – as shown through a text-based, decision-making minigame that can be found on a computer in New Jerusalem. The minigame has you trying to save humanity from a disease threatening to wipe out everyone (which, at this point, should sound familiar to you), and it becomes abundantly clear: sacrifices have to be made.
Something new, something old, something borrowed – mind-bending puzzles galore
The Talos Principle 2 opens on a very familiar scene: The player finds themselves in a simulation with returning character Elohim, the God of this world, welcoming them. The player is thrown into the action and given a set of puzzles to solve – the so-called calibration process, as is explained to you – before you can wake up in the real world. Apart from a few on-screen commands and the title of each puzzle giving you a hint as to its mechanics, you are left pretty much to your own devices to figure out how to play. The Talos Principle 2 ramps up in difficulty much quicker than its prequel – you are immediately given access to several objects from the first game to play around with, such as jammers, boxes, and fans.
As you progress, the puzzles get more and more complex, adding mechanics such as a portal device or anti-gravity to bring a breath of fresh air to the game.
The puzzles are the core gameplay of The Talos Principle 2, and this is where the game really shines. The range of challenges offered is vast, and each chamber has a clever, unique twist to it, which will require you to think outside the box more than once. From stacking boxes to building a ramp, using jammers as weights on pressure plates, or utilizing the newly added RGB device to merge red and blue lasers to activate a green door – it is a pleasure to slowly figure out the solution to each chamber. The puzzles are not always easy, especially not the bonus levels hidden all over, and you are pretty much left to your own devices with no hints as to how to proceed. As frustrating as this can sometimes be, finally solving a complex puzzle has you feeling like a genius.
Thankfully, you can also leave the puzzle chambers at any moment to take a break and clear your head, free to explore the sprawling landscapes to clear your head, or tackle a different challenge first. While it was nice to see the puzzles affect the world to some extent, for example, by opening various doors, I couldn’t help but wish for them to be a bit more tied to the story rather than being isolated in their chambers.
Explore the stunning setting of The Talos Principle 2
The visuals in The Talos Principle 2 are breathtaking, with vast, sprawling landscapes as far as the eye can see. Not only have the textures received an update since its 2014 entry, but the world feels incredibly alive. As you explore, you can spot wild animals, speak to roaming NPCs, and discover a wide range of different environments.
The game opens on a desert scenery, only to then dazzle you with a hyper futuristic city characterized by white, oddly shaped buildings before whisking you away to almost complete wilderness – if it weren’t for the mega structures towering over the grasslands. The sheer range of environments and how they are often blended together is stunning, and it is a joy to just walk around and take it all in. T
he only thing I am missing is all the little lore elements that were sprinkled throughout the first game – it felt like wherever I looked, there would be something to explore. Those elements can still be found in places, but with the map’s increased size, some of its corners feel a bit empty.
Understanding humanity together
While the first entry felt like a solitary adventure, with most interactions either being one-sided and/or through one of the computer terminals, this feels like a much more social experience.
Thanks to the stellar writing and voice acting, the characters you interact with rapidly grow on you.
My favorite aspect was how immersed in the world I felt – all the NPCs were characterized by their own struggles, grappling with what it means to be human and what the future will bring for them, and interact very organically via not only conversation but also little posts in instant messaging services, video calls, and forums. Every time a character asked me for my opinion on what they should do next, I felt genuinely invested in what would happen to them and felt compelled to help them. Unfortunately, I ran into a few minor issues, like NPCs getting stuck, not being able to access their dialogue, or voice lines being cut off. However, those bugs did not hinder my enjoyment of the game too much.
The Talos Principle 2 is a beautiful, carefully crafted experience. It will appeal to both fans of challenging puzzlers as well as everyone looking for a storyline that will make you question deep, philosophical topics. I only wish it leaned more into storytelling via its puzzles rather than mostly text and dialogue, especially with so much of the game being spent on them. In the end, however, The Talos Principle 2 truly lived up to my high expectations and proved itself to be a worthy and thought-provoking sequel.
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