This is something I’ve been waiting a long time for.
The Talos Principle has long been one of my favourite underrated titles; an incredible blend of novel puzzle mechanics, engaging narrative and deep philosophical thought. The biggest surprise for many is that it came from the same devs as Serious Sam, the definition of a mindless shooter. But for those who’ve delved into it the experience really is unlike any other, pushing you to question all of its aspects, even your motives for playing it in the first place. It’s sequel then had a high bar to rise to, both mechanically and thematically. It gives me great pleasure to say that it’s achieved this and has me absolutely buzzing for what the next in the series might bring.
PLOT SPOILERS FOR THE TALOS PRINCIPLE BELOW
Humanity has managed to awaken once again, no longer bound by the confines of flesh but now clad in metal bodies that grant us a form of immortality. The first to awaken took the name Athena, and she worked for many centuries to see many more humans born into this new form. However after a long time she left, but not before giving the citizens of the first new human town a goal: create a thousand humans in total. You are the realisation of that goal, dubbed 1k, and you’ve been brought into a world that is struggling with its own identity. Not long after you’ve been born though you’re visited by a strange visage, that of the Greek god Prometheus. His arrival sends shockwaves through the community and a team is formed to investigate where he originated from. This begins a journey into a new, completely unknown and seemingly impossible world that holds a vast number of secrets.
The Talos Principle 2 looks and feels just like the original, albeit it with better graphics, improved lighting and much, much grander scale. I’m not quite sure how to describe its aesthetic but it feels both modern and slightly outdated at the same time, something you’d kind of expect given it’s been in development for about 7 years. At the same time though you’d expect more given it’s based on Unreal 5, but maybe that’s expecting too much from just the engine itself. Regardless the game is still visually appealing with the environments being far more detailed than they were in its predecessor. Performance was good too, with only a handful of poorly optimised areas that dropped the framerate noticeably.
Fans of the original will be right back at home with the mechanics of this sequel with many of the original mechanics making a comeback. The base is still the same: getting lasers to hit switches or other things in order to open up gates to unlock something. There’s a total of 12 puzzle sections, each with their own unique theme (both mechanically and aesthetically). The puzzles are numbered, indicating the best order to do them in so the game can teach you how everything works. Later sections do layer on the mechanics from other sections as well, although for the most part they tend to stick to their one core thing for each level. There are optional puzzles as well which are usually harder or require additional out-of-area work to be done in order to complete them. Stars make a comeback as well, requiring you to undertake some specific tasks in order to unlock them. Completing a 3 levels will then see you return to a central point to further the main plot forward again, with your time in-between puzzles usually spent talking with others to further any number of subplots or to simply flesh the characters out. It’s by no means a small game, something I didn’t really appreciate until I was wrist deep in it.
The puzzle number is an absolute necessity, as all the new mechanics need a slow ramp up in difficulty in order to make the latter puzzles actually solvable. You’ll quickly pick up on some patterns, like the puzzles I like to call “1 Less Available” where you could easily solve the puzzle if you only had 1 more item. The solution there is to find things that can pull double duty somehow which, once you figure it out, makes a lot of the other puzzles much easier. I usually only needed to do 2 or 3 of the main puzzles before I could head off and solve some of the alternative, optional puzzles as whilst I feel like they’re supposed to be harder the more narrow solution set tended to make them easier overall.
There are instances where the game does not show you a required mechanic before needing it to solve a puzzle, something which can be quite frustrating at the time. The ones I remember were typically things I think the devs expect you to discover by accident when you’re experimenting with solutions, either that or I managed to stumble across some emergent solves without really noticing it. Either way though, the fact remains that there are puzzles in there that you might not have been equipped to solve directly, so experimentation is the name of the game.
I’m not ashamed to say that there was a handful of times that I got irrevocably stuck and decided to reach for a guide. The devs seem to be aware that this will be a thing for pretty much everyone, even going so far as to include a couple of achievements (one for leaving a puzzle for a time and then coming back as well as getting stuck on a puzzle for 20+ mins) for it. In pretty much every case though the actual solve for the puzzle was something that went against my core assumption for how the puzzle needed to be solved and so, again, experimenting and throwing away your assumptions from time to time is necessary to keep steady progress.
There’s a multitude of quality of life upgrades included as well, things that took away the tedium of the game so you could actually focus on playing it. Chief among these is the compass at the top of the screen which lights up with question marks as you get close to a point of interest. This means you won’t be spending countless hours running around in circles looking for the next star, a hidden lab or any of the core game mechanics. This also extends to your research journal which automatically captures things that you’d otherwise be screenshotting so you had a reference copy later. Really the only other thing I would’ve liked to have seen would’ve been a fast travel system that would take you to the start of puzzles that you’d already discovered, as whilst discovering things is no longer a chore having to walk cross map multiple times certainly is.
The game has also clamped down pretty hard on emergent gameplay, but that’s not to say that it can’t occur. There are a number of puzzles that will allow you to get items out of them which usually isn’t particularly useful but given the game’s heritage does start to make you wonder if that’s something you need to do. There’s also a number of puzzles that you can get yourself stuck in, forcing you to reset it in order to progress again. Just be warned though, resetting one puzzle resets everything in that area, so if you were setting up some elaborate cross map solve then it’s probably worth doing that last so you don’t end up having to redo all the work (like I did…multiple times).
PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The original Talos Principle dived deep on what it meant to be human and the sequel continues that trend whilst also throwing the idea of godhood into the mix. I’ll admit to not resonating with the story during its opening beats, probably echoing off the feelings of the main character who literally gets born and then thrown directly into a metaphysical crysis threatening the core ideals of humanity. After a while though, as the characters are given time to grow, things started to grow on me. The numerous minor sub-plots, as well as the interactions with your other humans as you solve problems, also helped shape and deepen the world to a point where I started to become quite enamored with it.
All told though the game’s narrative is at its strongest towards its final hours, as all the different threads that had been setup start to come to a conclusion. For reference I got the Leap of Faith ending, having 1K take Athena’s place and learn the Theory of Everything. After having seen the other 2 endings I feel like this is the one that will end up being the canonical one, especially given the hinting towards a third, and possibly final, title in the series that will seek to explore what comes after this. I also got most of the epilogues too, with the most touching one by far being 1k leaving flowers at the grave of Trevor. I wasn’t expecting those last few vignettes to hit as hard as they did, but boy was I invested in that unrequited love story of the last 2 biological humans.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
The Talos Principle 2 does exactly what I wanted it to do: take the strong mechanical and narrative foundation of its original and sending it soaring into the heavens. The puzzles are familiar but fresh, allowing you to dust off the cobwebs from your first playthrough before ramping the difficulty up again in new and strange ways. The narrative takes some time finding its feet, but once it does you find yourself in the middle of a deeply philosophical experience that has you dealing with the big metaphysical questions of our existence. This is usually where I’d chide a developer for even hinting at a sequel but, given how well they’ve wrapped up the various story threads whilst also putting forward a tangible area to explore to next I’m nothing but excited for it’s possibilities. The Talos Principle 2 is the sequel I always wanted and I’m so glad we got it.
The Talos Principle 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox Series X/S right now for $43.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 28.7 hours playtime and 81% of the achievements unlocked.