Originally published at: Review | The Talos Principle 2 - XboxEra
Author’s Note: This review does not contain spoilers for The Talos Principle 2. But references to the first game’s story beats and ending will be present.
Back in 2014, ‘Serious Sam’ and ‘Football Glory’ developer Croteam put out a little puzzler called ‘The Talos Principle’. Mixing a narrative with a focus on the person and featuring beautiful yet utterly eerie settings alongside strong puzzle design garnered the attention of many and made it an instant classic. Now nearly 9 years later, ‘The Talos Principle 2’, published by Devolver Digital, looks to expand upon the original in a natural step that makes for an incredible experience.
In The Talos Principle 2, there are no hordes of enemies that’ll fill your screen as you strafe back ‘n forth with an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. No, instead you’ll be shifting through a post-apocalyptic Earth, humans long gone after their race was wiped out by a highly contagious virus. Croteam’s latest title is a slow-paced puzzler with a focus on societal and interpersonal issues that permeates the structure of the game’s overarching narrative. Through conversations with your peers and the remnants of the world you interact with, your decision making will have an impact on your species, as children of Man.
Scenic! (Croteam/Devolver Digital)
A familiar Egyptian complex greets the player when they first begin The Talos Principle 2. From here, they’ll learn the basics of the game’s puzzles and functions. This is all a neccessary ritual to be born into the city of New Jerusalem—a modest town of synthetic robots that have gained sentience and intelligence thanks to the work of a dilligent group of human beings that had little time before their apocalyptic ending.
Your birth is also symbolic as you are number one-thousand: the last one to be born per the “Founder’s Goal”. No one will come to life after yours as many people uphold the belief that they should be humble and not do what their ancestors did before. And all would’ve been said and done had a Greek god not made an impromptu appearance at the mayor’s speech, which should’ve been about your birth. Prometheus boldy invites the people of New Jerusalem to an island where ‘the Flame’ lies before being chained up and dissipitating before the eyes of all. And so Talos 2 begins boldy and quickly.
The city of New Jerusalem is a beautiful one. Brightly coloured vistas and futuristic homes dot the landscape as do the number of citizens that reside within it. You’ll have a chance to talk to these residents to learn more about the city, what came before, and what the future is looking like right now. Despite its utopian appearance, many of its people are not entirely sure what to do with themselves and there’s a sense of uncertainty that has latched onto this community of ‘humans’ as they call themselves. You’ll learn more about the city’s circumstances as you progress—but first, you’ve been invited to journey to the island with a group of explorers: and you’re the good luck charm.
Numbered puzzles like this dot the landscape. (Croteam/Devolver Digital)
Without a doubt, one of the first things that blew me away was how The Talos Principle 2 weaves its narrative into its gameplay—both mechanically and in regards to its setting. The most obvious mechanics I could mention are how the cast reacts and remembers choices you’ve made—dialogue or not—and may confront you about your ideals as you progress through these bizarre islands with a giant pyramid machination sitting in the centre of it all. But it also comes down to the microdetails, such as your heads-up-display being hijacked to display the names of puzzles you encounter, and how the cast recognises that such a thing may very well be a security risk. Covering the small details is always a welcome addition to world-building, particularly as it helps players establish themselves within the universe.
But above all else, Talos 2’s cast is what made the game’s story so fun and interesting for me. Though you might be thrust into a pivotal point of New Jerusalem’s story, the characters you encounter are developed incredibly well over the game’s 30 hour runtime. Many of these humans, such as the progressive-thinker Byron, have lived well over a thousand years already and they’ve had a long time to think about their situation and personal feelings. They’ll share it not just with you, but the others in-person and over social media. Conflict arises and settles and characters recognise their flaws as your team journies through the game and Though they may be robots, they’ll feel like real human beings by the end.
There’s no beating around the bush here: The Talos Principle 2 is very much pro-progress and pro-humanity. Audio logs of an ancient person entail the work that their team put into trying to make their successors and leaving them with the best and worst of humanity, while the contrast of the people of New Jerusalem and their feelings versus what is happening to their city will have you thinking a lot about what progress means and how we get there, if at all. Honestly, in a medium so eager to explore the darkness of humanity, The Talos Principle 2 is a refreshing and satisfying take on what people can do when they come together.
For me it wasn’t the game’s overarching story that mattered so much as the conversations and ideas of self-preservation, reverence, and progress that made me fall in love with The Talos Principle 2: the story is great, but the journey—and its writing—is fantastic.
A box for your troubles? (Croteam/Devolver Digital)
Croteam’s latest puzzler does not run on the company’s internal Serious Engine—this time opting for Unreal Engine 5 to showcase its large worlds. Talos 2’s levels are big, spread out across numerous small islands that structure themselves around the Megastructure. The mechanics of this land are slowly discovered by the team and soon you’ll find the game’s puzzles: the very things Athena, the Founder and original playable character of Talos 1, conquered as she sought to leave the simulation. The very things that you, 1k, will spend quite a lot of time figuring out.
The best way I can describe puzzles in The Talos Principle is that they’re all about placement and perspective. Lamps that redirect energy sources, strong fans that impede progress, gates of all kinds—Talos 2 will challenge you in many ways, usually with each of the twelve islands focusing on a specific new mechanic the game introduces. Completing eight puzzles in each island grants you access to the tower, and in order to get to those you’ll need to build bridges by flipping tetrominos about. One thing this game excels at is the frequent shakeup of mechanics so that you’re never stuck doing the same kind of puzzle.
And the game’s puzzle and world design is incredibly strong. So strong that the only way I can describe to you how good they are is by how cheese-proof these challenges are. You see, each puzzle is located in the overworld of an island, no loading and all. At one point later in the game, I was able to sneak out a number of tools from one puzzle so I could try and rush the remaining ones (there are blockers in place for these). Of the puzzles I attempted to break with these tools, I was able to break maybe two puzzles—and it likely took me much longer to figure out how to cheese the puzzle than it would have to simply complete it. Still, it’s always an exhillerating feeling, not playing the “intended way”.
Egyptian roads, take me home. (Croteam/Devolver Digital)
And it’s not like the puzzles are particularly excruciating either. These challenges can be figured out with a bit of time and patience and knowledge of what you can and cannot do with the apperatus you have at hand. But if you simply cannot proceed with a puzzle, there’s always extra ones hidden off the beats of the map that you can take on instead. Or heck, sometimes jumping to the hardest puzzle might work out better than being stuck at number three for a half hour.
Now I mentioned how large these islands are, and they really are big. But there’s quite a bit to do in them as well as quite a bit to take in. Additional challenges, weird laboratories, databanks, and remains of ancient life paint these beautiful pieces of land. Towers tower over the player and the outerbounds offers a striking view of mountains and oceans complete with Croteam’s signature bright and saturated colour pallete. These islands also offer little sparks that you can find that outright allow you to skip a puzzle should you desire. These sparks are a rare find, but if you return and complete that puzzle, you can retrieve the spark for use in another headscratcher.
And even though I felt the morbid implications of a rusted tricycle sitting beneath a rocky hill, composer Damjan Mravunac’s music only elevates that experience. Forgoing the heavy rock, Talos 2’s score offers slower melodies that open up as you complete puzzles and otherwise progress through the game. Chanting of all sorts is, of course, present and always welcomed.
The scale of each island is incredible. (Croteam/Devolver Digital)
The Talos Principle 2 is a slow game. There’s no need to do any sort of running to complete a puzzle (though you can try if you’d like). And compared to other puzzlers, its definitely up there in terms of length particularly since you’ll want to invest time into the game’s narrative. Talos 2 holds up well on PC (codes for console weren’t available in time), and there are a number of video settings you can tinker with to get the best performance. Accessibility options are plentiful too such custom subtitle adjustments, view bobbing, and a Colour Blind mode. There is an HDR mode but I found it left the image looking rather washed out.
The game is technically sound, but I ran into about two issues, one being with the user interface and how sometimes the game’s lighting would block out the text for choices I could make. Controller inputs would get a little dicey as well, but ultimately nothing game breaking. A bigger issue I ran into almost lost me a few hours of gameplay, however. The game saved while I was underground and upon loading back that save, it spawned me out of bounds.
Unlike other Croteam titles, Talos 2 does not have any backup saves nor does its reset function actually reset your position. The game is also built to keep you out of where you should not be, almost to a fault, and so I unfortunately spent a good 30 minutes trying to get back to the island without dying a bunch. Thankfully I was successful. but had I not been I would have been very annoyed. I never ran into this issue again and hopefully down the road the developer can patch in a solution.
It’s thanks to the game’s strength in every other aspect that kept me going with a smile.
The Talos Principle 2 is Croteam’s largest and most realised project yet. It’s in every way a natural step from the first title, a beautifully written and challenging one. This game may very well be one of the best narrative puzzle titles I’ve played in quite a long time. ∎