STAFF REVIEW of Talos Principle II, The (Xbox Series X)

Thursday, May 2, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Talos Principle II, The Box art Croteam, best known for their iconic Serious Sam games, released a very well received puzzle game back in 2014 (and later for console players) titled The Talos Principle. A little shy of a decade later and we now have a much anticipated sequel, also launching for console players. While I never played the original, The Talos Principle II doesn’t require knowledge of the first, though it does take place in the same universe, so those with knowledge of the previous game will certainly get a little more out of it and have an idea of what to possibly expect.

With glowing reviews of the first game, I was excited to see what I was in store for with this sequel, and while I was simply expecting a typical puzzle game, I got something much more in-depth and meaningful, with a healthy amount of brain bending puzzles for good measure. Those that thoroughly enjoyed the original’s philosophical overtone and stunning environments will be glad to know that they not only return, but are much more vast this time. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting such a story driven puzzle game that made me think as much as the puzzles did, so it surprised me.

With philosophy being a large portion of The Talos Principle II’s narrative, writers from the first game have returned for the sequel. If you quite enjoyed the original’s theme, it's very similar. Taking place long after the first game, The Talos Principle II's timeline is long after humans as we know it have gone extinct due to global warming causing a deadly virus to be unearthed in some permafrost. Knowing that mankind was doomed, a group of scientists rushed to create advanced artificial intelligence as a way to preserve humankind of sorts. Those that were able to solve puzzles in a virtual reality were then uploaded to android bodies, so while they may not be human on the inside and out, their essence lives on. The first of these androids was Athena, who then created a handful of others so that they could build New Jerusalem, a haven and a reminder of how their kind can do things right this time, learning from the past’s mistakes.

You awaken. You are 1k, the 1000th android to be created, fulfilling “The Goal” from Athena of having one thousand androids, the ideal amount of population for New Jerusalem. Even though Athena has disappeared long ago, she’s viewed as the main creator, almost like a religious figurehead. Now that “The Goal” has been completed, it’s time for celebration, though this ends abruptly when a holographic Prometheus appears heeding a dire warning. With a massive energy spike detected in the far distance, it’s going to be up to 1k and a few others to go investigate what it was and the origin of that holographic figure.

Your team makes their way towards a megastructure that resembles that of a pyramid, but of massive scale. You’re unsure what the origin of this structure is, and you’re unable to gain access for the time being. This is where the puzzle solving comes into place for 1k, unlocking pieces to create a bridge. As you make progress and explore each vast area, solving their puzzles along the way, you get a sense of scale of this world that was once inhabited by humans. Even though this society of androids call themselves human, they are fascinated with the history of their origin and the people before. With many philosophical questions to be had, it made me question my thoughts and beliefs. With AI becoming more prevalent and advancing every day in the real world, even though this scenario may be thousands of years away, it does seem plausible and not all that far-fetched.

At its core, The Talos Principle 2 is a first person (though you can choose to play in third if you wish) puzzle game. Each one is designed to be completed in a minute or two, but that’s assuming you know the solution. Of course this isn’t the case in the beginning as you’re learning the mechanics and puzzle styles, and being stumped on a puzzle for a half hour wasn’t an anomaly. Each puzzle is segregated from the others, and your goal is to unlock some barrier to allow you to press a button, acting as a part of a larger unlock sequence, usually eight puzzles long per section.

Once awoken and active, 1k can explore New Jerusalem, a peaceful and calm city continuing to be developed and built before setting off to the mysterious lands that seem to have been left unexplored as of yet. Tracking down the energy surge leads you to a new land, separated by massive sections and different biomes. If you need a break from puzzle solving to relax your brain, you’re free to explore the land you’re in. It’s much larger than I expected and can feel like an open world game at times given its vastness. While the puzzles are your main objective, there are plenty of things to not only see off the beaten path, but secrets to find and even extra puzzles for those wanting even more.

What I didn’t really expect for a puzzle game was just how large the world is that you can explore. While the main areas are sectioned off into different places that you’ll take a high-speed tram to, each of the areas are quite vast, and it’s not just empty nothingness either, as there are secrets to find, extra puzzles, and even a few interesting Easter Eggs, like Serious Sam standups hidden behind a sectioned off area. There’s no map for you to reference, but there’s a compass at the top of your HUD that will point you in the right direction for the main puzzles and undiscovered places. You may even cross paths with the other androids on your excursion, allowing you to interact with them and choosing dialogue options. If you have a very keen eye you might even find a ‘spark’, allowing you to complete a puzzle without actually finishing it if you truly become stuck and refuse to check online for solutions.

Then there’s the puzzles, probably the reason you’re interested in this title. If you know the solutions to each puzzle, they would probably only take a minute or two, as they are all separated into their own area and not grand in scale, but there were more times than I could count that I spent easily a half hour on a puzzle, completely stumped before I either had the eureka moment or shamefully had to look up a hint online. In each main area you go to, you’ll need to complete the eight main puzzles to progress, rewarding you with a cutscene and story progress. When all eight puzzles are complete you’ll head to the main gate and need to build a bridge by connecting tetromino pieces together in a specific order. If you manage to become distracted and explore a bit, you could use the overhead compass to find your next puzzle, but you’ll also see signs in various areas that act as a clever way to guide you to the next puzzle, blinking and easy to understand what path to take.

There’s quite a few puzzles to get through, starting out simple enough, ramping up in difficulty as you go, adding new mechanics at each new area you access as well. Your main goal in each puzzle is usually lowering a barrier somehow so that you can press the button and complete said puzzle, but doing so isn’t always as simple as you think. Most puzzles are going to involve a colored laser on a wall and a matching colored receiver elsewhere to lower or power certain gates. Things start simple with matching red or blue lasers to their corresponding receiver, but you’ll soon have to deal with walls, jammers, movable crates, pressure plates, fans, RGB converters, drillers, and more. Each new mechanic is introduced one at a time, but you’ll need to catch on quick, as puzzle difficulty ramps up afterwards once the game determines you should know how to properly use each object. Those are have color blindness, there are different options for you, as well as a few accessibility toggles for those that get motion sickness as well.

Some gates will block you from entering, generally the one blocking the button to press at the end of each puzzle, and others will allow you to pass through, but not carried objects, and some won’t let lasers through either. This is where jammers, connectors and converters come into play. You can pick them up and place them where needed to manipulate the laser to go where needed. I hope you know your primary colors too, as the RGB converters will be used quite heavily to change colored lasers when combined, or inverters that swap from red to blue and vice versa. You can probably start to get an idea how much pre-planning or brute force some of these puzzles are going to take. When holding one of the items, you can use a specific trigger to link them, and once placed, the will either work as intended, or not, depending on your placement and line of sight.

Then there’s certain walls that can have a hole created through it temporarily with the drillers, allowing lasers to pass through, or objects placed on either side. Jammers come in handy, allowing you to disable a gate from afar to whichever it’s pointed at. The later half adds some more puzzle elements that I’ll leave as a surprise, but suffice to say, it only amps up the complexity and challenge when you have to think of gravity swaps and verticality. Certain puzzles I found quite difficult, seemingly like it was impossible, but of course once you solve it you feel like an idiot at how you didn’t realize the solution for the last twenty minutes of trying everything you could think of. Many of the puzzles seemed to be step based, as you couldn’t just do one or two things to reach the end, instead having to do manage multiple lasers, moving objects, then adjusting almost like another phase of the solution.

The Talos Principle II has some absolutely stunning vistas. More than a few times I stopped to simply take in the scenery and atmosphere for some screenshots. Without humans the planet is beautiful, and even though there’s only 1000 androids inhabiting New Jerusalem, they do have a thing for cats it seems. The scale of the environments is massive and each biome feels unique from one another, daring you to explore it and maybe find some secret in the distance. The soundtrack is just as beautiful, opening for a melodic background that suits the puzzle gameplay, and the voice acting from across the cast was wonderfully done, being believable ‘human’ androids, each with their own quirks.

Obviously the difficulty of the puzzles are going to vary person to person, given your skill level and problem solving abilities, though I do wish there was some sort of included hint system so I didn’t have to resort to checking externally online when I became frustrated after being stuck for a half hour on a single puzzle. That said, even with how often I was stumped, I kept wanting to try for just ‘one more puzzle’, as that would get me to the next area that I wanted to explore, which is an odd thing to say for a puzzle game. Priced at $38.99 CAD normally, there’s immense value for what you get, lasting you at least a dozen or two hours, and is a more than fair price for the quality and overall experience.

While I could see that some may not enjoy the optional exploration component as much as I did, especially for a puzzle game, the world was so unique and beautiful it couldn’t help but be memorable. I wish I found the original game sooner, as The Talos Principle II should absolutely be in the same conversations as Fez and Portal as one of the best puzzle games there are. There’s an impressive amount of detail, from the environments, puzzle design, character development, and plot, The Talos Principle II is a must play if you’re a fan of puzzles and narrative that comes together in a meaningful way.

**The Talos Principle II was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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