The Talos Principle 2 has a lot to live up to. It’s been nearly a decade since the launch of The Talos Principle, in which Croteam and Devolver Digital brought us 120 mind-bending puzzles, a strange simulation world, and philosophical questions that still keep us up at night. With an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam, you have to wonder if the devs can capture that cerebral magic of the original yet again. Well, in my recent hands-on preview with five hours of gameplay, I can confidently say that The Talos Principle 2 is already shaping up to be a worthy successor and, quite possibly, the best puzzler I’ve played since Portal 2.
The Talos Principle 2 Preview: A Cat is a Robot’s Best Friend
For the uninitiated, the original Talos is a first-person sci-fi puzzle game that harks back to classics like Portal or Myst. Alone, you awake in an ancient garden, overseen by the immaterial, booming voice of Elohim (Hebrew for god). You’re tasked with solving puzzles throughout the land, but as you progress, you discover a deeper story about humanity’s decline, and you’ll learn more about your robot self. It becomes quite clear that the world around you is nothing but a simulation. In fact, this computer-generated world is where we begin The Talos Principle 2.
The opening puzzles for The Talos Principle 2 take place in Elohim’s simulation, a nice call-back to its predecessor. If you’re a returning player, you’ll notice familiar mechanics such as jammers, connectors, and Tetris-like blocks. And if you’re a new player, this a great introduction to Talos’ fundamentals. On that note, you don’t need to play the first game before jumping into The Talos Principle 2. The characters do a great job of giving you narrative context, bringing you up to speed. So you can jump in right away and enjoy the new world that Croteam has created.
It’s Completion Day!
That’s right, we’re leaving the simulation. Once you finish Elohim’s puzzles, you’ll wake up in the real world. You’re officially alive, and your name is 1k. You’re the 1,000th robot created after the demise of humanity — and you’re the last. Not only is it your birthday, but it’s also Completion Day. Your arrival signifies that the robots have completed the Founder’s goal to build, well, 1,000 robots and not one more. They must avoid expanding and damaging the world like the old humans did. But you’ll quickly find that each robot has a different opinion on that specific matter (more on that later).
Of course, Completion Day begs for a celebration. And a celebration begs for a rude interruption. Moments after you meet your fellow citizens, a strange projection of the mythological Prometheus appears in the sky. You need to find out where it came from and why, so you’re sent on an expedition to a strange island where you’ll find mysterious temples and puzzles resembling those found in Elohim’s simulation. But what are they doing in the real world? Well, the more puzzles we solve, the more temples we’ll unlock, unraveling the story with each one.
As mentioned, the expedition brings you to an island, which the game has broken up into multiple maps. I was in awe at how large these zones are. Visually, they’re breathtaking, with lush green landscapes, overgrown forests, and beautiful bodies of water. If you’re like me, your first instinct will be to run around and explore — but don’t forget the challenges that await you.
There are eight main puzzles per zone, but you can also go off-roading to discover extra content, including two lost puzzles, one gold puzzle, one lost lab, and two stars. Additionally, The Talos Principle 2 offers a number of new interesting tools and clever challenges that go with them. The RGB Converter lets you combine two different lasers of light to produce a third laser. In practice, this will have you combing red and blue beams, which will convert them to green, letting you open a green lock. With multiple RGB Converters in one puzzle, things can definitely get tricky.
The great thing about Talos is that it continuously layers puzzle elements, growing more complex with each new tool introduced. Inverters, for instance, allow you to take red light and turn it blue and vice versa. Drillers, on the other hand, let you create holes in certain surfaces and pass objects (or light) through them.
With all these cool elements, Talos left me scratching my head quite a bit. Mixing and matching these tools quickly gets complex. Thankfully, I never got too frustrated with a puzzle, as the game is designed in a non-linear fashion. While the puzzles are numbered from one to eight, you can simply leave one if you’re stuck, as they’re each contained to their own space (á la Portal). Plus, if you explore the surrounding area, you can uncover special tokens, which can be used to bypass certain puzzles if you’re really out of ideas. With that said, every single “aha!” moment left me feeling like I was a genius puzzler… at least until I progressed to the next challenge ahead!
Robots, Puzzles, and Questions Galore
One major departure from the first game is that you’re not alone. You’re now part of a society, which comes with several philosophical quandaries. Your very existence has taken away purpose from other robots who found fulfillment through their efforts to complete the Founder’s goal. I didn’t expect to be so taken aback when I met a robot who saw my birth as their sentence to live a life without love, as they hadn’t found their match among anyone in the city.
You’ll be questioned about sacrifice, purpose, and much more. Thinking is the heart and soul of The Talos Principle games, in and out of its marvelous puzzles. So be ready when you launch into dialogue with another robot. They won’t hold back with the hard questions.
However, the sequel knows how to have a bit of fun, too, taking itself less seriously than the first. I laughed often at the banter between my robot companions, and I even had a long discussion about the history of cats and why they make the best pets. There’s even a gazebo dedicated to cat photos in the city (I highly suggest going there first). You’ll likely walk away from this game pondering the meaning of life, but if there’s anything you’ll know for sure, it’s that a cat is a robot’s best friend.
All in all, I couldn’t tear myself away from The Talos Principle 2. The puzzles, characters, and worldbuilding are enthralling. Its performance is also great on a higher-end PC. I never experienced stuttering, and the environments are truly stunning. If you’re interested in this philosophical puzzler, keep an eye out for it next month. The Talos Principle 2 is set to launch on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on November 2, 2023.