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March 2024

The Talos Principle II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Croteam
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2023


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PC Review - 'The Talos Principle II'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 4, 2024 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

The Talos Principle II is a mind-bendingly ambitious sequel to the modern classic renowned for its perplexing puzzles and life perspective-altering philosophy.

The Talos Principle was released in 2014, and the game was a huge departure for the developers at Croteam, who are mostly known for the first-person shooter series, Serious Sam. The Talos Principle can be best described as a thought-provoking puzzle game. The act of manipulating blocks and lasers to achieve your goal was ultimately framed around philosophical questions and discussions regarding the meaning of humanity and being human, despite your character actually being a robot. The combination was executed quite nicely and continued the narrative puzzle genre that games like Portal had kickstarted. After a nine-year wait, we finally got a sequel with The Talos Principle II, and like any brilliant game, it was well worth the wait.

The game starts off roughly like the first one did. Players take on the role of a nameless android that has woken up in a temple. You hear the voice of a being named Elohim that calls you their child and asks you to solve some puzzles to solidify your humanity. After solving a few puzzles and making your way to the exit, you enter the city of New Jerusalem, which you learn is a city populated by androids that are tasked with continuing mankind's legacy. You discover that your arrival signals the completion of the Goal, which dictated that 1,000 androids had to be created to fulfill balance. While your arrival and given moniker of 1K is cause for celebration, it has also caused an apparition named Prometheus to appear. He reveals the location of an island but is silenced before he can deliver his message. Despite arriving on your "birthday," you go with a few other androids to investigate the island and Prometheus' whereabouts.

From a gameplay perspective, the core loop is similar to the first game. You enter a room or area that's cordoned off from other parts by an energy gate. Your objective is to locate and open a chest that unleashes particles that act as keys to open the next larger area once all of the particles have been found. You might find yourself using reflectors to guide colored lasers to open gates. You might use jammers to disrupt some energy gates, blocks to increase your elevation, or fans to give yourself greater height or quickly propel you to a faraway space. Naturally, you'll find yourself combining all of these things to arrive at the solution before moving to the next area to essentially repeat the process while learning more about the purpose of the journey.

Some positive tweaks were made to the existing puzzle formula. The puzzle area sizes are much smaller than before, and while you still have to do quite a bit of walking, the areas aren't so large that you'll consider the treks to be lengthy. There are no more gun turrets and no guard robots, so stealth isn't a factor. As a result, death isn't a big worry unless you actively jump into large bodies of water.

The game also features a good deal of new tools in service of making more creative puzzles and solutions. Early on, there's an RGB pole that combines two colors into a completely different one. You'll eventually get a portal to create temporary holes in the world and a drill to create more permanent ones. You'll find the ability to clone yourself and the ability to transfer control from one clone to another, provided they're in the line of sight. There's even a tool to let you change the room's gravity. The game does a good job of gradually introducing each tool's use and making you use them often in later puzzles. One minor complaint is that the puzzles near the end game seem to revert to the basics rather than using everything in concert for some wild solutions.

Like many good puzzle games, The Talos Principle II strikes a delicate balance in difficulty. Some of the puzzles you encounter are fairly simple, while others have you figuring out the timing for how certain elements need to interact with one another. Some puzzles will have you realizing that not every tool is necessary, while others will have you wishing you had more at your disposal. Some puzzles remain difficult enough that you'll seriously consider looking up the solution online only to realize that you've already figured it out. The game doesn't force players to solve challenges in a specific order, so you can dart around to the puzzles in any order. The game offers a few extra puzzles that act as substitutes for some of the mainline ones; solving them also counts toward the main goal and unlocking new areas of the world. If all else fails, those who are willing to explore the levels thoroughly will find Prometheus Sparks to let them instantly solve a puzzle, but they'll need to properly solve it again if they want to use that spark elsewhere without depleting reserves. It's nice for those who get stuck on challenges, and it also ensures that players will eventually get to the end without relying on a guide.

The puzzles may retain their brilliance, but they don't comprise the whole game. Compared to the first game, the story takes on a bigger spotlight in the sequel, as you get to directly interact with it more often. You still have the social media network to interact with, and meeting a certain person early on presents you with a nice side story, but your various interactions with the other androids really hammer home the notion that this title is focused on the philosophical ideas of humans in a community setting.

You get a good taste of this very early on, when you're given the optional quest of exploring the city of New Jerusalem before taking off for the mysterious island. This quest is quite substantial because the city is filled with museums chronicling items that humans used in the past as well as monuments to the ones who created the androids. It is fascinating to see which parts of history they get right and wrong. There are also sections dedicated to the first game, which makes sense since that character jumpstarted the creation of the robots in this title.

As fascinating as these tidbits are, the interactions with other robots give you a better idea of what to expect. Some will ask if you support looking for an alternate means of energy to solve the crisis, as the current setup isn't enough for the 1,000 robots. Others will ask for your advice on whether they should change what they're doing or what their purpose should be now that their initial task has been completed. One may ask for your thoughts on love, while another asks your opinion on whether sacrifice is unavoidable in relation to the greater good of the group. What would normally be seen as idle conversation points to pass the time or open up a questline in other games feels more substantial, since it feels like your opinions help to shape the direction of the populace. This ideal carries on when you finally go on your expedition, as you'll constantly run into members of your group and pull up conversations about their lives and beliefs that similar to what was seen on the game's social media network.

One of the more fascinating parts of The Talos Principle II is that it sticks to its philosophical beliefs by ensuring that there is no right answer to any of the questions you ask or get asked. Answers are just answers, and the outcomes are what they are. There is no central protagonist or antagonist, so you aren't selecting things in hopes of getting the best possible outcome. Answer honestly, and there's a good chance that you'll find that the ending you get will be satisfying, but those who are curious will be happy to discover that there are multiple ending scenarios, and none of the outcomes force you to seek out other endings. You get a sense of this mechanic in one of the museums that let you play a text-based scenario simulation, and it is something of a pleasant revelation to see the game follow through on this, but it can mean eventual disappointment if a potential sequel follows directly from only one of these outcomes.

The first game had a great presentation, and the sequel is certainly better in a number of ways. Graphically, the even more detailed vegetation gives the worlds a richer look, while the worlds look richer thanks to the software-based lighting and ray-tracing of Unreal Engine 5. Everything has a tangible amount of depth to the textures, but what amazes is how the frame rate can go quite high with few to no drops, but there really are only a few scenes that seem like they try to come close to pushing the limits of what the engine can do. The soundtrack is superb, as expected, but the voice work also deserves a large amount of praise. There are more voices to contend with due to a much larger cast, but every performance comes through with the right amount of credibility. In short, the game is gorgeous from a visual and audio perspective.

For Steam Deck users, the good news is that The Talos Principle II will run on Valve's device. The game will put everything it can to a Low preset with the native 1280x800 resolution and place FSR to performance mode. The result is that the game tries its best to run at 60fps, but it can drop heavily depending on what's happening. The initial reveal of New Jerusalem, for example, will drop the frame rate all the way down to 12fps for a few seconds. The use of FSR also means that the picture can look blurrier, especially if there are a good deal of particle effects, but that is the price one pays to get this in portable form. Battery life is also a major concern, as you're looking at roughly 100 minutes of playtime on the original Steam Deck. While locking the frame rate to 30fps can help, it's not going to be enough to make a substantial difference.

The Talos Principle II does what is expected from a video game sequel, and it does it well. The puzzles remain clever, and the additional tools complement the old ones. The story is more prominent and plays out in a way that remains philosophical yet still provides some satisfaction, no matter which ending you get. It looks and runs great, and the experience never feels like it drags on. Whether you're a fan of the series or a puzzle fan in general, you owe it to yourself to a playthrough of The Talos Principle II.

Score: 9.0/10

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