When The Talos Principle came out in 2014, it came out of nowhere and became a cult hit among first-person puzzle gamers. This was a profound and contemplative experience that took the ‘test chamber’ structure of the Portal games and vastly expanded the complexity of the puzzles, as well as let players explore at their own pace.
The Talos Principle was set primarily inside a computer simulation constructed by humans who have long been extinct from a plague that was unleashed within the melting icecaps. The idea was to build a system that would eventually produce an AI that would match the intellect and intuition of a human.
The Talos Principle 2 is a direct follow-up set many years later. Not only does it double down and further expand from its philosophical themes of self to society at large, but also is a much bigger and epic puzzle game. If the first The Talos Principle was a quest, then The Talos Principle 2 is a monumental odyssey.
The Talos Principle 2
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac OS, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: November 2, 2023
Price: $29.99 USD
Previously in The Talos Principle, the protagonist child program escaped the simulation and created a sophisticated AI resembling human-like instincts. The master control system EL0HIM and the archival system Milton achieved their goal, much to their dismay, ushering in the era of “human” machines.
The protagonist, an AI program, would choose the name Athena and model its voice after Alexandra Drennan, the scientist who led the project before humanity’s demise. Athena would serve as the prototype for future generations of human-like robots, but this time, they would all strive to forge a different path than their ancestors.
Fearful that they would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, the robots would restrict their growth and not have more than 1,000 entities created to populate New Jerusalem, their city under construction. The player assumes the role of the final robot created; 1K. After his inception, a swarm of nanites appears in the form of Prometheus which leads to the discovery of a massive superstructure.
Athena has been missing for some time. Nobody knows where she went and the other robots believe that she may be connected to the enigmatic Prometheus and the mysterious gigantic pyramid. An expedition is assembled with 1K in tow and they set out to explore these mysterious ruins that are suspiciously like the puzzles in the simulation.
The Talos Principle 2‘s setup engages immediately. From the beginning, it is apparent that this is going to be a much bigger and more ambitious game. Before the expedition begins, 1K is free to explore New Jerusalem and visit museums and monuments to the events of the first game. These human-like robots are utterly enamored with their fleshy ancestors, they can’t help but be amazed by our artifacts.
Players can spend hours exploring New Jerusalem’s museums and play in a few physical reconstructions of old puzzles from the first game. There are plenty of NPCs to talk to and details to discover that help make the setting feel more real. Impressively, interacting with New Jerusalem is completely optional. The confidence the developers have in the players is astounding.
Roaming around a sleek idyllic machine city isn’t why players will flock to The Talos Principle 2. The reason why gamers will take the plunge into this sprawling saga of intrigue is for the puzzles and unrestrained sense of wonder and mystery.
The environments in The Talos Principle 2 are utterly massive. The combined landmass of all the areas possibly eclipses some open-world games like Skyrim. The visuals also make a case for beauty in photorealism because the naturalistic vistas in The Talos Principle 2 are some of the most arresting and breathtaking seen in a video game.
The Talos Principle 2 plunges players into an expansive world meticulously crafted into 12 distinct hubs. Each hub presents a captivating challenge, comprising eight main puzzles and a sprinkling of hidden gems waiting to be unearthed.
Echoing the design of its predecessor, The Talos Principle 2 conceals a labyrinth of cryptic pathways and hidden enclaves, where enigmatic mechanisms await discovery, ready to unlock secret passages and unveil hidden destinations. There are even puzzles within puzzles and sometimes it can feel like uncovering something out of Indiana Jones.
A lot of the puzzles revolve around using devices to find ways to open doors to earn a Tetrimino. Players will find themselves using various gadgets like the driller which makes holes in walls or the various kinds of light refracters. Other times 1K will be possessing drones or walking on ceilings.
The Talos Principle 2 masterfully maintains a constant state of intellectual stimulation, introducing fresh ideas and concepts that keep players on their toes. Even after delving into the game for over 20 hours, The Talos Principle 2 continues to surprise with its ability to consistently throw unexpected curveballs.
The puzzles themselves are masterfully crafted, capable of inducing moments of utter stupefaction. It’s easy to feel like you’ve reached an impenetrable obstacle, even in the early stages of the game. As you persevere, the solution gradually emerges, and a satisfying sense of clarity washes over you like an awesome wave.
The Talos Principle 2 delicately refines its predecessor’s puzzle-solving formula, eschewing time-constrained challenges and the presence of hostile turrets or explosive mines. These elements, while introducing a sense of urgency and danger in the original game, often disrupted the contemplative atmosphere that The Talos Principle is known for.
The Talos Principle 2 truly shines in its profound exploration of philosophical and ethical quandaries. The game deftly weaves together a narrative that challenges players to ponder the very essence of humanity, delving into questions of self-awareness, consciousness, and our place in the cosmos.
The story actively engages the player, prompting introspection and critical thinking, and seamlessly integrates with its puzzle-solving elements, creating a cohesive experience that stimulates both the mind and the senses. 1K is confronted with a series of thought-provoking dilemmas that blur the boundaries between artificial intelligence and human consciousness.
The Talos Principle 2 explores the concept of self-awareness, prompting gamers to consider what truly defines what it means to be human. Do our actions, our emotions, or our capacity for understanding consciousness determine our humanity? The Talos Principle 2 challenges these assumptions, forcing players to confront the possibility that artificial intelligence may one day evolve beyond the confines of human understanding.
As players interact with the game’s characters, they are asked to consider the moral implications of their actions. Should we treat artificial intelligence as tools, as equals, or as something entirely different? The Talos Principle 2 does not provide easy answers; instead, it encourages players to grapple with these complex questions and form their own conclusions.
We are not products of our environment, but active participants in shaping our destiny. As we continue to advance our understanding of artificial intelligence, we must also strive to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The Talos Principle 2 is a powerful meditation on these profound themes, leaving an indelible mark on the minds of those who experience it.
The writing and design of The Talos Principle 2 are some of the finest ever conceived in a video game. It serves as a sobering reminder that video games could have always been this good and that developers and publishers may have been holding out on us, perhaps sensing what we’ve been wanting all along.
Compounded with its impeccable craftsmanship, The Talos Principle 2 puts AAA games to shame with its value. This is an enormous and long puzzle game that is lengthier than most RPGs and can easily breach the 50-hour range. All of this for a paltry $29.99. Engrossing, epic, and vast intelligently written video games apparently don’t have to cost $69.99.
The Talos Principle II was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by Devolver Digital. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. The Talos Principle II is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Mac OS, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.