It’s been a fantastic year for puzzle games, thanks to titles like Viewfinder, Humanity, Fantavision 202Xand Storyteller. This run of engaging puzzlers isn’t over yet, though, as one of the year’s most ambitious puzzle games, both thematically and mechanically, hasn’t come out yet. I’m talking about The Talos Principle 2 from Croteam and Devolver Digital, a long-awaited sequel that I got a hands-off look at ahead of Gamescom.
During the hands-off presentation, developers from Croteam walked me through multiple puzzles while explaining many of the sequel’s mechanics, as well as its difficulty curve and thematic inspirations. Even though I haven’t gotten a chance to try it for myself yet, this early look reveals that The Talos Principle 2 is a must-play upcoming puzzle game.
The original Talos Principle launched in 2014 and stood out because of its sobering, humanist story about AI learning what it means to be human. Underneath those intriguing themes was an entertaining puzzle game that felt inspired by greats like Portal. The Talos Principle 2 amps up everything about the original when it comes to both narrative and themes. This time, players are the 1,000th robot to be awakened from the virtual simulation that was the entirety of the first game and part of this sequel’s tutorial. Once awake, players discover that these AI have started to rebuild civilization in a city they call New Jerusalem, but this new society is debating whether or not to stop letting new machines awaken now that there are 1,000 residents.
That’s interrupted when a mysterious new island appears in the sky, and players are sent there with a crew to get to the bottom of why it appeared. Like its predecessor, Croteam tells Digital Trends that The Talos Principle 2 is a humanist story, albeit one that focuses more on what makes a group of sentient beings a society and what it means to be part of one. The narrative elements of The Talos Principle 2 all seem more front and center, with a cast of other characters that join the player on their adventure to a mysterious island and even choices that can change the course of the narrative.
The Talos Principle 2’s societal themes feel quite relevant nowadays because we’ve seen how society reacted to a pandemic (which some fans jokingly blamed The Talos Principle for). Of course, the AI-focused story also stands out considering a recent influx of machine learning technology and discourse surrounding its use.
Lead writer Jonas Kyratzes tells Digital Trends that Croteam wrote the main narrative beats before either of those cultural moments happened, so Croteam didn’t make this game in response to any of those. Still, he acknowledges The Talos Principle 2’s relevancy to current events.
“I think they’re an extension of things that were already happening in civilization: phobias around technology, a sense that we don’t have political control of the events in our lives, and that decisions are just made for us,” Kyratzes tells Digital Trends. Intriguing stories are usually just the cherry on top of a compelling puzzle game, but it looks like Croteam’s once again trying to put a whole fruit salad on top of there.
Even more complex puzzles
Once players arrive on the mysterious island, they discover a lot of puzzles that require solving to get deeper into the island. Here, the excellent puzzle design from the original returns, albeit with a lot more tools. Our live gameplay demo hopped around different parts of the game so Croteam could give us a taste of some of the tools players have to complete puzzles with.
Lightbeam-based puzzles return, but this time, they’re mostly centered around a new tool called the RGB Convertor, which combines the colors of two sources to create a beam of a third color. So, if a green switch needs to be activated, players have to connect the RGB convertor to a red source and a blue source. Bring multiple RGB converters into the mix, and players must carefully think about which color beams they need to create and where to place the convertors to solve the puzzle.
Because color plays such an important role in many of the game’s puzzles, that raises the question of whether or not color-blind players will be able to enjoy the game. While none of the developers on hand could go into specifics, and I didn’t see it in action, a PR representative for Croteam and Devolver Digital said there will be accessibility options to help color-blind players at launch. While that RGB Convertor mechanic alone could sustain an entire puzzle game, The Talos Principle 2 is far from a one-trick pony when it comes to the puzzle mechanics it uses.
Throughout the rest of the demo, I saw many other tools and abilities players can use. Tools include teleporters, drillers that make holes in particular walls, banks where players can swap items, fans, and activators that create large volumetric fields. There are also abilities like mind transfer, which lets players switch the body they control, and gravity tricks. Some puzzles, especially the more introductory ones, use only one mechanic, but The Talos Principle 2 demo started to shine when Croteam’s handcrafted puzzles combined these mechanics in exciting ways.
This puzzle complexity might make The Talos Principle 2 seem intimidating, and those feelings might be a exacerbated by the fact that the first game’s difficulty curve was exponential in the difficult direction. Croteam claims that’s not the case this time around. Each area of the game requires players to beat eight puzzles to progress. The eight main puzzles all slowly grow in complexity, but there are also some hidden puzzles players can find and complete that count toward progression. Players can also use Prometheus Sparks found while exploring to skip any puzzle they find particularly difficult and will earn puzzles back if they ever discover how to solve what they skipped.
While this sequel has been a long time coming, it seems worth the wait. Tons of exciting new ideas lend themselves to captivating puzzles, as the more lenient difficulty curve and relevant themes should entice players to stick around. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, you need to make sure you don’t miss out on playing this one before the year ends.
The Talos Principle 2 launches for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S later this year.