Impressions | The Talos Principle II

Sparks of Hope

A week back I had the chance to have a first look at Croteam’s upcoming ‘The Talos Principle II’, the sequel to their well-beloved original from 9 years back. Up to ‘The Talos Principle’, Croteam had been known for their fast-paced and hectic first-person shooter series ‘Serious Sam’, games that would pit one (or many a) player against an alien horde controlled by the vicious Mental, who has yet to be seen in any game. They are a bloody, crude and rude set of games that are a lot of fun, especially when you have your full arsenal of all kinds of weapons.

So when the company shifted to the somber, slower-paced puzzler with a focus on asking questions about the individual and what your beliefs. Between mind-crunching puzzles and an inquisitive snake of an AI chastising you slowly but surely, The Talos Principle was a fairly large change of pace from Croteam—and it paid off wonders, quickly becoming beloved among gamers for its strong writing and excellent puzzle mechanics.

Now what comes after may contain spoilers for the first game. If you haven’t played The Talos Principle and intend to, simply skip over the little snippet below. Otherwise, let’s dig deeper into greater society with The Talos Principle II.

The Light Blinds

(CLICK FOR SPOILERS) Story beats regarding The Talos Principle and The Talos Principle II

The Talos Principle II picks off after the first, set some hundreds of years later in an android utopia. You are the thousandth created ‘human’ (really just an android), a special one really. You are the final one as your society has almost unilaterally agreed upon. As you know, the events of the original game took place in a simulation that had been running for many, many years after the collapse of humanity. If you don’t remember, worsening climate change revealed a virus strain embedded within the Earth’s permafrost that virulent to humans and in turn wiped them out. The simulation was built to find a suitable successor for life after the disaster, but efforts to find said successor were hampered by the simulation’s AI which believed life outside to be dangerous. But I digress.

As the thousandth unit, you are the last one that will ever be created. Some of your fellow androids believe this to be right, terrified of the destruction wrought by humanity before. But others believe this to be terribly restrictive limit and hampering to their growth as a species. This also stretches to how far out the androids should explore their world, with many believing their utopian city to be as good as anyone should want it to be.

But anywho, shortly after your birth an unknown figure clouds the sky, beckoning all before it to come to an island that has long sat idle. Some talks after, you agree to go on an expedition with some of your fellow humans to explore this new world and find the meaning behind its creation.

When I first saw The Talos Principle II, I was immediately blown away by the scale of the world. Croteam is no stranger to big worlds and baddies, but even the original Talos was fairly small in nature. Outside of the central tower, puzzle rooms were fairly tiny in scope and sectioned off. Heck, remove all the barriers set up for those rooms and they wouldn’t look that far off from a Serious Sam level, visual and level structure-wise.

We were joined by some of Croteam’s developers as well as lead writer Jonas Kyratzes and co-writer Verena Kyratzes as they dabbled in Talos II’s explorable hub as well as some of the game’s puzzle mechanics. This is the company’s first game to use Unreal Engine 5, a shift from their internal Serious Engine that has powered their titles for well over 20 years and the improvements to lighting are immediately apparent. The explorable android city, dubbed New Jerusalem, is a beautiful dome structure that lives in nature while appearing technologically advanced, its structures resembling those of modern day Qatar and Emirate buildings.

Jonas was keen to explain the world of Talos II, explaining the reasoning behind the design of the city, its inhabitants, as well as game mechanics and how they don’t simply exist in a vacuum for gameplay. And for players that explore New Jerusalem, they’ll find conversations to be had and a society struggling to figure out its future, opting to be as conservative to life as one can be. Once players venture out with their entourage, they’ll still be able to interact with society back home in the form of in-game social media of sorts.

There is a good chunk of lore that The Talos Principle II ultimately leaves for the player to explore on their own. Otherwise, you can progress through the game’s main narrative and the multiple story endings that can come from your choices.

Puzzles Abound

Moving past the city and going into the expedition, this is where all the action takes place. By action, I of course mean puzzle solving. Just like the first game, this new island houses many, many puzzles that need to be solved to advance this large tower that stands before you and your crew. Similar and new concepts rest in sections of each level, with one of the first new mechanics being an RGB light converter needed to open particular rooms in a puzzle.

Some other mechanics include the driller, essentially a portal creating device that can be used on bronze-coloured walls to reveal what would be otherwise locked areas of a puzzle. There’s clones, bodies that sit lying around that you can transfer your conscience to, the ‘accumolator’ which stores charges, ‘activators’ and a few more mechanics that expand on the kind of puzzle design fans of the first game have come to love.

The team also explained to us their design philosophy for the Talos II and how it introduces players to its puzzles. As players progressed through the original game, they would be faced with puzzles that would ramp up in difficulty—to the point that many players struggled to complete later portions of the game or at all. In Talos II, Croteam has opted to stagger puzzle difficulty over the course of a level, easing players into puzzle design and expectations set for that level while still offering the brain-bending puzzles like its predecessor.

In The Talos Principle II, players will need to complete a select number of puzzles to advance to the next level. Every level will have a secret puzzle that acts as a back up in the event a player needs to complete just one more puzzle but can’t quite complete the others. And a new ‘spark’ system helps players push past some difficult puzzles—all over the island you’ll be able to find sparks and use them in puzzle rooms to complete the puzzle. The spark will then sit on the puzzle completion chamber and, should players choose to attempt that puzzle and complete it, they can collect that spark and reuse it for future levels.

Do Not Let Yourself Be Mislead By Doubt

Croteam’s developers were eager to show off their work on Talos II and Jonas was there every step of the way to ground what we were seeing to post-apocalyptic world. These puzzles were just like the ones in the simulation, but now they’re actually out in the real world. Why are they here? What is the purpose of these puzzles and who built them? Why are there replica bodies lying in wait and fully compatible with their systems?

I mirror that excitement the team had demonstrating this game for us. Clearly this is their biggest project yet, offering new exploration mechanics and narrative hooks as well as building on the first game’s excellent puzzle design. There’s narrative context to everything in this game and I find myself intrigued by the world just as much as I was with the first game. How that first game made me feel so alone still resonates with me to this day, amplified by Damjam Mravunac’s scores of haunting faux chanting and low-beat electonica. Colour me excited.

We were also told this game could clock at about 20 or so hours of playtime and that colourblind accessibility settings would be coming to the game with the development team working on that ahead of launch.

The Talos Principle II is scheduled to launch sometime this year for Xbox Series consoles, but no hard date has been given. Til then, why not play The Talos Principle? It’s available on Xbox along with the ‘Road to Gehenna’ DLC. While you won’t need to play that to fully enjoy the sequel, there are references you could miss out on—and personally I think that’d be a shame considering it’s such a great game. ∎

Genghis "Solidus Kraken" Husameddin

I like video games, both old and new. Nice 'ta meetcha!

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