I had a moment during the first few hours of The Talos Principle 2 where I felt like the ancient gods who underpin its narrative. I could not put a foot wrong; a first-person puzzle-solving genius, shuttling between this particular section's series of brain-breaking set-pieces like a man possessed, rerouting piercing laser beams, kickstarting electric power sources, and planting my feet on more glowing floor tiles than Michael Jackson in the Billie Jean video.
Release date: November 2, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Devolver Digital
The main reason for my conundrum-conquering competence in this instance was simple: The Talos Principle 2 has one of the best-designed and well-executed learning curves that I've ever experienced in any video game. That's especially important for the puzzle game genre, of course, but games of all other walks of life would do well to echo The Talos Principle 2's masterful pacing and learn-by-doing (and failing) makeup. Once you get into the swing of its teachings, something clicks, and that wonderful sense of assuredness pushes you deeper into its increasingly challenging quandaries.
As the title suggests, The Talos Principle 2 is a sequel, but it's one that's been a long time coming. The original Talos game has since landed on mobile, PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and Nintendo Switch, but it made its PC debut way back in 2014. A lot has changed since – in video games, in the puzzle genre, and indeed, in the world – but developer Croteam has not lost its knack for what it clearly does best in the interim.
Reading the above back, I realize my in-game example sounds boastful. Look at me, puzzle wizard, I'm so good at this game, I'm so intelligent. But anyone with even a passing interest in puzzle games will know that behind every success lies a lot of failure. The Talos Principle 2 is no different in this regard, but how it handles these peaks and troughs of player confidence and reticence is where it shines. The best puzzle games are the ones that can make you feel silly one moment, and then raise you up so high that you feel like you could conquer the world the next. The very best of these games let you ride that wave of euphoria for a little while – a la the above hot streak scenario – before bringing you right back down to earth with a crash in the form of a bastard-hard brain-teaser.
The first time this happened to me proper was a few hours into The Talos Principle 2's 20-or-so-hour playtime. Without spoiling its narrative beats – this time bigger, more thoughtful, and more heavily influenced by its philosophical and mythological themes – the gist of the game sees you steering a robot humanoid around a series of bygone UK game show The Krypton Factor-like puzzle rooms, each of which demands a specific sequence of item placement to unlock an end goal. In doing so, 'jammers' suspend laser-powered gateways, 'connectors' relay color-coded light beams in different directions, and 'drillers' bore Portal-like holes in metal surfaces, to name but some of the tools you'll use on the road to success.
And so my first earth-crashing fall from grace occurred a few hours into proceedings. After completing all eight core puzzles in the early-doors Grassland Ring zone, I'd moved onto the heavily forested Wooded Plateau, and had progressed to the area's sixth puzzle room, 'Passage', with little resistance. Here, I was made to move around the level by way of ladders, and an industrial fan whose blowing current elevated me to higher platforms – each of which was guarded by a laser gateway that prevented me taking equipment into and out of these spaces freely.
The solution here involved moving each item around in a very specific order, in something that mirrored The Crystal Maze-meets-that seesaw riddle Captain Holt shares with the team in Season 2 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Without visual aid, I appreciate this is hard to fathom, but know that I spent a full hour banging my head against the proverbial wall while striving to work out how I'd get this over there. I eventually did get there, but my pride took a huge hit in the process, because this failure came just as I was hitting a rhythm and just as I thought I was beginning to work The Talos Principle 2 out.
I became even less sure of myself shortly afterwards, when in the puzzle room, 'Seesaw', I solved the set-piece not by wits, but by climbing onto a wall and hopping over a laser barrier. I'm still unsure if this was the intended method for success or not, although I'm pretty sure I cheated my way to glory in this instance.
All of which is full credit to Croteam. The way The Talos Principle 2 weaves you around its drop-dead gorgeous, open-ended settings feels effortless, and its ability to keep you guessing – questioning your in-game place in the world, and your real-life intelligence – is nothing short of masterful.
The game's New Jerusalem central hub is brimming with narrative vignettes that'll broaden your understanding of the hands-on time spent cracking its conundrums, while its beautiful out-in-the-wild sprawls are fascinating areas to explore. Whether you rattle through each zone's Main Puzzles, or get sidetracked by its optional Lost Puzzles, Gold Puzzles, and Lost Lab discoveries is up to you, but there's enough to keep completionists and newcomers to the genre alike on their toes. Likely aimed more at the latter crowd, each puzzle room contains a 'Prometheus Terminal' which lets you use tokens to bypass the most challenging set pieces – but, again, The Talos Principle 2's expert learning curve will coax you into trying again and again and again, before reaching for these devices. There's no judgment here, but I guarantee you'll feel better yourself when you finally solve the sequence that's stolen your time and sanity for longer than you care to admit.
We've rightly hailed the horror genre's perceived renaissance in recent times, but the puzzle game spectrum is in great shape at the moment too. In the last 18 months, we only need to look at Viewfinder, Unpacking, and what we've seen so far of Islands of Insight to appreciate just how well the puzzle genre is doing in the here and now – but since the original Talos Principle graced our desktops back in 2014, we've seen everything from Inside to Return of the Obra Dinn, The Witness, Baba is You, Opus Magnum, and the Outer Wilds wow us with their intelligent and thoughtful problem-solving. This sequel brings Croteam back to the top of that table, where it's more than earned its place.
The Talos Principle 2, then, is a puzzle game masterpiece that knows exactly what it is, boasting a masterful learning curve that'll keep you coming back for more and more. Through all of this, The Talos Principle 2 is one of the best puzzle games of all time – I just hope we're not kept waiting another nine years for more of the same.
The Talos Principle 2 was reviewed on PC, with code provided by the publisher.