It was 6:30 in the morning, and I was capital-S Stuck. I’d breezed through every other puzzle in this area, but I was one step short of a solution here, and it was driving me insane. I finally decided that I needed to go to bed – but as I was brushing my teeth, I suddenly realized the answer, and rushed back to my computer once again. The Talos Principle 2 is full of moments like this, making you feel like Tom Hanks creating fire in Cast Away every time you solve a particularly challenging level. This is a truly incredible puzzle game, but what stuck with me long after the puzzles were the philosophical questions The Talos Principle 2 explores and the story it told alongside them. When the credits finally rolled, I found myself deeply moved, and I’ll be thinking about both that ending and that breakthrough moment for a long time to come.
I’ll try to keep things as spoiler-free as I can here, but it’s impossible to discuss The Talos Principle 2 without talking about the original. This sequel interestingly decides to pick up thousands of years after the events of the first game. The android at the end of the original Talos Principle, now known as Athena, has created several other androids, and together they built the city of New Jerusalem. While Athena has since gone missing, the androids of New Jerusalem (who consider themselves human) have collectively worked toward fulfilling The Goal: the completion of 1,000 new humans – and you step into the shoes of 1k, the 1,000th and final one.
The tantalizing story quickly sends you on an expedition to an intriguing island in the face of an impending energy shortage, complete with a colossal pyramid they call the Megastructure and lots of clever puzzles to solve, and things only get more interesting from there. You don’t need to have played the original Talos Principle to understand what’s going on, though it will definitely help as there’s a lot to take in. But once the intro is over, the goal is simple: Solve enough puzzles to activate three towers in the region you’re in (each of which is sub-divided into three smaller islands), which will then grant access to the Megastructure, where you’ll solve even more puzzles to unlock the next of the four total regions.
Solving the puzzles themselves is pretty simple in theory; you can run, jump, and interact with the objects scattered throughout the world or puzzles, be that a Connector to hook together devices, a hexahedron (AKA: a box) to hold down a Pressure Plate, or a computer terminal full of information for you to read. There’s no combat in The Talos Principle 2, and your actions are fairly limited, so the challenge comes from all the devious ways you’ll need to guide 1k to a specific, puzzle-ending pedestal in each area.
Move a block close to a ledge, and you’ll be able to jump on the block and then jump to the ledge. Use a Connector, and you’ll be able to link an Emitter to a Receiver via laser in order to do things like open a door or turn on a Fan. Again, all of this sounds simple, but it’s anything but in practice. The Receiver you need to connect that laser to might be behind a force field door, for instance, or separated by a laser-blocking fence. Or maybe you’ll suddenly realize you don’t even have the right color laser that specific Receiver requires. Perhaps you need to activate a Pressure Plate to use part of the puzzle, and there’s no immediate means of doing so besides standing on it, or maybe the entire puzzle hinges on flipping a switch to turn on a Fan or open a door, but doing so closes off another area you still need access to.
Every puzzle in The Talos Principle 2 feels like you’re just missing one more item – a Connector, a hexahedron, a Fan, a Drill, a Teleporter, and so on – in order to solve it… right up until you solve it without that, and then the answer feels completely obvious. These puzzles do the thing every puzzle in a game like this should: Make you feel incredibly dumb, then like the smartest person alive, then incredibly dumb again in the span of a few minutes. Some puzzles I breezed through. Some I only solved because of their level name. Some I struggled with, only to return and solve easily later. Some I never solved at all. But I always felt like I was just one moment of understanding away. All the pieces matter.
The Talos Principle 2 Gameplay Screenshots
When I got stuck, I often found it helpful to go try another puzzle that forced me to examine both the scenario and my tools in a new way. In one example, I got stuck on a section of a puzzle that required me to use an Anti-Gravity Wall, which allows you to walk on the walls and ceiling or pin items to them in ways that defy gravity. I’d only seen them a couple times and simply forgot how they worked, so I left that puzzle and went to another one. This time, the anti-gravity wall was the first part of the equation. Because I couldn’t do anything else, I walked up to it and got a prompt to use it. I solved that puzzle easily, and then went back and solved the previous one just as fast. Every island in The Talos Principle is smartly designed; even if you’re stuck, wandering into any given puzzle will probably give you a clue as to what you need to do in another one.
The only downside of The Talos Principle 2’s construction is that each island is rather limited, containing only eight Main Puzzles and two hidden Lost Puzzles. You need to do some combination of eight total to activate that island’s tower, but generally you’ll have access to more than one island at a time. That means you’ll rarely be in a position where you can’t progress even when you’re stuck on multiple puzzles, though it can happen if you’re unlucky, forcing you to go back to puzzles you may have no idea how to solve.
If you’re really in a dire spot, you can find Sparks Prometheus has hidden around the islands that will “clear” a puzzle without solving, but even these come at a cost: While Sparks are reusable, you don’t get one back until you solve the puzzle you spent it on. This means it’s often better to push through and solve a puzzle you feel close to finishing rather than one you genuinely have no idea how to do. They’re also hard to find – I only stumbled across three during my entire playthrough, though there’s no way to be sure of exactly how many there are or what island they’re on, which feels lousy if you’re well and truly stumped and just want to move on. I like the concept, and I certainly made use of each and every one of the three Sparks I found, but I wish I had a better idea of how many were potentially available to me and a general idea of where to look for them.
Between each puzzle, you’ll walk around the various islands, explore the Megastructure, and in some cases, cruise New Jerusalem. This is where The Talos Principle 2 really comes alive. By far the most complicated things are the monuments dedicated to various mythological figures who appear in the story. Sphinx Monuments give you more puzzles to solve; Pandora Monuments task you with guiding lasers to them from seemingly unrelated puzzles; and Prometheus Monuments involve finding flying sparks hidden throughout the world and following them back to the monument. These are real brain teasers meant for the diehard puzzlers among us – I only managed to solve a few Prometheus Monuments and one Pandora Monument, but all three are a nice break from the standard puzzles that provide ample challenge while encouraging you to get off the beaten path.
Exploration has other rewards, too. Like its predecessor, The Talos Principle 2 is steeped in real-world philosophy, and you can find it in the databanks scattered throughout the world if you look closely. You’ll read thought-provoking excerpts from thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, Straton of Strageira (whose theories inspired The Talos Principle’s name), and G.K. Chesterton, as well as poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson. These real-world texts are entertainingly interwoven with in-universe audio logs about John Carpenter, emails, poetry, diary entries written by Athena, and research notes from ancient humans, along with long-abandoned labs that hold some of the clues to unraveling the Megastructure and the puzzles surrounding it. The Monuments are great, but these extras are what I spent most of my time hunting down. The different areas are both huge and utterly gorgeous, so there’s plenty to find and even more to explore, and all of it adds to the complex and compelling themes The Talos Principle 2 is grappling with.
See, The Talos Principle is interested in the big questions. What do we owe one another? What responsibility do we have to the planet and the animals that inhabit it? What or who should we have faith in? How do we deal with grief and trauma? Do we have a duty to multiply and spread consciousness, or should we be humble and seek balance? And it continues to explore the core theme from the original: what does it mean to be human? The Talos Principle 2 definitely has preferred answers to some of these questions, but it interrogates all of them honestly and with an open mind, and how you respond to these questions – and the point of view you adopt by doing so – determines how both other characters see you and what happens in the story.
While the original Talos Principle was largely a pretty solitary affair, 1k is accompanied by several friends. Byron is one of the oldest of the new humans, and an advocate for growth and exploration; Melville is the grumpy mechanic tasked with keeping everything working or getting the new things you’ll discover up and running; Alcatraz is the by-the-book, level-headed second-in-command who serves as the Fun Police; and Yaqut is your inquisitive pilot. It’s a fun group, and each offers a compelling perspective on what’s happening around you
You’ll talk with these characters a lot, both about what’s going on around you and the questions those events raise, and depending on how you interact with them, you might convince them to adopt your point of view. By the end, Yaqut and Melville had both more or less shifted their perspective toward what I believed through conversation alone. Alcatraz never quite got there, but he was definitely more open to some ideas than he was in the beginning. The characters are well-written and acted, and these changes are both gradual and natural, so they feel believable. I’m curious to see what would have happened had I chosen different options.
Some elements of the plot are, admittedly, predictable. Some twists I expected; others surprised me. Part of it was because I spent so much time exploring. Once I found a pretty easy-to-miss excerpt from Tennyson’s Ulysses, which happens to be my favorite poem, I had a pretty good inkling of the actual answers to the questions I had been chasing. Even with that knowledge, however, the story was always compelling and surprising enough to keep me invested.
If I have one major complaint, it actually has to do with the endgame puzzles. Largely, the puzzles in The Talos Principle 2 are excellent. For most of its runtime, it builds smartly on itself, introducing new ideas and items to keep puzzles interesting and then iterating on them in surprising ways. My favorite new item was the Teleporter: Normally, you have to put an item down to use a ladder, and there’s no way to send something — a laser beam, item, or anything else — through walls, across large gaps, or through the purple gates that prevent you from moving items through them. An entire early section reinforces these rules and makes sure you learn to play around them… until you get the Teleporter. As long as you can see a Teleporter directly, you can teleport to it immediately, even while holding an item.
As you can imagine, this breaks things wide open, allowing for some of the most creative and enjoyable puzzles available. Ditto for items like the Drill, which lets you open holes through walls Portal-style and pass through laser beams and items, or the Activator, which can power any item, including other Activators, provided it has power itself. It’s a shame, then, that endgame puzzles in general, and the last island before your final venture inside the Megastructure specifically, discard most of these new tools to focus on many of the older, simpler ones.
I understand the idea: These puzzles serve as a final test, requiring you to prove your mastery over the systems using only a few tools. The issue is that it’s a little boring to go back to Connectors and Jammers after getting to play with so many cool toys. On top of that, the jump in difficulty from the previous islands isn’t so much a curve as it is a vertical line going straight up. I went from being able to solve five or six puzzles on my first try to barely managing to beat one, and then grinding out five more through sheer determination. If I hadn’t had three Sparks, I may still be stuck on that final island, utterly perplexed… which is even more odd because the puzzles in the finale just after it are both more creative and fun while being substantially easier.
It’s a whiplash of difficulty, and while it didn’t do much to dim how bright The Talos Principle 2’s light otherwise is, it was weird. I also wish you could go back to any remaining puzzles after finishing the story; there is a story reason why you can’t, and there’s a well-marked “point of no return,” but as someone who completed 95% of the Main Puzzles and 50% of the Lost Puzzles, I wish I didn’t have to replay the entire 30-hour campaign to see what I missed.
The other main issue I had was crashing. The Talos Principle 2 crashed on me pretty frequently, generally when under heavy load — traveling very fast, loading an impressive area, or when saving. Mostly, this wasn’t a big deal as autosaves are generous. Once, however, while exploring one of the labs, it crashed on me, and when I loaded back in, I was outside the environment with no reasonable way to get back. When I died, I was inevitably respawned outside of the environment again. Thankfully, I managed to die in such a way that spawned me back in the lab, but I almost lost all my progress up until that point, which is scary because there are no backup saves.
The other time it really became an issue was during the endgame. The last few puzzles are essentially one long gauntlet, and finishing one section allows you to progress to the next. Often, The Talos Principle 2 would crash while I was in the middle of that gauntlet, and there was no autosaving between each section, so I’d have to start over from the start. I was only able to finish it through persistence and sheer luck because one run just decided not to crash. These issues were rarely game-breaking outside of that final stretch, but they did add a bit of undue stress.
But even that wet blanket couldn’t put a damper on how much I loved The Talos Principle 2’s ending. I’ve found at least three endings so far, but the first one I got still feels the most “right” to me. Aside from being beautiful, it was the ending I got because I believed certain things philosophically and made choices that led to that outcome. It felt like something I built myself through the choices I made.