The Talos Principle II Hands-On Preview – A Thought-Provoking Puzzler

Machine yearning...

If there’s one thing this most recent quarter has taught me it’s that I definitely have a penchant for puzzling games. Viewfinder challenged my perception, Cocoon had me leaping between worlds with logic-defying riddles, and now The Talos Principle II aims to perplex and put logic to the test while placing focus on the legacy of man, which is one left behind to a community of machines in a post extinction landscape.

As someone who never did play the first game, cursory research indicates that Croteam hasn’t upturned the formula with this sequel, instead they’ve chosen to double down on the atmosphere, sense of place, and grand existential quandaries that made the first game such a pleasant surprise from the team that delivered the chronically unserious Serious Sam games. 

The Talos Principle II picks up where the first game leaves off, ushering the graduates from its virtual world into a real world where human influence is historic. You wake from a slumber, the one-thousandth robot created for a small society built to give permanence and unending glory to humanity’s legacy. Throughout the game’s introductory levels, the island’s mysterious megastructure serves as the big lure for the player—with the hands-on portion I experienced cutting tantalisingly short of making it inside.

While I’m certainly intrigued by the intelligent, cerebral ponderings the game posits, I am not the biggest fan of the travelling band of droids that prattle exposition like their metal hide depends on it, even if the philosophical chatter within the surprisingly in-depth dialogue trees is engaging. I just hope they grow on me, or else I fear the juice of the Talos narrative, so to speak, mightn’t be worth the squeeze. 

Clearly mind-bending puzzles are the game’s bread and butter, and I was consistently stumped by the challenges in this six or seven hour prologue of sorts. And that’s without dipping a toe into the gold medal and meta challenges that loom within the game’s vast island playground. Unlike the contiguous challenge rooms of Portal’s triumphant facility, the island society of Talos lets you freely explore its beautiful, although seemingly barren, play space, sauntering in and out of its brain breaking, clearly signposted escape rooms at will.

While this creates a slightly less focused story experience, I appreciated the freedom to come and go as more than a couple of solutions eluded me at first, only for the eureka moment to hit me while half a sector away and prompt a swift jog back to lock all of the moving pieces into place. 

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Like any good puzzle game, The Talos Principle II not only constantly introduces brand new elements to factor into the problem-solving, but it sets unbendable rules and laws in place. I never felt as though any problem in the demo was unfair, in fact they were often more simple than face value suggested. 

As with the first game, there is an almost overwhelming cabinet of tools at your disposal. The aim within each individual task is to gain passage to a terminal that holds a piece of a larger key, all in support of the ultimate goal of making it within the megastructure to sop up all of the knowledge it supposedly conceals. To do this, you’ll need to divert power from a source point to the lock safeguarding the terminal. Of course, the path through is never a straight line, with walls and exclusion fields making it a challenge of geometry more than anything, and so portable connectors, signal jammers, and converters must be used to join the dots, so to speak.

By introducing anti-gravity fields to the already returning hexahedrons, players must also now consider the vertical space used in solving puzzles, along with still thinking six moves ahead a lot of the time. Although I didn’t glimpse the mechanic in the demo provided, there’s also a mind transference hook that gets introduced at some stage which, in theory, sounds similar to the playback mechanic found in the first game. Needless to say, I expect The Talos Principle II to reach some buckwild and utterly confusing places in the full game.

If nothing else, this hands-on has made me want to go back and experience what I’ve always heard is a sorely underrated game in The Talos Principle. This sequel seems to certainly up the ante, fine-tuning the mechanics and core ideas that made the first such a satisfying puzzle game while framing it all within a compelling, philosophical narrative that is sure to instill existential dread, inspiration, and melancholy for the the impermanence of the human condition and the meaning of legacy.

The Talos Principle II launches on November 3rd for PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC. Find out more here.