Let’s take a look at the very promising Talos Principle by Croteam and see what this Paladin thought of its subject matter.
Take a listen to the soundtrack as you read the review.
A Paladin’s Review: The Talos Principle. This Review and The Game We Are Looking At Are Made of Words.
- Genre: Single Player First/Third Person Puzzler, Story Driven with Philosophical Topics.
- Developed & Published by: Croteam and Devolver Digital
- Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and PS4
- Business Model: Single Purchase + Expansion DLC
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Having played the entire gamut of the Serious Sam franchise, even the weird spin-offs, did not prepare me for the day I would play a game like The Talos Principle. Though on a side note, I’ve also been meaning to cover Serious Sam 3 at some point but haven’t gotten around to it. Still, I expected Serious Sam 4 to be next one published by Croteam as they had done a sort-of crowd funding campaign through a Humble Bundle. Instead, Croteam made this game to the surprise of many. A game that I have a lot of thoughts to talk about here. So, let’s get to it.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
The Talos Principle is a single player first person puzzle game that focuses on a philosophical heavy narrative and logic based trial and error puzzles. It combines stellar visuals, a relaxed soundtrack and great writing to create a compelling experience. You’ll get about 36 to 40 hours of content with the base game and DLC expansion combined. Which is a lot more time than I had expected to get. Though that will, of course, vary from player to player depending on how well they can solve these type of puzzles, whether they use guides to get through the game or pursue the bonus stars and hidden secrets. Like all good first person puzzle games, the temptation to use Internet guides can be hard to resist and there are some very good Steam Guides that’ll help the player along. If you enjoy this type of puzzle solving, I implore you to try and figure each puzzle out on your own. It’s a really rewarding experience, at least it was for myself, to solve a puzzle I had been stuck on for a while. However, it’s ultimately your choice.
The puzzle mechanics in The Talos Principle are logic based challenges where the player can see the goal and all the tools they have at their disposal from the beginning. With these tools, they must figure out the steps to eventually solve the puzzle by getting the player to the goal. The rooms are designed to obfuscate the solution both directly and indirectly while still remaining fair. This means that there’s no ultra-precision timing solutions or cheesy gimmicks that you have to deal with. I have heard of clever players finding solutions that may not have been intended by the developers but you won’t need to use them to progress forward. Each puzzle will have their own unique setup that’s indicated by the title which can also be a subtle hint its solution. Some of the later puzzles also contain another hint you can get from “messengers” (unlocked in the 3rd World) if you get truly stuck. All of the story puzzles must be solved in order to experience any of the three endings. Stars are required for the third ending. However, there’s only a limited amount of messengers and they’re locked behind their own puzzles. So, you’ll need to be careful with them if you manage to unlock any of them. The player is allowed to tackle the puzzles in any order they wish to do so. Though there will be some initial roadblocks to make sure you learn some mechanics first. Finally, all except a collection of puzzles, that are part of one of the endings, will give you an unlimited amount of time to figure them out. Which you will need.
Puzzles are contained within four thematic hub worlds. Each hub world has seven self-contained areas that the player teleports to with a varying number of puzzles in them. To keep track of what the player has accomplished, each of these worlds will have a sign in front of it telling the player how many sigils and stars still remain. There are several types of puzzles including story puzzles, hidden stars and sigil locks. Standard story puzzles are the “easiest” to solve and the meat of this game. Though when I say “easy”, I just mean they aren’t as difficult as the hidden stars. They are solvable but can take some figuring out. Or hair pulling. Self-contained within the room/area you’ll find them in, these puzzles are placed in large areas that often have multiple rooms, wide open spaces and more. The hidden stars are placed in hidden or out of reach areas that will require the player to explore the level, using completed puzzles, changing how you solved the puzzle originally or light platforming to acquire them. As such, these can be the trickiest to solve in the game. They will unlock even more challenging puzzles that, if solved, lead to a different ending in both the base game and DLC. They are, however, completely optional but I would recommend trying to get them even if they do twist your brain into knots.
Finally, there’s the sigil puzzles where, after acquiring a set, the player must arrange them on a 2D plane similar to Tetris. I liked this puzzle the first half a dozen times I encountered it but they do eventually get tiresome. Mostly because the variations between them are pretty minor and they take a non-insignificant amount of time to solve. There’s even a free Sigils of Elohim game on Steam where you can experience them in all their glory and even get rewards to unlock in TTP. But, I think they realized they had gone overboard with them because the Road to Gehenna DLC only has two of them. While the base game has over 30. That’s a few too many in my opinion. It was hard enough just getting the keys to these doors and the doors themselves now required the player to solve the puzzle? Ugh, that was just a little too much.
There was never any puzzle I truly disliked or thought “man, that was terribly designed”. Most of the time, it was just my own ineptitude that prevented me from solving it. Though I think star puzzles were just the developers being cruel to us mere mortals. I will admit that I used a guide a couple of times for story and star puzzles when I just couldn’t figure out a particular puzzle. Which led to me finding out that I missing a single step in my logic chain. Cue the expletives. Although there were a couple in Road to Gehenna that I was legitimately stuck on. Overall, I really enjoyed the puzzle design in this game and how unique every puzzle felt like, even though it only had a set amount of mechanics to work with. It always felt like a new challenge that I was gunhoe to tackle head on.
The Talos Principle Story
The Talos Principle has you greeted by an overlording voice that declares itself Elohim (or Serious Sam if you buy his DLC, which is ok and pretty light hearted) and you his child. He says that you are free to explore this world he has created for you to your hearts content and solve the challenges within it. He tasks you with finding the sigils of power which will prove to him your faith and he’ll grant you everlasting life. I must say, the actor does an excellent job of being a voice of “god”, especially considering he is the only voiced character in this title. After solving some initial tutorial puzzles that introduce you to the game’s mechanics, you’ll enter an impressive Greek structure and given freedom to tackle the puzzles in any order you wish. You’ll eventually be able to unlock the next world as you gather the required sigils and you’ll be able to see the three hub worlds and a tower that climbs as high as the clouds. However, Elohim warns you to stay away from the tower or else you will die.
The Talos Principle is an exploration of freedom, free choice, religion, personal beliefs, the meaning of life, hope, hopelessness, life, death and what has come before. So many different themes are brought up but remain consistent to this central theme that it’s trying to explore. It doesn’t force a particular moral. But it does ask the player to consider the themes it presents. It explores how strong your conviction is in your ideals and where those ideals may lead. This combines well with the puzzle and audio design which encourages the player to slow down and consider the puzzles both in the game and in life itself. There’s a subtlety to this game that makes it hard to describe without giving too much away. But I can say that how you respond will affect the narrative a little and the game will remember it. There’s a part in the game where it asks you a series of questions about those beliefs and gives a disturbingly accurate psych profile. Mine is below this paragraph and seeing the game say all of that about me, well, it took me aback. Granted, I’m sure these are questions used by professionals but still, this isn’t something I expect to see.
Throughout your exploration and puzzle solving, Elohim will talk to you about the world and be godly, in that vague sort of way that most gods seem to be like. Scattered throughout each world is a computer terminal which will eventually get you in contact with someone. Also placed around the world are QR-like codes that have a message from other characters in the story and yourself or anyone on your Steam friends that played this game. It’s similar to the White Sign Soapstone mechanic found in Dark Souls. However, unlike Dark Souls, these messages are predetermined by the developers and can’t be customized. The players can only choose from a list of messages are completely unhelpful to actually solving any of the puzzles. They do, however, add a little bit of personality to the world. Good luck finding some of mine, I kind of hid them. The other QR codes are by in-game characters which contain snippets from them talking about the world they find themselves in, whether doing these puzzles have any point, their successes and even their failures. Also scattered throughout the worlds are audio logs and text logs that talk about this digital world you find yourself in and hint at what happened to Humanity. It all combines together for a narrative that is thought-provoking and weighty without being boring or indulging in self-importance. An experience that is worth taking on.
Road to Gehenna DLC (Minor Spoilers)
Expansion to the original game, Road to Gehenna tackles a different storyline within the Talos Principle universe. This time, the player is in control of Uriel. A name that the player may have seen mentioned before in the original campaign. The events take place around the time that a process is about to begin. There have been some that have challenged Elohim’s authority in ways that he didn’t like. So, he locked them away in a place called Gehenna for their crimes, to never be free again. Unfortunately, Elohim made a mistake by doing so which he realizes now. But he can’t get them out of there. So, he pleads with Uriel to go and save those children from their prisons before the process begins. He will give Uriel as much time as he can (which is pretty much unlimited as far as the player is concerned) to free those who have been imprisoned. But it’ll come at a cost to Uriel.
Upon arriving in this new world, the player will find himself in a central hub surrounded by four hub worlds. As before, the player is free to pick and choose which puzzles they wish to take on and this time as there aren’t any locked sigil doors. Except for two optional doors that lead to more puzzles and a different ending. Elohim won’t talk to the player like he did in the base game which makes for a quieter experience I found. Instead, this time there is a community forum that can be accessed through the terminals. Which you’ll be given more and more access to as you free the community from its cells and participate in its discussions. While many of the same themes from TTP are here in Gehenna, the central focus seems to be on human socializing, online social media and how we interact with each other. There’s also discussion about art, creation, destruction and criticism. It makes for its own unique little subplot that I appreciated. Mostly because I saw so much of our current life being reflected back at me through it.
Road To Gehenna is definitely worth picking up and playing after playing the base game. It adds a substantial amount of game time for its price and features plenty of unique puzzles, challenging stars to acquire and more of what made TTP such a compelling experience. It is more of the same general idea and mechanics but put in a different way. The change of pace of using a forum was an interesting way to advance the plot as well as have mini-games and ASCII-art that was still relevant to the plot.
PC Settings and Video/Audio
TTP is built on the Serious Engine and contains a wealth of PC settings for the player to customize their experience. First selection of options is for motion sickness: mouse sensitivity and field of view sliders (FOV: 60-120), view bobbing on/off, preferred view (1st/3rd person) and adjusting the player’s movement speed. Keyboard and mouse options include raw input, invert look, mouse smoothing and mouse sensitivity as well as locking the camera to the horizontal plane. Keys can also be rebound for every single action. The Xbox controller and Steam controller are supported and work pretty well with the Xbox controller having quite a few layouts and customizability. Graphics options include the expected resolution options, different APIs to choose from, windowed/borderless and fullscreen, upscaling options to 4K or unlimited, MSAA 2-8X, V-Sync & triple buffering, screen width/height, color options and performance options. The performance options include default settings for the CPU/GPU as well as the ability to completely customize them. The GPU settings page here alone scrolls for a long while and I won’t list out every single option. But everything from texture filtering to lighting effects to shadows is all here and it’s an insane amount of choices. I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest list of options I’ve ever seen. Steam workshop support and a benchmark tool are in it as well. Game can be launched in either 32bit or 64bit. Sound options include sliders for master, effects and music volume. It’s extremely well optimized and I had no trouble getting it to run at 1080p 60FPS while running at ultra settings for the CPU and GPU. I didn’t notice much texture pop-in, poorly done textures or other visual glitches (outside of intentional visual glitches) that could ruin one’s experience. Outside of first starting the game and having the game sometimes take a while to load textures. All in all, an impressive amount of options.
All of these puzzles in the base game are handled in three hub worlds and a massive tower. The three hub worlds feature their own unique environments and music. There’s a Roman Catholic styled architecture world, a Roman era world, lands of ice and mountaintops and, of course, an Egyptian world in addition to a few secret areas. The tower stands on a very desolate snow and ice world and goes into the very clouds itself. The DLC’s four world hubs reuse the same styles of the base game’s worlds but with their own unique layout. Each environment is absolutely gorgeous to look at. I can’t help but think that the Talos Principle may have been crafted just to show off what the Serious Engine can do when when it’s not about blowing up aliens trying to invade the earth. The soundtrack is a relaxing yet haunting orchestra that fits the visual design of the place you’re visiting. The audio design is further complemented with atmospheric touches to draw the player in.
The Talos Principle is one of my favorite puzzle games of all time. The puzzles are very well designed, challenging yet don’t depend on gimmicky mechanics to be hard. The philosophical, religious and social commentary on past and present culture is handled very well to show multiple points of views without being overbearing in any particular way. I think what I find even more impressive for myself is that I didn’t find the 36 hours I played to get boring. I have never enjoyed a premise, game mechanics as a whole or the entire pacing of the game as much as I have for The Talos Principle. During the 36 hours I spent, never once did I want it to simply end and be done with. Each new puzzle felt unique and had a reason to exist beyond simply being iterative design. The music and atmosphere combine to encourage the players to slow down and contemplate the challenge in front of them. What’s even more impressive is that the game mechanics and story compliment each other really well. The visuals are stunning, showcasing Roman, Greek and Egyptian architecture and beautiful worlds to explore. Even at the end of the long journey through TTP, I still want more puzzles to solve, more philosophical discussion to ponder and ideas to challenge. I still want more and yet if this is all that will come from TTP, I am satisfied with the experience I had. It’s so rare to have that kind of feeling about a game. This is one of the few rare gems in gaming that I get to experience and I definitely recommend it.