“What are we willing to fight for? What do we morally deserve? What is our place, our relationship to the universe, to nature?
While previewing the The Talos Principle 2 in August, series writer Jonas Kyratzes asked 19 questions about the nature of humanity in just 90 seconds. In between explaining new mechanics and puzzle systems, he rattled off deep thoughts about society and the natural world as easily as if he were reading his weekly grocery list. He felt as if these questions were constantly on his mind, ready at the tip of his tongue.
“What does society owe me?” he asked. “What do I owe society? What is our relationship with nature? What is our relationship to the universe? Is the universe kind? Is nature understanding or is it cruel and random? And if it’s cruel and random, where do we fit in? What level of control should we have?”
He didn’t want answers. The The Talos Principle 2 is full of similar provocations, and according to Kyratzes, they’re designed to spark conversation and debate, even if it’s all internal. The goal is to stimulate deep thought about the future of humanity and the role technology can play in our evolution.
“These are statements that are meant to make you think,” Kyratzes told Engadget a few weeks after the first preview. “Let’s say robots are human and capable of love. Like, that’s our assumption… Hopefully that’s also a thought-provoking thing.”
This philosophical approach to the future is the heart The Talos Principlethe award-winning sci-fi puzzle game that debuted in 2014 and its gentle curiosity is baked into the sequel. The Talos Principle 2 is released this year for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S and directly follows the story of the original. Set in a developing society built by sentient robots, its core game mechanics involve solving complex laser puzzles, interspersed with conversations about the nature of consciousness, love and survival.
Co-writer Verena Kyratzes didn’t work on the original game’s story, but she and the other Croteam developers used his calm, question-asking approach as a blueprint for the sequel.
“It didn’t just ask you a question, but once you answered the question, it very politely asked you to think about whether you were really sure about it,” she said. “It’s a game that’s constantly trying to make you think, question yourself and your beliefs, and I really hope we’ve done that in the second game. The subtlety of it is very important to me because I think when you talk to someone, if you just say, ‘That was stupid,’ they shut down immediately.”
The Talos Principle 2 presents an old-school brand of sci-fi that invites people to play with the ideas it presents; warm, cozy and slow. Even the show’s conclusion, if it offers one, is inherently optimistic, focusing on humanity and society’s ability to thrive with nature in the future. It’s a throwback to Carl Sagan’s era of progressive thinking that positions humans as the solution, not the instigator, to problems like climate change, overpopulation, rogue artificial intelligence, pandemics, and spaceflight. That in itself is a refreshing perspective in a sea of mainstream sci-fi media that envisions the future only as a bleak, sterile void created by society’s stubbornness and greed.
“Science fiction consistently presents itself as original for taking a dystopian view, as if subverting mainstream narratives of hope,” said Jonas Kyratzes. “They’ll be like, ‘In our the technology of the story is bad.” Oh, seriously, you mean like every other story?”
As a series, The Talos Principle is more thematically in line with the aspirational sci-fi of the original. Star Trek or The next generation than it is with the gloom of today Picard. This optimistic, human approach does The Talos Principle 2 subversive as a work of contemporary science fiction.
Here’s how Jonas Kyratzes and Verena Kyratzes discussed the modern excess of pessimistic science fiction with each other:
Jonas: “(Dystopia) is obviously on some level a reaction to the conditions in which we live. But it also limits our ability to imagine something else. And I think this kind of optimism, it’s so fundamental, it’s so fundamental in a way that it’s hard to talk about it, because what are we without a future? I think it also reflects our alienation from our own humanity. The tendency to always say, ‘Humanity is a virus, humanity is bad, all people are bad.’ Einstein once remarked that this is a very disturbing thing, a sign of alienation, because it is so essential to have a connection with humanity. Because you are human. … It’s the most mainstream idea, it’s the ruling ideology of our time: Nothing is going to get better, and you shouldn’t expect anything to get better.”
Verena: “Often we’ll be watching something that takes place 300, 400, 1,000 years in the future, but what they’re really talking about is something that is (current). They no longer imagine the future. They’re just talking about what’s upsetting them at the moment.’
Jonas: “Taking it into a utopian future gives you different ways to think about it, and a lot of science fiction now doesn’t. It’s like, here’s future racism, just like racism now. As if to say, nothing will change, nothing will get better, and nothing can. And it’s like, OK, great—why are we telling this story?
The Talos Principle 2 it will present distinctly humanistic ideas in NPC conversations and general story beats, but also leaves room for other conclusions. The game’s respect for the human race also extends to individual players, and the story will unfold in different ways depending on the choices each person makes and the interpretations they choose to follow. After all, diversity is humanity’s greatest asset.
There are also different levels of engagement with the narrative — for example, completing the game’s incredibly challenging golden puzzles unlocks a “significant story reward,” as Jonas Kyratzes puts it.
The Talos Principle 2 not necessarily a game O utopian science fiction; it just uses this direction as a backbone. The sequel takes the player from sterile, Myst– from testing grounds filled with wildly complex spatial puzzles to a clean, glowing city built by robots that act like humans and call themselves humans. Robots that feel like people. Robots, right feeldot.
“All these things that we’re all thinking about and arguing about will become part of this game and hopefully be reflected in the conversations inside this game,” Jonas Kyratzes said. “I hope it’s expressed as a story through characters that have personality. The game has all of these things, but it’s also a love story as much as anything else. A few love stories. They are in many ways intertwined love stories, that is the undercurrent that is very significant. The ability of sentient beings to love, even though they are robots.’
A number of questions arise from this assumption alone. The Talos Principle 2 invites players to test their own theories about consciousness, artificial intelligence, sustainability and love in a meditative space. It doesn’t promise answers, but maybe it will inspire players to ask different questions about the future of humanity, just like science fiction does.