The Witness is the latest game from Jonathan Blow who designed the hit game Braid. Even though it is somewhat more conventional in a sense, the game is as every bit as unique. With that said, what makes the Witness stand out for some is the very same thing that can drive you away.
The Witness opens up with little fanfare, as you find yourself alone on an island. There are no clues, cutscenes, dialogue or tutorials to help you. You’ll come across a number of puzzles tied to machinery as you explore.
Solving them will either turn something on or reroute power to somewhere else. As you explore, you’ll find clues as to what’s going on and just where are you in the world.
And that’s basically it in terms of the story of The Witness, but you’re here for the puzzles, which the game has in spades.
The Witness features a different kind of puzzle design compared to other titles. Each puzzle is based on the same premise: You need to draw a line from a start point to an end one. The game introduces new rules that are layered on top of that basic setup.
Puzzles with black dots on the path means that your line has to connect through them. All the rules for The Witness are arbitrary conditions that you must abide by to complete the puzzle.
The other point of exploring is to find areas that explain what the rules are for each condition.
After the opening, the island becomes mostly accessible; allowing you to discover things on your own. A lot of the game’s secrets are going to take some doing to uncover.
The Witness tries to be both deep and simple in its design, and that kind of thinking is what makes it so polarizing.
The Witness is not like other puzzle/adventure games on the market due to its one puzzle design. Most games will either add in new rules or situations to expand a puzzle, or have different puzzle types to keep things varied.
Despite the different conditions, the puzzle solving is all built on one puzzle. The challenge of the game comes not from growing your understanding or thought process, but finding out just what the game wants you to do with each condition.
A good counter-example would be The Talos Principle, and how the game introduced new rules and mechanics to keep the puzzles from becoming stale. The game clearly explains the rules and functionality to the player. The basic items are then used in different solutions requiring the player to change their thinking.
With the Witness, the challenge is about understanding the rules. If you can’t figure out one rule on your own, you won’t have any hope of beating the game.
The problem with The Witness is that it can be hard to be motivated to keep playing the game due to the repetitive nature. With that said, this was not by accident; you can tell that every corner of the island was handcrafted.
Unfortunately, the island itself is just a wrapper and doesn’t offer anything but the beautiful landscape and some very specific environmental puzzles. Since each puzzle is based on the same foundation, you can’t just go do something else if you get stumped. Due to the minimalist design, it’s also possible to not understand the rules behind each condition.
At one point I couldn’t see the difference between the right and wrong solutions; making it impossible for me to move forward without looking up a FAQ. There are no in-game hints to help if you get stuck on a puzzle.
The issue with The Witness is that I don’t feel like I’m growing in terms of learning new rules or new ways to solve these puzzles that lead to creative thinking. Instead, it feels like I’m jumping through arbitrary hoops by the designer until I get through one set of conditions, then jump through something else.
The Witness is one of the most polarizing games from the puzzle genre I’ve played yet. This is one those games that you will either play to the end or stop within the first hour. I’m curious about what you think regarding the Witness for those who have played it. Despite enjoying unique puzzle games like The Talos Principle and The Swapper, this is one mystery that is going to remain unsolved for me.
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