The Witness is an awesome game, and one that I’m still thinking about, even when I’m not playing it. I keep wanting to go back and solve more of those deviously clever line puzzles!
Yes, what you’ve heard about The Witness is true. The entirety of the gameplay revolves around exploring a mysterious island and interacting with various line puzzles. Before I played it, I was unsure that this single mechanic would stretch over multiple hours and an entire video game world. Boy, was I wrong! While the basic concept is very simple, (start in the big circle, and end in the little notch) the variations on the theme are numerous and some are very challenging.
Take the example above, from fairly early in the game. This is one of the first ‘twists’ on the formula that you come across. Can you tell what the black and white squares mean? I was impressed not only by the sheer range of line puzzle types, but also with the ability of the designers to teach the player how to solve the puzzles. They are broken down into the smallest digestible pieces in ‘learning sequences’ like the one above. Each puzzle from left to right builds on the one prior. By the end of this row of puzzles, you’ve got a good grasp on what the symbols mean. You need to draw the line so that all the black symbols are separated from the white symbols.
Without getting too spoilery with more of the puzzle types, I’ll just say that there are a lot of them. Some of them also involve symbols like the example above. Some of them require you to examine or interact with the environment around the puzzles. Many are a combination of previously learned techniques. Sometimes you might run across a puzzle and have no idea how to solve it. That’s ok, you just don’t have the right tools yet.
Allow me too make a cross-genre comparison: Metroidvania games reward exploration by granting you in-game items to power up your character and allow you to reach new areas. The ice beam or the power bomb in Metroid open up previously inaccessible pathways and unlock new secrets. The Witness does something similar, but instead of granting you items in the game world, it grants you the player with knowledge to unlock the doors you saw earlier. By teaching you what the symbols mean, you get more powerful. It was a super cool feeling knowing that this game that I was interacting with was actually changing me as a person and creating new neural pathways in my brain.
All in all, I highly recommend The Witness, especially if you’re into puzzle games and games that make you think. Also, it’s just really pretty to walk around in.