Whether you feel that The Witness is slightly or enormously pretentious, three things are undeniable: It contains a lot of puzzles, it’s lovely to look at, and it’s the Epic Games Store’s new fortnightly giveaway. Developed by Jonathan Blow’s (Braid) studio Thekla, it’s part Myst, part jumbo puzzle book. In the game, your sole method of interaction with its lovely landscapes is to draw lines, mostly on strange high-tech signs, featuring unwritten rules that must be wordlessly intuited. You can grab the game here, and see a trailer and some thoughts below.
There’s been a lot said about it since the game’s release. Mostly positive, like Richard Moss’s The Witness review. Alex Wiltshire had some erudite things to say about how the game teaches its systems wordlessly through trial, error and intuition. More recently, Cian Maher had some deep thoughts on the overall message of the game, whether it respects the player’s time and some very spoilery things on the ending, so you should probably just play it first if you’ve not already. Personally, I tapped out after a few hours and watched more puzzle-oriented friends solve things that made my brain bubble.
Still, even if I failed to conquer the mountain of scribbling that is The Witness, I still had an enjoyable time with it. While not signposted or presented as a narrative track to follow, each area’s puzzles slowly escalate in difficulty, quietly introducing rules tied to colours or patterns that are learnt through experimentation. Later on there’s a few grand intuitive leaps to be made. I shan’t spoil much, but reaching any of the game’s multiple endings requires some literal out-of-the-box thinking. The puzzling is good enough to far outshine the self-indulgent fluff that is the game’s audio-log and video-delivered narrative.
The Witness is free on the Epic Store for the next two weeks. Grab it now, keep it forever.