This post has spoilers in it. I’m putting all the important stuff under a fold, but the internet is imperfect and I know I run plugins in my browser that can screw heavily with presentation; I can’t guarantee you won’t hit something you don’t want to know. No puzzle details will be revealed — I won’t tell you have to solve anything — but I do intend to talk quite a lot about what I found behind those puzzles. This has been your warning.
I’ve been playing a lot of The Witness with Keet lately. I’m not done with it yet, but I’m far enough along to have found what I think are the bulk of the Big Reveals; more on those behind the cut. It’s a gorgeous game, absolutely fantastic in terms of visual style. From the first moment of gameplay, The Witness grabs hold with its visuals, and they carry you.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the game mechanic through which one interacts with the game world in the Witness is drawing lines. This is a given in the gameplay trailer on the site. And yet, it’s wholly inadequate. Every conceivable way in which this idea could be explored, is. Progressing through the game adds constraints to what lines can be drawn where, and those rules get more complicated the further into the game one progresses. Some lines open up new areas; others seem to be present just to test knowledge of the rules. Eventually, if you draw enough lines in enough places, the game offers up rewards.
There is no “saving;” the game tracks progress near-religiously. Quitting and reloading — with a few very minor exceptions — automatically restores progress to the save point. There’s no death, either from falling or from failing to draw the right lines. There’s no permanent lockout, no real “score” beyond the number of puzzles. There’s no real way to lose. Finding the right path forward isn’t always easy, but it is always possible to find something to do.
Does this sound vague? It does to me too. I wish I could tell you out here more than this, because what I really want to discuss is what’s going in the spoilers section below, and yet before I get into the rich and loamy soil of the game, I at least want to review what sits at the surface.
The last thing I want to say about the Witness, before I dive into the depths, is that for all that I find the game gorgeous, it’s left me ultimately unsatisfied. However, the reason for that, I think, ultimately comes from my own head. I can’t say that this is a bad game; this is a brilliant game… for somebody else. The puzzles are fantastic, and I loved them, but… the game has really alienated me in some very phenomenal ways.
The Witness might have been fun, but even as I found the puzzles themselves amazing and the gameplay wonderful, I found the game itself deeply unsatisfying. I can’t fault the game, however, because I was looking for something that the game not only doesn’t offer but says it doesn’t, and it was my fault for looking. In short, I have some serious problems with the Witness, but I think the real problem I had with the Witness is… me.
Sometimes, for a moment of bliss
And the passion, we’re craving
There’s a message we miss