The Witness has a problem: it’s a better piece of art than it is a game.
I don’t like The Witness very much. It has a decent first bit, when you mess around with easier puzzles and are less pushing down any one path, then the puzzles get more difficult. However as Stephen Totilo says “It’s about me, the player, vs. Jonathan Blow. This is a game in which I have solved more than 450 puzzles and I’d say that in at least 400 of them, he was messing with me, delightfully so, teaching me rules for his puzzles and then guiding me toward a puzzle nearby that twists those rules, that takes my satisfied smartass brain and once again shows me how little I know.”
A large part of the games difficulty is just in the game not explaining things very well with you, or purposefully putting you on a wrong path. What gets hurt by this is that it’s not really all in the favor of the game. There are probably too many puzzles in the game, in the effort to give players an open world they’ve also made it confusing to figure out the next path. Often I’d spend time in an area doing extra puzzles that didn’t actually connect to the bigger objective or I’d decide one area wasn’t working for me and go somewhere else hoping the pieces might fall into place only to return and see a puzzle as still unsolvable.
So we lose the ability to teach the player through linearity but we also don’t always find the open shape to the game really helpful in any way. I really, really liked the game for the opening hours but was similarly dissatisfied with the final third or so.
But there’s also something else in this world. On one hand it’s this pointless stuff that’s not always helping the game but it builds to this feeling that you’re walking around in an art installation more than a game. On one level I hate it cause it’s this pseudointellectual effort, just adding quotes to this game talking about God and science and how we think, but the moment where a video from an old BBC video started talking about amino acids it really affected me.
Is The Witness a good game? Yes and no. Should you play it? I’m mixed on that too. It’s kind of this perfect example of why you can’t really get a full impression of what a game is by watching a stream. For being this game that doesn’t use so much of the current gaming language it still just demands to be experienced to be understood and that makes it the best kind of game.