How rare. How wonderfully rare that a video game releases in 2016 without a tutorial. How beautifully rare that this game is universally loved by critics, is quickly amassing a fanbase and is trending on social media around the world.
The Witness, my friends, is amazing.
This game stands like giant middle finger wagged in the face of modern gaming convention. Director Jonathan Blow and his team at Thekla, Inc. whipped up a monster of unconventional thinking and just let it go out into the world.
I’ve been playing The Witness off and on again over the least week or so. I won’t be spoiling anything beyond the setup here, so don’t fret if you’re the type that wants to leave this experience completely intact. This is a game worth experiencing, mind you, it just takes a lot of work and patience to get there.
The first time you fire up The Witness, you’ll start in a hallway. Walk out, and you’re on an island. You have nothing in front of you beyond visual queues that there are line puzzles all over the place. Some open doors, some turn on other puzzles, some start windmills, some activate the island’s travel system.
There’s no explaining, though. The Witness never tells you what things you should be doing. In fact, The Witness never tells you how to do the things you should be doing. If you find yourself stuck on a puzzle, there’s no aural or visual clue about what you should do next.
Put simply: The Witness doesn’t care about you.
Thekla built a game that simply exists regardless of how far the player gets in it. They don’t care if you finish this thing. They don’t care about how far along you get or about giving you small rewards for figuring something out.
You’ll spend hours on a single puzzle, finally solve it, feel incredibly smart and, well, that’s it. Maybe it lights up, maybe a bridge is formed, maybe it does absolutely nothing so far as you can tell. Your single reward is completing the puzzle and opening up more puzzles.
I’m hours into the game, and I haven’t unlocked any Trophies. They exist, but I don’t know how to get them.
The Witness is beautiful for a lot of reasons. It’s a fantastic looking game, the spoken word in it is haunting, the design is flawless and there are hidden visual treats layered densely on the rather small island. These things are all incredible. Truly.
The best part about The Witness, though, is that it won’t hold your hand. It won’t even take your hand for a second. The Witness is brutal in its negligence, and I love it for that. Its difficulty and directionless nature are a breath of fresh air in an industry packed with games that don’t know when to shut up or get out of the way. The Witness relies on an unspoken tutorial that exists simply through incremental introduction, and it’s absolutely amazing for that reason.
I’m going back in. It’ll be another few hours before I figure out what to do next, and I can’t wait to push through them.