The Witness is out now. I’ve played and finished Jonathan Blow’s eight-year opus (twice!), but I still haven’t discovered all of its deepest secrets. I’d advise anyone playing The Witness to go in as blind as possible, but having become relatively knowledgeable about the game I’ve come up with six pieces of advice I’d like to share with you.
These tips will not spoil anything about the game’s story, locations, mechanics or secrets. Rather, they’re simply things I wish I had known when I first started playing. Enjoy!
1. Stock up on graph paper
You’re gonna need it. Sure, you might be able to solve most of The Witness’ puzzles in your head, or by workshopping ideas directly on the panel you’re working on, but there are a number of challenges that will be very, very difficult to solve without a pen and paper for anyone with an IQ under 150.
2. Use that Share button
Building off the last point, there are lots of things you’re going to see in The Witness whose function may not be immediately apparent. As luck would have it, PS4 has a built-in screenshot button! Take lots of notes, not only with that graph paper I mentioned above but in the form of visual reminders you can refer back to when you inevitably experience one of those “wait a minute…” moments.
3. Play with headphones
(Or a very good sound system.) There may be no music in The Witness, but its sound design is some of the best in the business. Not only does the game’s already-impressive sense of isolation really kick in when you’re enveloped by its top-notch ambience, certain sounds are subtle enough that you won’t even notice them without a nice, loud setup.
4. Don’t overthink it
When I found myself struggling with a particular puzzle in The Witness, all too often it was a simple case of assuming the solution was going to be more complex than it ended up being. Think back to what you’ve discovered that area’s ruleset to be and try to attack it from different angles, rather than falling into the trap of continually elaborating on an assumed solution that just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. That said, some of these puzzles are merciless, which leads me to my next point…
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away…
You’re going to get stuck. I promise. The difference here is that getting stuck in The Witness is okay, maybe even intended by its creators. Thankfully, since you have instant access to most of the island right from the get-go, you’re never trapped in any sort of linear progression system. Feel free to give up on a particularly challenging puzzle and explore elsewhere for a while — chances are something you do somewhere else will make that missing solution *click* into place. If all else fails, simply coming back to it with a set of fresh eyes will likely help. Finally, you don’t need to complete every puzzle in the game to reach its conclusion, so if one’s got you well and truly stumped, don’t feel like you’re reached a dead end.
6. … But don’t give up
This one’s going to be tough, but please do everything you can to avoid spoilers for The Witness, including solutions to puzzles or explanations of mechanics. So much of The Witness’ magic lies in the sense of discovery and accomplishment that you experience when finding a new area, solving a puzzle you thought for sure was impossible, or finally activating one of those weird laser beam things. Like I said before, you’re going to get stuck. You’re going to want to look up the answer, “maybe just for this one puzzle” to keep things moving along. Don’t do it. You’re only going to be able to experience The Witness for the first time once.