‘The Witness’: A Beginner’s Guide

The Witness is essentially the first major game of the year. It’s also a game in love with its own cryptic, mysterious nature, which means there aren’t any tutorials or much in the way of help in the game itself. Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for! This guide will have light spoilers.

So, who am I, and what’s going on?

Ignore the plot, such as it is. Don’t get too wrapped up in figuring out the story or finding collectibles; there aren’t any that are important to the game and you’ll figure out the broad strokes of what’s going on quickly, which is really all you need. What you need to know is that you’re stuck on an island, and there are a lot of puzzles for you to solve, so get cracking!

Yeah, about these puzzles, ballpark it for me.

You have to draw one continuous line through a grid, following certain conditions. The most basic rule is that you can’t cross a line once you’ve drawn it. It gets more complex from there.

Okay, so does this game have levels or… ?

Sorta. The island is an open world divided into roughly twelve “biomes” for lack of a better word. Each biome has puzzles themed around a specific idea, and each is laid out in more or less the same way. You have a series of ‘teaching’ puzzles that lay out the basic theme, and then the puzzles, step by step, add more rules or offer up a different approach to those rules. Complete all the puzzles and you trigger a laser that fires towards a central mountain. Finish seven biomes and you can progress further in the game.

Do I have to finish these biomes in a specific order?

Nah, you can go between them at will. In fact you’ll probably want to wander around and try the teaching puzzles to find a biome you want to start at. That said, some puzzles incorporate or build on themes from on other biomes, so keep that in mind. A good rule of thumb is if you see a puzzle and don’t understand the symbols on it, take a few pokes at it anyway, and then wander away to something else.

Are some biomes harder than others?

They’re not really graded by “difficulty,” except in the sense that you get Silver trophies for some and Golds for others, and honestly, how difficult you find them is going to depend on how you think and how you handle problem solving. Several biomes are themed around light, and I largely blew through those because that lines up with my thought processes pretty well. One was a complete pain because it requires a basic musical sensibility, which I lack, and I had to take it slow and think about the sounds the game was feeding me. A musically inclined person might experience the reverse. Basically, if a biome is ticking you off, walk away and find something else. The game is crammed with puzzles, so there’s no shortage of stuff to do elsewhere.

That said, I’d recommend, once you get out of the tutorial area, walking to the puzzle series there, solving the orchard puzzles, and then going to the boathouse and the desert ruin right next to it. They’re the quickest biomes in the game and will get you into its groove.

Is there a good way to approach the biomes?

Yeah, before you dive in, walk around and look at what panels are connected where, what obstacles you might have to get around, what doors are currently locked to you, and so on. Poke around and look for hidden doors and ways at other areas.

I solved a series of puzzles, but I can’t figure out what to do next.

Look for wires coming out of puzzle panels. “Dead” wires are black, live wires glow with some sort of color. If you’re stumped on where to go next, follow the glowing wire!

I’m at a puzzle and it’s just a blank grid with no symbols on it.

Look around. This is a game that’s in love with “line of sight” solutions. Generally, you have to step away from the puzzle and look at it, literally, from another angle. Look around and see if, say, there’s a tangle of vines to look through, or a shadow that looks like a solution. That said, don’t overthink it: I was stuck on one puzzle for days because I thought the solution was in one area, when it was really in another.

What’s the deal with these black columns I keep stumbling over?

They’re another type of puzzle, one the game doesn’t really tell you about. It’s a fun surprise, so all I’ll say is that if something looks like a puzzle, no matter what it is, you should click on it and see what happens.

Any tips you have now that the game’s out in the wild? Let us know in the comments!