The Witness is being added to PS Plus, and it's wonderful that even more people will get to experience this landmark game. If you're playing it for the first time, here are a few things I would strongly recommend knowing before going into it (no spoilers)…
1) Do not look up answers to puzzles. Ever!
This is the most important tip. If you played Braid you'll know just how satisfying Jonathan Blow's puzzles are. Even if they seem impossible, they are always fair, and the epiphany when you crack them is a feeling like none other. If you deny yourself that feeling, you'll never get to experience it and won't know what you missed.
2) Don't read things about this game (excepting this post!).
The story is hugely elliptical and deliberately ambiguous, but the game does have 'gameplay spoilers'. I can't say anything other than that there are different ways to play the game you have to discover for yourself. The first time you discover one of these ways will be one of the most memorable moments in your gaming career. As with step 1, don't find out prematurely: don't deny yourself this experience.
3) The game will teach you all the symbols on the panels
Every symbol on every panel has a 'tutorial' sequence of panels somewhere on the island that will teach you what the symbol means, and how to 'use' it. Since the game is open from the start you are going to find panels you simply cannot solve yet because you don't have the knowledge. Just be patient, and…
4) Move on when stuck.
The game is structured in a way that deliberately encourages you to 'give up' on puzzles and come back to them later if you're struggling. If you're not enjoying trying to solve a puzzle and feeling tired or frustrated, go to a different place in the island. Each 'biome' of the island (jungle, desert, etc.) is like a separate, self-contained 'level', so if you get stuck on desert, go and check out autumn trees.
5) Sleep on it.
I can't tell you how many puzzles I thought seemed impossible that I was able to solve just by jotting my ideas down on a notepad and going to sleep. Sometimes I literally found myself waking up and having a 'eureka' moment.
6) Pay attention to the environment.
Pay attention to the environment. Nothing in the game's environment is decoration. Everything is significant in some way, either to the puzzles or to the game's themes. The game's title should be your clue as to what the game demands of you as a player.
7) This is not a game about panels.
You'll get more out of this game if you think carefully about the wider ideas it invites you to consider. The game is very focused: it is about something that is broader than just solving panels. Leave your philosophical hats on.
8) Secrets upon secrets
Do you think you've found all the game's secrets? You haven't. There are so many secrets I guarantee that you can spend 30-40 hours, think you've seen almost everything, and then go on Youtube and find there was something massive you completely missed. It's a huge game: embrace the idea of getting completely lost in it.
This game doesn't have a soundtrack for a good reason. It invites you to approach it slowly, calmly, and with a reflective attitude. It has more in common with poetic experiences like Dear Esther and Journey than with puzzlers like Portal. Don't rush; drink things in. Give yourself time to think through puzzles and think through the ideas the game urges you to consider.
10) Listen to Jonathan Blow's interviews on Youtube
There will come a point where you really do feel like you've exhausted the main things the game has to offer. As I mentioned in point 8, you probably haven't, but nonetheless when you get to this 'false summit' go and listen to some interviews with Jonathan Blow on Youtube about the making of his 8 year passion project. The way he talks about this game and his intentions behind it is absolutely fascinating: he is a true auteur, and speaks with such lucidity and eloquence about his design choices that you'll appreciate the game's genius in a whole new light.
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