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The Witness beginner's guide

Seven things we wish we knew before we started playing

The greatest joy in a puzzle game is sussing out solutions — and then feeling like a certifiable genius. That axiom is doubly true in The Witness, a game filled with tests but no teachers.

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The good news is that, even though you're usually starving for information, you'll still be able to figure out a lot — provided you learn to listen to what The Witness is whispering to you, ever so gently.

There will be times when you get stuck, too. We all do. What then? Should you search for the solution? What if you just want a gentle nudge in the right direction? Or what if you just want some general tips as you make your way through? You've come to the right place. We've got every scenario covered.

This beginner's guide offers tips, tricks and best practices, not puzzle solutions. (Though if you've hit a wall, and you're looking for those, head over to our full guide and walkthrough for The Witness.) Instead, here's a light dusting of advice that will give you a different perspective (sometimes literally) as you explore The Witness, its beautiful scenery and its sometimes maddening puzzles.

1. Learn the language of its puzzles.

You'll solve a lot of puzzles while playing The Witness, but half the fun is figuring out how to solve them. There are no written words in the game, so The Witness communicates how to solve puzzles with what we think of as a "puzzle vocabulary." Learning what each symbol means is essential to finishing the game, but once you understand them, the rules are constant across the island (unless they're modified by another rule). Every symbol has an accompanying area meant specifically to teach you the meaning of that symbol. Keep an eye out for long rows of panels. These are often designed to train you in a symbol's meaning and help expand your puzzle vocabulary.

2. Anything can be a hint.

The Witness limits itself to one type of puzzle (mazes) but explores so many permutations of that single idea that it ends up using clues and hints you wouldn't expect in other games. If you're feeling stuck, take a moment. Observe the whole puzzle and everything around it from plenty of different perspectives. The answer is almost certainly nearby.

the witness

3. You don't always need to activate panels when right in front of them.

Selecting a puzzle panel when close to it will draw your perspective, so you're staring directly at it from inches away. But keep in mind that puzzle panels can be activated whenever you've got a clear line of sight to the panel.

4. Look around.

The Witness is not only a beautiful world, it's one created with intent. What may initially appear to be a small flourish to keep things visually interesting may in fact be the clue you need to break the whole puzzle open.

5. Don't be afraid to wander.

If you're stuck on a puzzle, you may not have the piece of puzzle vocabulary you need to solve it yet. Or maybe you're just not able to put it all together and come up with a solution. Either way, it's often helpful to step away from a puzzle and have a walk around the island. You'll often return to the point you were stuck at and wonder why you had such trouble with it in the first place.

The Witness

6. When in doubt, take a picture.

You'll occasionally find solutions to puzzles that are some distance from the puzzle they're connected to. In those scenarios, there's absolutely no shame in grabbing a picture with your smartphone so you have something to refer to later. If you're playing on a PlayStation 4, double-tap the PlayStation button on the DualShock 4 controller, and you can switch instantly between The Witness and your screenshots.

7. Consider a pencil and paper.

Some puzzles might be too complex to keep track of in your head. If you've got a piece of paper and a pencil (they're erasable!), don't hesitate to write things down. You might write something as simple as a reminder to return to an area or try a different approach to a puzzle. When the going gets really tough, you could draw a thumbnail sketch (OK, a dozen thumbnail sketches) of a particularly obtuse puzzle. Either way, getting something out of your head and onto paper is an easy way to alleviate some puzzle-solving stress.

Still stuck? Need a little more help? Check out Polygon's full guide to The Witness, which has more specific nudges and — if you want them — outright solutions. Don't worry, though. We've arranged the guide so you won't get accidentally spoiled if all you want is a hint.

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