It's pretty fun at first but overstayed its welcome despite its relatively short length.
The physics-driven stuff is still very charming, and the rope bow is excellent when it works. Some of the best-feeling first-person melee combat to this day, despite the poor balance. It's a blast at first, but it isn't deep enough to really demand any kind of mastery of the systems at play. Kicking orcs off cliffs is neat, but by hour ten you'll almost certainly grow tired of it.
The story is mediocre and its two-dimensional female characters exist only as sad attempts to titillate the player. Dark Messiah's contemporaries in 2006 alone put it to shame in these regards. It's not terrible enough to sour the game entirely, but it doesn't do it any favors, either.
Still, some fun can be had kicking and ice-flooring, even if only for a short while. For those video game academics interested in Arkane's history, it may still hold some appeal solely as a look at the bedrock upon which games like Dishonored were built. Give it a try if you can get it as part of a Steam sale, where it can be had for very, very cheap.
My first time replaying this since it released. I still feel that it's undoubtedly one of the best modern immersive sims, but the experience is bogged down somewhat by certain details. The over-abundance of loading screens and the tedious final act are the most overt issues with Prey, but they aren't damning enough to ruin what is otherwise a very worthwhile experience. For System Shock fans, this is up your alley.
This review contains spoilers
This is a really tough game to review.
As a meditation on obsession and the value of quiet reflection, this game only succeeds the same way La Croix succeeds in tasting like fruit: kinda. I found the audio log in the mountain endgame area about "zen moments" made the latter click with me, and the optional cave section and secret ending made the former make a good deal of sense to me. Here are the ramblings of someone trying to make sense of this game at 1 AM:
The effects of obsession are portrayed in subtle ways throughout The Witness. Your character closes their eyes to pause the game, and floating puzzles drift by as afterimages, inescapable even inside their own eyelids. The constant environmental puzzles, too, reinforce that ALL they can think about is puzzles, even when you're not looking at the puzzle panels. (Although that may be somewhat of a stretch on my part)
A secret ending in which live-action footage of a person waking up (perhaps the player character) and ambling about, gesturing towards certain household items, features of the house, and shapes in the backyard plays with this idea. Perhaps inspired by the phenomenon felt by many whom have played this game, only to see circles and lines they desperately wish they could trace whilst on their commutes. Becoming far too invested in The Witness, like anything, can upset the delicate balance of one's mind, and perhaps their whole life.
The Witness contains inherent contradictions. At once both seeking to be a zen experience where one can find a meditative experience coupled with eureka moments, and a game that stresses the importance of balance, not becoming too immersed in any one thing. However, where it falters in the delivery of this message is largely down to timing. Having the player consider how they're spending their time while they're playing would be one thing, but by the time they hit the caves they likely will have already cleared most of what they intend to clear. In the context of a post-game cave, the message delivered is this: you could have spent your time better. A shame, really, as spending just a little more time gets you that wonderful timed challenge to complete, which might have been my favorite part of the whole game.
As far as puzzle game design goes, this one's got lots and lots of great stuff. There's a wide array of puzzle rules to follow, and without fail they are explained wordlessly and in such a way that mindful players should have no problem figuring out what all the symbols and puzzle types are, if given enough time and patience. The sheer variety of environmental puzzles is to be celebrated, as well. It boggles the mind to think of how much was considered when designing this game, and yet it feels largely effortless.
Puzzle-related nitpicks aren't plentiful but I did encounter some things I didn't enjoy. Firstly, boat puzzles were always a slog. Even if I could clearly see the solution, if I failed there was always an awkward boat ride that lasted way too long while I tried to reset and go again. They also made me somewhat motion sick at times, a perfect segue for my next, and biggest nitpick: accessibility.
The Witness is not a very accessible game by any stretch of the imagination. For those with hearing disabilities, colorblindness, an inclination towards motion sickness, and so on, this game could be rendered impossible or incredibly difficult, without the use of a guide. In my case, the boat, along with the spinning/scrolling panels in the endgame mountain area proved the most challenging parts of my time with this game.
Wrapping up my assorted thoughts on The Witness, I want to stress one thing: I actually did really like it. Most of what I wrote may seem negative, but that's in large part due to the scarcity of genuinely negative aspects of this game, in my eyes. The notebook I keep by my side while gaming (and my friend Bret's DMs) were constantly being updated with new things I was appreciating about The Witness, big and small.
At the end of the day, I think it's well worth a shot. It's a mindfully crafted experience, a real sipping on whiskey type game. Do a small chunk of an area when the mood strikes you, finish a section of the map over an afternoon and set the game down again until you want to sip on it a bit more. My advice? Just like the game, and the whiskey bottle say: enjoy in moderation.
This review contains spoilers
Being a smaller, standalone adventure, I expected this game to pale in comparison to Dishonored 2. However, I think it stands shoulder to shoulder with that game, and in some ways surpasses it. This review has become a lot longer than I originally intended it to be, so if you don't care to read through all of it, the bottom line is this: I recommend this game, especially if you can grab it on a sale.
Billie is a much more charming protagonist than Emily, and charismatically performed. The occasional snide remark or sarcastic comment lends Billie a relatable energy while she remains a confident and stoic character. You get the sense that Billie has an inner world and a depth of character, that she contains multitudes. A stark contrast indeed from Emily, whose character was so murky and unclear that the game had to stop at points to tell you exactly how she was developing as a person.
To that point, the story is an improvement, but a slight one. The mystery of Billie's arm and the slight incongruities in the setting make for a surprisingly compelling opening hour or so, even if these aren't quite satisfyingly resolved in the long run. The return of Daud and, of course, Billie herself marks this as a bit of a farewell tour for the original Dishonored's DLC, and DotO's story certainly feels like an organic, logical terminus for these two.
To be frank, the story still isn't terribly interesting. However, there is a somewhat subtextual depth there. The final decision in the game presents the Outsider as a victim himself, albeit a victim who has endangered others through the granting of void magic to those in the outside world. Having the two former Whalers decide on how best to ensure that the Outsider's magic doesn't cause any further harm is quite a interesting idea, on paper.
In reality, the choice between killing the Outsider and granting him mercy isn't plumbed as well as it should have. The seemingly omnipotent, playfully meddlesome Outsider is shown as a scared, hurt young man, frozen in time in a moment of trauma. It's a reminder that he was once human, much like those granted power through him were. Killing him is an anticlimax in a shockingly strange way, even having Billie change her whole tone of speaking from a sympathetic one to an angry, ruthless one. It presents a wild tone shift in the scene, and not one that feels well considered.
My opinion on the matter is that the merciful option in this scenario is the intended one, as it more cathartically ties into the motivations of the two Whalers, and their shared history. Granting mercy has Daud forgive the Outsider, much as he forgave Billie during the events of Dishonored. It's a dignified end to his character, and a richer story moment than the typically surface-level melodramatics of Dishonored 2. With that said, it still feels somewhat half-baked. This series seems desperate to get you out of the game the second you're done hitting buttons, and this entry is no exception. Given the chance to breathe a bit more, I think this ending would land a lot better.
That's a lot about the plot there, more than I honestly thought I'd write. That's because I was very close to intrigued by this story, and I find it interesting to explore why it very nearly worked for me, but ultimately didn't. At the end of the day, the story isn't a main focus for me in these games, and it doesn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the experience in any significant way.
Speaking of the experience of playing this game... it feels very good! It's a slightly different flavor than Dishonored 2 with a pretty similar mouthfeel. Billie's toolkit is a reinvented mix of powers you would expect from a mainline entry, with nuances that make them feel fresher, more expressive, and more rewarding to use properly.
Displace is Billie's mobility tool, and it works a bit like Blink but with a twist of lime tossed in. Rather than placing your marker and dashing straight towards it like you would with Blink, Displace allows you to place a marker and swap places with it whenever you would like, assuming you're within range of it and you maintain a clear line of sight. This allows you to preemptively place your marker as a way to escape from enemies, ambush guards while they walk along patrol routes, or perform a risky action and withdraw to safety in a mere moment. It's a clever evolution of the design philosophy of Emily's kit, rewarding planning and prep work, while also working in emergency snap-second moments.
Foresight is the Dark Vision replacement. I ADORE this power. Dark Vision is imminently useful no matter the situation, but applies an ugly filter that muddies the look and atmosphere of the environment. Foresight works differently. Upon the use of the power, time freezes and you can fly around your camera and explore the environment in the frozen time, marking enemies, items, and other points of interest. When you end the power, you return to your body, with all you marked remaining clearly visible. It's both a more powerful information gathering tool than Dark Vision was, and a less intrusive one. It also synergizes wonderfully with Displace, allowing you to drop your marker while you fly around the environment, meaning you can scout an area and set up a Displace location far ahead of time if you'd like. If the mainline series takes anything from this game forwards, I desperately hope it's Foresight.
Finally, Semblance allows one to steal the appearance of a target and use it for short time to walk through areas undetected and solve puzzles. It's a very cool power in concept and has some genuinely useful applications, but it certainly feels the least flexible of Billie's kit. There are a few social situations in which you can participate if you have the correct stolen face, but this power is desperately crying for a densely populated, Hitman-style level to really shine in. As it stands, a welcome power, but one that could maybe use more situations designed to let you be creative with it in future games.
As far as non-magical weapons go, Billie's crossbow equivalent is the voltaic gun, a wrist-mounted launcher that pleasantly reminds one of the rebar crossbow from Half-Life 2. The voltaic gun is extraordinarily strong, especially with the abundance of ammo you'll receive if you buy the upgrade that lets you fire improvised bullets, like scalpels and fountain pens. Launching a pen at a guard is great fun that reinforces the scrappy, underdog energy/power fantasy tightrope this series excels at. The new grenade types are welcome, if not particularly exciting. Hook Mines are certainly a standout addition, a mechanically exciting replacement for stun mines that are delightfully physics-driven and can lead to grimly violent Looney Tunes-esque situations.
Finally in regards to mechanical differences, Death of the Outsider removes the iconic chaos system and revamps mana. Honestly, I enjoyed not having to consider chaos at all during my time with this game. Being able to use my whole kit, even the lethal parts, and not having to worry about long-term ramifications on the plot was refreshing. Likewise, the mana rework is welcome, and instead grants you three "pips" on a mana bar that you can spend on powers. These all regenerate automatically, meaning that you no longer feel wasteful using powers in quick bursts while traversing. It instead more forcefully limits your power use during scenarios like stealth and combat, meaning you need to carefully consider how you use them in a pinch, lest you find yourself briefly powerless while in a poor position. I hope both of these changes make their way into the next entry, or at least just the mana system.
Levels in this game are as sprawling, well-designed, and detail-rich as is the norm of this series. None reach the outstanding heights of the clockwork mansion in Dishonored 2, but they're a joy to explore and lurk through nonetheless. A special shoutout to the bank heist level for offering a great deal of ways to approach it, with each offering a substantially different experience. That level in particular feels quite like a self-contained little story arc, with you starting at the bottom and slowly becoming stronger and more confident, leading to a fun climax with, if you can find it, a gratifying way to exert mastery over the level by exerting control over clockwork sentinels, security systems, and human enemies with the information and powers you earn in the bank's vault.
I also liked the final level for the halfway point where you backtrack through the level, now with a fully void-infused environment that puts a twist on a location you had already explored fairly well.
Overall, I think this game offers a very worthwhile experience, even with its relatively short runtime. My run sat at about 11 hours in total, although I progressed fairly slowly. If one can grab it on sale like I did, it's a great value for money that you can beat over a weekend. Or play it like I did, with a level every evening after work. If you dig this style of game or you've already enjoyed a previous game in the series, this is a total no-brainer. Give it a shot!
Boy oh boy this one's pretty good.
There's a couple levels that are standouts but all of them are wonderfully detailed, satisfyingly open, and great fun to navigate. In my whole time playing I always found a solution to tricky situations and for the most part the quest objectives share that flexibility (with one major exception, which made me restart a whole level.) It is delightfully refreshing to play a game where you can just feel the game designers chuckling and rubbing their hands together saying "hehehe they're gonna love this one!" Guess what! I did! There's two levels with central "gimmicks" so strong that I'll be thinking about them for a long time, I bet.
I played Emily for my playthrough and I was pleasantly surprised to find that her toolkit is absurdly expressive and powerful, even for non-lethal runs. I enjoyed the first game quite a bit, but found myself longing for the other powers Corvo had that I wasn't able to use non-lethally. Emily changes this. Each power can be used in any kind of playthrough, with a great deal of flexibility, synergy, and flexibility. The balance in this game, as a result, can really flounder. I found that certain synergies were oppressively good options that I'd reach for instead of something more spur of the moment. Those selfsame synergies can go wild when you toss bonecharms into the mix, too. Try Domino and the bonecharm that gives you a reliable chance to get a sleep dart back for a cheap way to put whole rooms out of action from a distance.
The story is definitely Dishonored 2's weakest point. Dialogue is delivered with a strange cadence, and Emily is so poorly developed that she basically has to tell you out loud how her character is developing because it is not shown to the player through subtler means. The Outsider explains the moral choice presented in most levels to you as if talking down to the player, hoping that you'll get the point even if you're watching a video on your phone and doing cartwheels while cutscenes play. It's story delivered via sledgehammer, and the game practically acknowledges this weakness: the "hold F to skip" prompt is ALWAYS in the bottom left of the screen during cutscenes, a constant reminder that you could be skipping this and getting back to the good stuff.
That said... it doesn't really matter. The story exists, and that is enough to support a great stealth game with some extraordinarily memorable levels and a full-featured suite of powers and tools that are a delight to use and experiment with. A true sequel's sequel: leaner, meaner, and tighter in almost every way. Sophomoric only narratively, this one's gonna be a game I'll revisit in the future without a doubt. Give this one a shot.
My long-standing Cave favorite. Nothing too unusual in this game but it's elegantly designed and constructed near perfectly. A real ribeye steak of a video game; no frills, all flavor.
It's like a warm hug for your brain.