The Witness has an interesting design premise: it’s a game that comes from a strong and singular authorial vision. However, having played through many hours of The Witness so far, I would posit that that strength is also its biggest weakness.
The strengths are easy to discuss: The Witness was created over seven years purely around Jonathan Blow’s vision of the game – creating something strongly consistent and focused.
The weakness is more subtle: while The Witness is absolutely magnificent at certain times, I felt myself feeling uneasy most of the time. For some reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Jonathan Blow was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder as I played, nodding appreciatively every time I solved a puzzle, and shaking his head disappointedly every time I took a minute too long.
In the case of The Witness, very often I feel it was created entirely for the creator. In many ways, it’s amazing that a game like it can exist, and just for that reason it’s worthwhile playing it. But at its core, the game is dissonant with itself. It’s not ludonarrative dissonance, but ludoludologic dissonance. It’s a game based around auteurship, but it can’t avoid that games, ultimately, have to be about the collision with the player, too.