Overall, I definitely enjoyed the game. The visual language it uses to demonstrate mechanics is extraordinary. The journal I kept with my puzzle notes looks like the scrawlings of a mad man - row after row of tiny dots, squares, arrows, and hastily scribbled phrases. However, when my first playthrough was "complete" (at least as much as I could bear), I couldn't help but feel a nagging sense of... emptiness, and definitely not the zen-like feeling of contentment that I expected. It was just a pang of disappointment.
Mechanics. Or, What I Enjoyed.
Looking back now, after learning the mechanics and finally solving a difficult puzzle, I was constantly perplexed at how it could have been so challenging to me - the solution was “so obvious.” To me, this is the biggest testament to how well The Witness teaches you new concepts, and also how well it hides solutions from those who would simply attempt to “brute force” their way through the puzzles by guessing. Solving the mazes of The Witness becomes much more than drawing a line from point A to B; each new mechanic asks you to consider pattern recognition, logic, and even visual perspective. I think that this, again, is the game’s greatest strength - to a casual observer, you’re just drawing lines on a grid, but a lot more is actually happening here.
The progression in the game isn't based on obtaining a new key or tool or weapon - it's based on gaining new knowledge... and that's really something special. Nothing is explicitly explained; learning the game itself is the sole means of advancing. In addition, The Witness is also not afraid to present concepts that you are currently not equipped to tackle. You are expected to leave, learn, practice, and come back ready to take on old riddles that had you utterly stumped, this time with a new understanding. In a weird way, it's almost similar to "Dark Souls" in this regard - cringe if you must at the comparison, but its somewhat apt... if you squint just right.
Contrary to popular opinion, I felt the puzzles were well integrated into the environment. They still, technically, felt artificially placed there - the puzzle panels are clearly not the natural, universal machinery for their intended function, as is the case of "Myst" and other adventure games - but nevertheless were pleasantly presented in such a way to occasionally interact with the surroundings. Puzzles often used nearby environmental queues for hints or even outright solutions, and in many cases altered the surrounding pathways, opening new areas or shortcuts. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what people were expecting?
By the end, I only ran across two or three puzzles that I felt "didn't play by the rules" or had solutions that simply felt too obscure or clever for their own good (the door puzzle in the shipwreck was a particularly egregious offender, I think - even when you know what you're supposed to do to solve the puzzle, the solution itself feels a tad arbitrary). However, considering I had solved 500+ panels by this point, I guess that's still a pretty good ratio? Of course, you always remember the most frustrating puzzles in a puzzle game.
Scattered about the island are a plethora of environmental puzzles that, while a welcome distraction, I didn't have the patience to finish. Also, there are six or seven "meta" puzzles which "reward" the player with the game's... for lack of a better word, "story." And this leads me to some of my biggest issues with The Witness.