I love puzzle games—they’re like the distillation of game mechanics, eschewing most of the fat and filler of other games. It’s just you, playing against the various challenges. The proper puzzle game can even be serene, and calming—an escape from fast-paced action games. Sometimes a little reflection coupled with puzzle solving is where I find my happiness. The Sojourn is like a warm, comfortable blanket of puzzle-solving goodness.
First off, The Sojourn is visually striking. It’s a puzzle game played from the first person. It’s extremely colorful, and it’s pleasant to just walk around the world. Large mountains loom, with small houses and windmills dotting the surfaces. Interiors are mysterious, and exteriors are bright and appealing–a perfect setting for a puzzle game with philosophical themes.
Contemplative would be a good word to describe The Sojourn. Even beyond the puzzles, you are tasked with questions about the meaning of reality and life as you overcome obstacles. In The Sojourn puzzles are solved by entering out of the regular world into a dark world just out of sight. In this darker world certain walkways appear, and objects are empowered with energies, allowing you to swap places with them, or enabling you to activate them. A lot of the puzzles in The Sojourn involve careful placement of objects, and in some cases, careful timing.
All of the puzzles involve a series of objects—statues—that are empowered in various ways by the dark world energies. And each of these statues have different effects. The musical statues repair broken walkways, while you can swap places with the winged statues, etc. Others produce beams as long as you stay within the dark world, or as long as they’re powered. Most of it is about timing, little of it is about placement. But “timing” is misleading, as it doesn’t require quick reflexes.
Failing a puzzle often means trying again. There is no death–rather, if you fall off of a platform you appear again next to the place you fell. You can retry puzzles as many times as you like, and restart them at a whim.
Each puzzle has two basic modes to it: the “normal” way to solve, and the “advanced” way. These challenging “advanced” solutions incorporate the level and puzzle elements, but add a new exit, and even a few new elements to change it up. Progression is tied to some of these challenge levels, though. If you’re not up to the task, you may not be able to progress to the later levels.
While I appreciate the slow pace and contemplative nature of The Sojourn, a part of me wishes for the ability to speed up movement. Movement speed is tied directly into puzzle-solving, though, so moving faster would trivialize some of the challenge—and that’s no good. What I want is the ability to speed things up when you’re not actively solving a puzzle. If you want to just walk around a corner to get a better perspective, you’re stuck in the same slow pace as if you were traversing a puzzle.
Another complaint I have is the lack of an “undo” button. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to redo an entire puzzle because I misclicked, or stepped out of a dark beam when I didn’t mean to. Still, puzzles are bite-sized, and will only take as long to complete as it takes to walk (slowly) to what needs to be manipulated.
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about a story to The Sojourn beyond its philosophical nature. That’s because it barely has one. That’s totally fine, but if you need some context to your puzzle solving, you might miss it here. Each puzzle is presented in puzzle rooms—you don’t come across them as you explore (like, says, in The Witness), rather, they are labelled and distinct challenges.
Any context to the world around you is extremely cryptic. There are messages to find once completing challenge levels, but these are mostly just short philosophical musings. I feel like I missed something, because despite my attention to each of the messages, I still didn’t really gather if there was even an overarching story. Perhaps that’s part of the puzzle, too.
While I mentioned how pretty The Sojourn is early on, there aren’t too many variations on the environments you’ll be walking around in. Most puzzle environments are visually similar. I would have appreciated more variation besides the endless mountains, grass and sand.
If you prefer a game where puzzles that naturally exist within the game world, The Sojourn doesn’t really do that. Each area is set up specifically for each puzzle. If you want a narrative heavy experience like Talos Principle, it doesn’t really have that, either. But what The Sojourn does offer is a series of well thought out, challenging puzzles to tackle. And you get to solve them in one of the most serenely beautiful environments I’ve had the pleasure of walking around in.
The Sojourn will be available on Xbox One , PlayStation 4 and Epic Game Store September 20th.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR