During the opening hours of Islands of Insight, a location up in the sky struck my curiosity. Was it possible to get there from where I was? I thought that it couldn’t hurt to try, so I made my way up to the highest piece of geometry I could. Using my overpowered charged jump allowed me to glide over to this location with ease.
As soon as I got there, the game alerted me to the fact that I had entered a place I was not yet supposed to be. Instead of punishing me for my sequence break, the game let me explore the area to my heart’s content, praising me for my cleverness. I had essentially solved a puzzle that I wasn’t even aware was there.
Moments like this are what make Islands of Insight a very special game. It’s a title that practically begs players to uncover all of its secrets and think outside the puzzle box. Unfortunately, there are a few stumbles along the way, with at least one major caveat that I will get to in a bit. However, for those who may be looking for a more meditative experience, this title might just be exactly what you want.
A World of Beauty and Wonder
When first entering the game’s open world, it’s hard not to look in awe at the wonderfully vibrant colors and detailed landscape on display. The general art direction makes a fantastic first impression and entices the player to start their journey through these islands. Overall, the vibe is somewhat reminiscent of old-school point-and-click adventure games such as Myst. It’s so easy to get sucked in by the otherworldly yet calming atmosphere.
Each location in the game makes full use of the movement mechanics the player has access to. There’s a ton of verticality in each environment, with secrets around every corner. This makes the open world an absolute joy to navigate and is one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Islands of Insight contains perhaps one of the most dense game worlds I have ever had the pleasure of exploring. None of the game’s five biomes are lacking in content. There is always something that will draw your attention to the point where it can almost be overwhelming. From my experience playing, I have no difficulty believing that the game contains over 10,000 puzzles.
A Formula With Surprises
Early on, it’s easy to gain a basic understanding of the general gameplay loop. The open world is a playground of puzzles to tackle at your own pace, but to progress through the main questline, you will need to earn “Mirabilis”. The most efficient way to earn these is by completing “Enclaves”, which are basically puzzle dungeons.
In addition to progressing the main game, Enclaves also exist to teach players about new puzzle types. Some puzzles in the open world are not accessible until the player completes their associated Enclave. While this may sound somewhat limiting to player freedom, there are so many types and variations of puzzles that I never found this to be an issue. In fact, I’m very glad that the game didn’t reveal all of its tricks from the start.
While the repetition of solving similar puzzles can begin to kick in at some points, the game usually finds a way to pull me right back in. Islands of Insight accomplishes this by including some fantastic moments of emergent gameplay. What may seem insignificant at first may turn out to be a very elaborate puzzle with several layers to it.
Islands of Insight Provides a Relaxing Challenge
Islands of Insight wants to see every player succeed somehow. On average, the game’s puzzles aren’t very difficult to solve. Many of these are meant to take up 30 seconds of your time at most to keep the flow going. Despite this, there are still numerous puzzles that will test your abilities if that’s what you are looking for.
However, if certain puzzles prove to be too stressful for you, there’s no need to worry. These challenges are often optional, and it’s easy to move on to something else. That being said, the game offers several tips on how to approach specific puzzle types and tools such as “Foresight”. Because of this, I rarely ever encountered a puzzle that truly stumped me.
While most puzzle types are consistently enjoyable, they aren’t all equal. “Morphic Fractals” are something that I found to be particularly frustrating to solve. Awkward controls made it difficult to manipulate these in the ways I intended. Sadly, solving these didn’t provide me with the same satisfaction most other puzzles did.
Islands of Insight Is a Questionable Online Experience
Unfortunately, we’ve arrived at the major caveat I mentioned earlier. Islands of Insight makes it clear through its marketing that it’s a shared-world game. This means there is no offline play. You heard that right: if the servers go down or you cannot access the internet for whatever reason, you will not be able to play the game. I imagine this could be a potential dealbreaker for some, so it has to be mentioned.
If the game did a better job of convincing me that its online functions were integral to the experience, I would have less issue with this. However, the implementation of online features feels half-baked at best, and the game is perfectly enjoyable as a solo experience. Sure, it’s nice to see other players exploring the same world as I am, and the game seems to receive pretty frequent updates, but it all seems so unnecessary.
While writing this review, I encountered a serious issue that has reset all of my game progress. That’s right, I’m now back at square one unless this is somehow addressed. Sadly, this confirms many of my fears surrounding the always-online aspect of this title. If possible, offline play is something that should be considered in the future. Otherwise, I can only see the online features of this game hurting its chances of success.
The Good and Bad of the Progression System
Progression in Islands of Insight is a bit odd, considering that this is a puzzle game. As you play more, you will gain levels as well as access to new areas, puzzles, abilities, and Enclaves. This aspect of the game’s progression system worked pretty well for me. It was especially fun to unlock new abilities and tools to solve puzzles.
Unfortunately, a good portion of the game’s progression relates to the online aspects of the game, and this is what I find to be a lot less exciting. As you get further into the game, you will be able to acquire new cosmetics and titles to display. However, the game’s character creator is so limited that these cosmetics don’t feel like they have much of a point.
While I did stumble across a few other players during my time with the game, we mostly kept to ourselves. Even if I wanted to interact with them, communication options felt quite limited. There just wasn’t enough incentive to use the game’s online features, and I found myself progressing through the game because of the intrinsic satisfaction gained from solving more challenging puzzles.
Some Technical Stuff
It should be noted that this title is exclusively available on PC. I spent the vast majority of my time playing Islands of Insight on my primary rig, which contains an RTX 3070, a Ryzen 7 3700X, and 32GB of RAM. With this setup, the game didn’t run perfectly, but it was still quite playable. However, the lack of upscaling options in the graphics settings was a bit surprising for a modern PC title, with only basic upscaling and FSR 1.0 available.
It may also disappoint some to learn that the game has no official controller support. It’s designed to only be played with a keyboard and mouse. Despite this, the controller experience was mostly fine on Steam Deck, as the trackpads really help out a lot in this title. I found the Steam Deck experience to be a very effective way to unwind before I would go to sleep.
It’s also worth noting that the game has no day/night cycle. I didn’t really have an issue with this, as the game looks beautiful as is, but it’s an odd feature to be missing from a modern open-world title. Additionally, the player character’s animations can look quite janky, but this issue is mostly inconsequential, as it doesn’t really impact the enjoyment of the game by any means.
Islands of Insight Is a Risk
My time with Islands of Insight has mostly been incredibly pleasant. Even as someone who tends to play a lot of action titles, there is a lot of charm here that won me over. As I progressed, I found myself impressed by both the amount and variety of puzzles available. There’s a truly great experience here.
Unfortunately, the fact that this title requires an internet connection makes it a hard recommendation. There’s nothing about the game that has convinced me that online play is a vital component of the overall experience. The fact that I lost all my progress while reviewing this title makes me afraid it could happen to someone else.
This leaves me very conflicted. The game I played is very enjoyable and offers tons of engaging content to keep you occupied for many hours. Having said that, I still find it difficult, in good conscience, to endorse a product that I can’t guarantee will actually function. It may be worth the risk, but that’s for you to decide.
Disclaimer: Behaviour Interactive provided Final Weapon with a copy of Islands of Insight for review purposes.