A sojourn is defined as a temporary stay. You can say a group "sojourned in New York", or "the sojourn was short but eventful." In the case of the video game, The Sojourn, the term is used to define a brief learning experience — an observation of behavior in which the player is meant to take something away.
However, despite its colors and genuine beauty, I struggled to connect with The Sojourn. This is strange, considering it's a capable puzzle game with a vibrant world - two descriptors that sell me on nearly any title. Maybe it's because the core mechanic isn't as varied as I'd like, or because the levels blend without much sense of progression. Regardless, it's a game I went into excitedly but only wanted it to end the further into it I got.
The Sojourn pitches itself as a tale of redemption. At least, I think it does. Its story feels too abstract, told via statues that appear periodically as you progress through the game. From what I can tell, you follow in the steps of a boy who grew up wanting money and power but acquired that power through unethical means. Upon realizing this, he does what he can to make things right. This theme goes along with some of the collectibles you can find in the game, which hold that relate to clarity and finding one's purpose, for example.
The Sojourn Review | Lessons Learned
As an unnamed character, you learn of the boy's tale by solving puzzles. Each solution results in the banishing of darkness from the world. It seems that some post-apocalyptic event came about due to humanity's greed and desire for material things. If I had to guess, it's most likely due to the boy's actions. As mentioned, the goal here is for you, the player, to learn from what he did during your sojourn in this world. Based on the names of each puzzle, like "Faith" or "Monochrome Beliefs," I assume each one represents a lesson the character learned.
Most puzzles involve moving a statue to a specific platform by switching spots with it. That platform then opens a gate for you to release a ball of light and move on to the next one. The kicker is that you can only move statues if either they or you are in the dark realm. This happens via a multitude of ways introduced over the campaign after each chapter.
The Sojourn Review | Puzzling Themes
Earlier puzzles allow you a set period into the dark realm, triggered by stepping on a glowing platform. These puzzles were relatively painless for me, as I could always infer where I needed to be as you can only move a short distance before the dark realm runs out. More complex problems eventually pop up, featuring tractor beams and a glowing eye that allows you to stay in the alternate realm as long as possible. Once you start seeing stuff like this, the puzzles really present a challenge.
It's during these latter puzzles where some of the design really shines through. One challenge took me around 45 minutes to solve. It consisted of moving a statue across a big gap, but dark realm spikes hindered my progress at every turn. In addition, I couldn't touch the figure without being in the dark realm. The solution involved some planning ahead, making sure that each decision led to me navigating the gap without needing to enter the dark world.
However, no matter how these later challenges stumped me, I never felt an urge to continue playing. Something is intriguing about puzzle games like Portal 2 or The Talos Principle, two of my favorite games of all time. In those titles, there's atmosphere, an engaging plotline, and well-explored themes that motivate me to push through even the toughest of puzzles. The Sojourn, as short as it is, lacks that momentum.
The Sojourn Review | Imperfect Pacing
Here, the story unfolds in too few parts and with too many gaps in between. If I spend a good chunk of time solving a puzzle, all sense of momentum fades away. I feel just like a mindless drone finding solutions for no reason. It doesn't help that the puzzle environments consist of all the same assets with a few changes here and there. Small changes like snow instead of grass instead of more drastic locale shifts. This serves to hinder any sense of progression even further.
These may seem like odd complaints, but they were really getting to me during my time with The Sojourn. The time spent navigating to each new puzzle felt like a drag, and time spent within a challenge didn't feel worthwhile. This only highlights why I appreciate other puzzlers that adequately balance atmosphere and storytelling. Even games I didn't enjoy as much, like Q.U.B.E. 2, still provided me with some sense of purpose. I can appreciate The Sojourn's attempt at abstract storytelling - it's different and helps the game stand out - but it was just too little regarding both the amount of story and how often it presents itself.
The Sojourn is absolutely gorgeous, with bright colors and fantastical castles to ogle at. But, repeated environments start to wear over time, especially when stumped on a puzzle for a while. Each chapter overstays its welcome just a smidge too long, as well, with a few additional puzzles making mechanics feel stale before spicing things up again. The game chugged along smoothy on my Xbox One X while prioritizing framerate. When switched to resolution, the game became nearly unplayable. However, even the prettiest levels weren't enough to hide the lack of momentum that permeates throughout the experience.
The Sojourn Review | Final Thoughts
Fortunately, those who enjoy the mechanics can take on extra challenge puzzles. These serve as extensions to the original problem, forcing you to rethink what worked previously. The few that I tried were unique twists on the mechanics and should serve to add a few extra hours for dedicated players. Otherwise, the main experience took me around nine hours to complete. If I'm being honest, a good chunk of that occurred in just a few particularly tough puzzles.
Despite a captivating art style and competent puzzle-solving, The Sojourn can't deliver on the story front to complete the package. While everything from the mechanics to its presentation is engaging at first, each world includes just a few too many puzzles before changing things up. The game is an impressive package at first glance, but it lacks the minute details that really tie everything together. It ends up being nothing more than a competent sojourn.
- Captivating Art Style
- Competent Puzzle Solving
- Tons of Extra Challenges
- Weak Storytelling
- Poorly Paced Mechanics
- No Sense Of Purpose