In Journey the player controls a robed character through a vast desert with large areas that can be freely explored in any direction. No instructions are given, but a large mountain is shown in the far distance and the character moves towards it. The game does not have a HUD and provides no clear directions. There also are no hazards or obstacles that lead to death. The goal is to guide the character through a journey. The character can be moved around and is able to whistle, as a short bust or more powerful depending on how long the button is pressed. Whistling makes a symbol appear and it is used to activate glyphs in the environment. After a while the player also learns to fly by activating floating pieces of cloth in the environment. These lift the character into the air. It is then possible to float for a short time or glide down through the sand. Once "charged", it is possible to give a few short busts while in the air. Through the journey the flying abilities improve. When moving towards a platform, the character jumps on it automatically when it is low enough. The main challenge in the game is to find a way to progress, by activating bridges or finding a route.
Players can enable an online function to activate a cooperative mode. Other games worldwide are scanned and when another player is in the same area, the characters appear in each other's games and can travel together. No direct communication is possible, but through movement and whistling indirect interaction is possible. Playing together with an anonymous player provides an additional advantage. When the characters are near each other, they charge the other character to enable a single flying charge. This is done automatically. No challenges need to be overcome through cooperation however; it is purely aesthetic similar to the communication between deer in The Endless Forest rather than the cooperative gameplay of Between for instance. Players can also leave the other behind at any time. Next to the main goal to journey, it is possible to locate and activate hidden glyphs. These have no further effect on the gameplay. When the entire game is finished, the user names of the companions met along the way are shown.