Outer Wilds is all about exploration and discovery. This is something games often try to crack with varying degrees of success, but when it’s done well, you can be sure you’re in for a great time. Outer Wilds is an example of this not only being done right, but done to near perfection.
Outer Wilds begins with you waking up on your home plant, Timber Hearth, preparing for your first flight into space. All you need to do is to grab some launch codes from the observatory, located at the other side of town, and then you can be on your way. This is the only real instruction you get in Outer Wilds — everything you discover from this point on is by yourself. As you wander through the town, you can either chat to the locals, adding some insight into your people and the mysteries of the galaxy, or you can go grab the codes and begin your adventure immediately. Timber Hearth also has optional tutorial style tasks intended to help you get to grips with the gravity (or lack of) and your ship.
Your reasoning for going into space is to try to find out more about the Nomai: an alien race who have left structures and traces of themselves all over the galaxy. When you take off, you are the first of your race to do so with a Nomai translator. Up until this point their spiral-like scribble has been unusable, but now you can explore what the Nomai were up to and uncover the secrets they left behind.
Your journey begins once you retrieve the launch codes and finally take-off. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel overwhelmed at the choice of where to go to first. You can go to any one of the planets and explore — there’s also moons, space stations and other points of interest to investigate. Wherever you go first is completely up to you, and that’s part of the Outer Wilds charm — from that first moment of the game, you have complete freedom. If, like me, you spoke to the locals on your home planet you may already have an idea of what you wish to check out first. It may be exploring the oceans of Giant’s Deep, a planet with tornadoes thrashing at its (mostly) ocean surface, or the Hourglass Twins, two binary planets that are transferring sand from one to the other. Each planet feels completely unique and alive, a testament to how good of a job Mobius Digital Games have done with building this game world.
During your travels it may become apparent that the sun is becoming much larger and a deeper shade of red. The scientists out there will know this means the sun is going to supernova. After 22 minutes (if you make it that far, I fell and cracked my helmet, dying of suffocation in the process), the sun collapses with a blue flash that consumes the rest of the solar system, killing everything in it, including you. Then you open your eyes and start at the beginning of the day again.
Only you remember what happened, stuck in a time-loop like a space Groundhog Day. This can come as a bit of a shock your first time out. But this is the hook of the game and what makes it unique. Any information you had discovered before death is handily kept safely on the ship in a log. Accessing it allows you to keep an eye on what you’ve done so far, hopefully ensuring no details are lost or forgotten.
Then you go again, but this time you know you will meet your demise in 22 minutes and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. By continuing to explore the Nomai’s ruins, it quickly becomes clear that you can prevent this disaster. Each planet or location is littered with clues and information regarding how to prevent it, along with some of the other mysteries in the solar system, like the moon that changes location when you aren’t looking at it. It’s these mysteries that capitalise on your desire to explore — all too often a game creates interesting worlds and landscapes but gives you no reason to go there. Outer Wilds finds a way to make everywhere in the solar system a point of interest that is genuinely worthwhile. The lore-building is fascinating, making even the mundane tasks like reading text necessary and appealing. Outer Wilds is very charmingly and excellently written.
You have very little to aid you on your journey. You have yourself, your trusted spaceship, your spacesuit, and a few other tools like the Nomai translator. When outside of your ship, your suit has two meters, one for your jetpack fuel and one for your oxygen. If the fuel runs out, your suit will then rely on the oxygen for getting you through space. Once that runs out you will die, so it’s important to always keep that in mind. Also, if you landed your ship in an awkward spot, getting back to it without any fuel can prove challenging. Luckily if you’re really stuck, you can just die and everything resets (I may have done this a few times). This helps prevent the survival aspects of the game from ever growing tedious or tiresome. The aforementioned tools are more to aid you in exploration and puzzle-solving. The most crucial thing you have is your ol’ banger of a ship. Your signalscope is used to track down different signals around the galaxy — nothing too groundbreaking but it’s a useful tool for completing the game. You are also equipped with the ability to launch a probe attached with a camera, allowing you to see hard-to-reach places. Plus, they’re also a useful source of light.
Outer Wilds is consistently joyous, yet it somehow does an incredible job of filling you with caution on your solitary journey. Perfectly capturing the intrigue of space while cementing the feeling of loneliness as you travel. It may only be 22 minutes, but it can feel incredibly long (in a good way), especially when you’ve come in too hot on your landing, ripped your ship in half and found yourself hopelessly floating through space. Well designed environments are what really deserve the credit of keeping the game fresh though — even when I found myself stuck, I was never bored of the loop.
One of the most difficult parts of the game is flying the ship. Unsurprisingly I have no experience of flying a ship but I imagine it feels a bit like it does in Outer Wilds. You have to balance not only your speed but also height, beginning to decelerate early during a landing in order to prevent a disaster like the one previously mentioned. Outer Wilds controls are physics-based, and they posed the biggest challenge. At the start, my flying technique was a mash-up of winging it and hoping for the best. There is no combat and rarely anything hostile to avoid — your only real hazard, other than the big collapsing star, is simply traversal. The majority of the puzzles are often about getting past a hurdle, then you can get to where you need to be. The puzzle structure can at times feel stale, but it doesn’t really hold the game back.
Outer Wilds is up there with one of the best game experiences of 2019, but also of this generation of consoles. It’s unique and enthralling, consistently dragging you deeper into the world to discover its secrets, successfully delivering on an interesting world, alongside giving you a great amount of freedom. The best thing that can be said about the Outer Wilds is that you need to experience it for yourself. There’s plenty more to talk about here but that would just ruin the good work of the folks at Mobius Game Design. They’ve built a game difficult to talk about, because anything given away is something you aren’t experiencing for yourself.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Outer Wilds Review
Gameplay - 10/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 7/10
A space adventure that brings as much charm as it does intrigue. The Outer Wilds is what gaming is meant to be — true escapism that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Rich and interesting worlds
Sense of exploration
Puzzles can grow stale
Controlling the ship is initially awkward