SCORE
9/10
PUBLISHED
CATEGORY
READING TIME

6 minutes

Summary

  • Outer Wilds is a fantastic exploration game, one of the best in its genre
  • Features a time loop mechanic: the universe resets every 22 minutes and each time you die
  • You’ll find ruins, ancient writings and data logs that provide clues to solving the universe’s mysteries
  • Often rewarding and often frustrating due to time loop and other random crap thrown in your way (cacti)
  • Buy? Buy

Outer Wilds is an exploration and puzzle game by Mobius Digital where you’re a four-eyed alien exploring the solar system in your new ship. It helps that your solar system is tiny (like six planets tiny) and everything’s relatively close together.

In your first run, you’ll go through a basic tutorial, talk to your fellow aliens and waste time trying to drop a stupid drone toy into a geyser. You’ll get to the point where you can finally say goodbye to your boring planet and blast off for greener pastures.

And then, twenty-two minutes after that, the sun explodes and you die.

And then, just like Bill Murray, you’ll wake up in the same spot where you started the game, at the exact same time and day.

Congrats, you’re now in a time loop (TM)!

And so begins your journey into the Outer Wilds.


Early on, you learn that a race of aliens – the Nomai – landed in your solar system eons ago, built some crap and disappeared, leaving behind a whole bunch of junk: ruins, data logs and wall paintings. But where’d they all go? Most of the game revolves around you exploring the other planets to find out what happened to them and hopefully sorting out your own time loop issues in the process.

A typical run in Outer Wilds consists of the following:

  • Wake up, go to your ship, blast off
  • Check your Rumor map to see what you’re missing and where
  • Fly somewhere
  • Land, put on your spacesuit, and explore
  • You die.
  • (repeat infinitely)

Of course, the game is much more entertaining than it sounds on paper. There are two parts to Outer Wilds:

The Flying

Do you remember an Atari game called Lunar Lander? Where you try to land a ship onto a platform except gravity is constantly pulling you downwards?

Flying around in Outer Wilds is pretty similar, except it’s in 3D space. You use your thrusters or combination of thrusters to move in different directions, or speed-up/slow down or land. When flying around the solar system, you’ve got a rudimentary autopilot that can pick the right speed/velocity/direction given a target. Unfortunately, it doesn’t account for *other planets*, so you’ll have to monitor it to make sure you don’t end up crashing into the sun.

And speaking of the sun, each planet has its own orbit around it (and its own gravity!) and sometimes you’ll need to take that into account when flying.

Something also needs to be said about the physics engine: Outer Wilds is essentially a 22-minute simulation of a solar system and as a game dev, I can’t even imagine how Mobius even did a lot of this stuff. I don’t believe there’s a better game out there that combines this level of realism while still feeling like an arcade game. So kudos to them for that.

The last thing of some note is that your ship is equipped with a Scout pod that can be launched to provide still images. Destroying the Scout doesn’t seem to be an issue as you can just load up another one instantly.

The Exploring

Exploration is Outer Wilds’ bread and butter. There are six planets in your solar system to check out, along with a couple of celestial bodies and other satellites ‘n stuff that you’ll run into.

Each planet is wildly different and has its own set of oddities: for example, the Hourglass Twins are two planets that orbit each other, with one of them covered in sand in the beginning of the loop and continually trickling down to the other; by the end of the loop, the other planet is covered instead. There’s also Dark Bramble, a fun, wacky and thorny planet where you fly in and get devoured by a giant fish.

Once you’ve landed, you don your space suit (or see what happens without one) and head outside. Your alien guy can jump about two inches into the air – luckily, you’re also equipped with a jetpack. The jetpack requires fuel which can be refilled by going back into your ship or with canisters randomly strewn around the universe. Oh, and did I mention that each planet has its own gravity and weather?

Once you’ve gotten acclimated to getting around the various planets, the actual adventure begins. There are two big mysteries in the game: what was the deal with the Nomai, and how to stop the universe from looping. To solve these, you’ll need to explore all the ruins you find and decipher the ancient writings left behind by the Nomai (which is easily done thanks to your translation device). Almost everything you read will be useful at some point and you’ll need to put togther all of the clues to solve the ultimate mystery of What The Crap Is Going On In This Universe.

The game does NOT tell you where to go, nor does it provide much hand-holding here. You’re on your own.

It DOES, however, include a neat game feature called Rumor Mode. This is an optional map of all the clues you’ve found that also shows how areas or events relate to one another. It’ll also let you know whether there’s more stuff to be found at a given place. I honestly don’t know how you can possibly play this game without it.

Much of the fun in Outer Wilds comes from finding cool stuff, so I don’t want to say much more about the story. But I will say it’s satisfying and well worth your time.

Difficulty

The difficulty level is all over the goddamn place.

There’s another thing I wanted to address, which is the difficulty level. It’s all over the place. Outer Wilds is not a walking simulator by any means – you’ll need to handle a lot of flying and getting around (including jumping puzzles, which if you fail generally means you have to restart the loop). It can be extremely frustrating at times.

Since the game’s so open-ended (and hints on where to go are contained in Nomai signs strewn all over the solar system), the biggest challenge of Outer Wilds is actually figuring out what to do and where to explore. I wouldn’t so much say that this part is frustrating, it’s more that sometimes you just won’t have enough 

And if that wasn’t enough, the developers decided to throw in some fun curveballs every so often, as if to say “hey guys, we’re still here!” and even if you know how to handle a certain situation, there will be ANOTHER THING blocking your way, like a literal cactus.

When I originally wrote this review, I found Outer Wilds to be about 50% incredibly amazing and 50% incredibly annoying. I even had this entire rant written out about how I’d give Outer Wilds the Most Frustrating Game of the Year Award for 2019 (I still might). Since then, Mobius has pushed a couple of patches, and recently released an update to the game (1.0.7) – this patch makes some of the clues a bit easier to follow. After going through some parts of the game again, I’m not sure if it’s THAT much friendlier to players, but maybe…70% amazing and 30% annoying?

How Long Does it Take to Finish Outer Wilds?

I just checked my total playtime: ~40 hours. Most sites will say that it takes around 20 hours, which I feel is a giant load of crap. Or maybe I’m just slow. Like really slow.

I’d say that you’re looking at a good 25-30 hours here especially if you aren’t following a guide.

Buy?

Considering the game is only $16.65 on Steam (USA) during the Summer Sale, this is an absolute resounding Buy.


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