Share
submit to reddit
Pin it
Outer Wilds - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Entire toy solar system to explore!
  • Dynamic open world play space
  • Despite tiny scale, physics are just believable enough
  • Player-driven mystery
  • Ship's log tracks all relevant info
  • Time loop provides stopping points for intermediate-length sessions
  • Clever alternate endings that reward players for experimenting with the laws of physics and causality

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • No on-screen countdown?
  • Nomai texts do not stay translated in future loops
  • Timed Epic Store exclusivity

Overall Impression : A+
A tiny little solar system with a big mystery!

Outer Wilds - cover

Developer:
Mobius Digital

Publisher:
Annapurna Interactive

Platforms:
PC < (via Steam or Epic Games Store),
PlayStation 4 (via PSN digital download),
XBox One (via XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $25 USD

Original release date:
28 May 2019 (Epic Game Store, consoles)
18 June 2020 (Steam)

Genre:
sci-fi mystery

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for 10 years old and up) for:
fantasy violence, alcohol reference

Player(s):
single player

Official site:
www.mobiusdigitalgames.com/outer-wilds.html

I refuse to give money to Epic,
and waited for Steam release.

Outer Wilds was one of my most anticipated games in 2019. As such, it was immensely disappointing that it became a timed exclusive for the Epic Games Store. I have a lot of issues with how Epic Games runs its business, and with the ethics (or lack thereof) of the company, and so I refuse to give them a single penny of my money. Our daughter plays Fortnite with her friends, and we're not going to disallow her from doing such (and besides, her socialization options were incredibly limited during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and I think playing Fortnite stopped her from going stir crazy). But I've told her that the first time she asks me for money to buy V-Bucks, it will be the last time she plays the game.

I could have bought Outer Wilds on PS4 a year ago, but it just looked like the kind of game that would be better experienced on PC. I've been burned enough times by Bethesda RPGs that I'm always skeptical of a console's ability to adequately run a game with a world of the scope and comlexity of Outer Wilds. So I bit the bullet and waited the year for the game to release on Steam.

The opening screen recommended the use of a game pad, and I obligingly started using my PS4 controller on my second play session. And I've read that the game ran just fine on consoles. So I guess I could have spared myself the wait and just played on PS4 from the start. Ah well, live and learn.

Outer Wilds plays best with a controller anyway, so there was no need for me to pass up the console release.

Now to go back to finishing Fallout: New Vegas while I await the Steam release of The Outer Worlds...

Knowledge is your upgrade

Readers of my blog know that I'm not a huge fan of most open world games. The sandboxy nature of those games tends to lead to stagnant stories and worlds that feel ironically dead. They also tend to be full to the brim of monotonous copy-pasted content that becomes a drag to play.

Outer Wilds offers an entire solar system as an open world sandbox for you to explore. Granted, the scale of this solar system is considerably shrunk down in order to accommodate a game, such that an entire planet is about as big as a small neighborhood, and the different planets are only a few kilometers apart from one another. It's fine. It works well enough with the game's cartoony aesthetic style.

You have an entire toy solar system to play in.

What's important though, is how rich with detail and intrigue this world solar system is. Nothing looks or feels copy-pasted. Every nook and cranny of the map contains something new that you haven't seen before. On top of that, the map is positively dynamic!

The core conceit of the game is that you play as an astronaut who is stuck in a repeating time loop of the last twenty minutes before your homeworld's sun goes nova -- which, of course, destroys the whole solar system and kills everyone you know. So every time you start a new play session, you have twenty minutes before the sun goes boom, you die, and you have to restart and do everything over again.

Except, you aren't really doing everything over again. You and your ship's on-board computer are able to retain your memories from loop to loop. You thus travel from planet to planet, exploring and investigating everything you can in that twenty minutes, trying to figure out why the sun explodes and why you are stuck in this time loop, and maybe -- just maybe -- a way to stop the cataclysm and save yourself and your home. Each location you visit contains clues to help you piece together the puzzle of the ancient alien race that visited your system eons ago, and which may have set the apocalyptic events in motion. These clues will guide you to other locations in the solar system for to follow-up investigations, and will shed new light on the places you've already been.

Ship's log records all the clues you've collected.

They might also provide clues on how to navigate certain obstacles or barriers. In your early explorations in the first few time loops, you will likely come across seemingly impassable barriers to progress. Whether it's overgrown cactus plants blocking a path, mysterious "ghost matter" that kills you on contact, hostile angler fish that devour you on sight, and even a black hole at the center of a planet; each world is full of unique obstacles that slow down or halt your progress. At first, you might think that this game is going to be like a Metroid-vania, in which you find upgrades and abilities that let you come back and access the previously-inaccessible locations of the map.

But that isn't quite the case.

In fact, every obstacle is traversible from the start of the game. It's up to you to figure out how. Heck, if you know what to do, you can beat the game in the first time loop, and there's even an achievement for doing so!

Clues spread throughout the solar system may provide explicit clues on how to bypass certain obstacles. Yet others will rely on the player making careful observations and recognizing patterns. You see, despite taking place in a twenty minute time loop, the [open world] solar system of Outer Wilds is not stagnant. Almost every world undergoes dramatic transformations over the course of that twenty minutes. A pair of binary planets closest to the sun exchange sand like an hourglass, filling one world's canyons and making them inaccessible, while emptying the other world and exposing previously buried structures. Another planet is slowly breaking apart and being consumed by a small black hole. Another planet's oceans are filled with cyclones that spit whole islands out into space before they plummet back down into the water. And an observatory orbiting the sun is eventually enveloped and destroyed by the expansion of the star itself.

With ingenuity, you can find a way past any obstacle in the game.

The dynamic nature of each world means that certain locations might be locked off until certain times in the loop, or until certain other conditions are met. It's up to the player to learn these patterns and use them to gain access to places that you might otherwise not have been able to reach.

Thus, it isn't upgrades to your space suit or ship that grant you access to previously-locked locations; it's your knowledge of the environment itself. Learning about this place and how it all fits together and works is the core challenge of the game. The map isn't just the space between quests or story set pieces. The map is like a character itself. It is a villain, but your growing familiarity with it turns it into an ally.

The map itself is a mystery that you must piece together using your own powers of observation. The ship's log will handily track almost every piece of useful information that you come across, and it will remind you when one clue points you towards another location, but it won't tell you where to go or what to do. It's entirely up to you to decide where you go at any given time, and what you do when you get there, and you can tackle any location in any order that you wish. It is completely, 100% player-driven exploration of the solar system! No hand-holding or objective markers or hints of any kind, other than what you find for yourself, and what you gather from the in-universe clues or dialogue.

Each world is dynamic and changes over the course of the time loop.

Further, you can only access the ship's log while you are physically in the ship. You can't simply pause the game at any time to review the clues you've accumulated. This means that you actually have to pay attention to what you are observing, reading, and being told, or else you are going to completely lost and confused. As such, the game is best played through in a relatively short amount of time, so that all the information stays fresh in your head. Other internet commentators are suggesting that you expect to spend at least 12 or 15 hours to complete the game, but it took me 24 hours over the course of a week-and-a-half. I failed to thoroughly explore several large areas in my first visit and had to go back and re-explore them later, which added a considerable amount of time to my play hours.

The game No Man's Sky wanted to be

Comparing Outer Wilds to something like No Man's Sky (at launch) really highlights the power of hand-crafted design. No, Outer Wilds doesn't have a quintillion planets to explore, nor are the individual planets as large as the ones in No Man's Sky. But each of Outer Wilds's handful of tiny worlds are distinct, interesting, and (most importantly) feel worth exploring! Better yet, the overarching mystery that drives the whole game also feels more engaging and worth solving in Outer Wilds, compared to No Man's Sky.

You explore the solar system for the sake of knowledge and discovery.

In many ways, Outer Wilds feels like the game that No Man's Sky desperately wanted to be -- or at least, it's further in the right direction. This concept of investigating the anomalous destruction of a star while trapped in a time loop could easily have been adapted into a pretty damned good Star Trek game! If any game has ever captured that spirit of "exploring strange new worlds", it is Outer Wilds.

Outer Wilds is the game I feel No Man's Sky wanted to be, capturing the spirit of exploring strange new worlds.

Supernova!

If I have any complaints with Outer Wilds, it's some nagging control and interface issues. Navigating in fully 3-D space is never easy from a control standpoint. Outer Wilds does an adequate job, and it's U.I. is very helpful at keeping the player oriented. It's a little bit harder to judge speed, and it's easy to lose control and crash your ship or your self.

Judging speed can be a bit tough.

My biggest issue, however, is the lack of an on-screen countdown. If you have visibility to the sky, you can usually tell when you're down to the last couple minutes of a cycle because the sun will start to swell before it collapses and explodes. The aptly-named Hourglass Twins are also a good indicator. There's also a musical cue when you get down to 120 or 60 seconds. But since so much of the game takes place underground, you don't always have the luxury of observing the state of the sun, and there's no other universal indicators of how much longer you have before the current cycle ends. There's a few other subtle indicators on each world, but they aren't always readily accessible, and it will take a few visits before you learn to recognize them. I can easily set a timer on my Fitbit watch each time the character wakes up to start a new loop, but I really shouldn't have to. This is a space-faring civilization. Surely they've invented stop-watches!

If I could make one change to the game, it would be that after you witness the nova of the sun for the first time (might not necessarily be the first loop, since you might kill yourself before the nova), there should be a cutscene of the character waking up and immediately starting a timer on your watch. As the sun goes nova at the end of that ensuing cycle, the character holds up the watch to see that 22 minutes had passed. Then, at the start of the next cycle, the character wakes up and immediately starts a 22-minute countdown. From then on, you should just have a countdown in the corner of the screen at all times (without having to sit through cutscenes of setting the watch).

The 20 minute loop can also feel a bit strict at times. This is a game that is about carefully and methodically exploring the environments, and taking the time to really absorb what is going on around you. The 20-minute countdown really makes me feel like I need to rush through a location to find all of the clues, especially since the Nomai texts do not stay translated in later loops. Having an on-screen timer would certainly help me know how much time I have left, and whether it's necessary to rush.

If the nova happens when I'm in the middle of exploring a city, it can sometimes be hard to remember what I've explored. The dynamic nature of the game world means that things won't necessarily be where you left them, and some of the areas can be rather maze-like with non-distinct rooms and hallways. Sometimes I waste an entire loop (or two) just trying to find where I was when the timer expired last time, which is part of why it took me 10 hours longer to beat than most other critics are saying it took them.

The player character should be able to set a stopwatch as soon as they wake up.

I cannot stress enough that these are just nagging issues. I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and it stands alongside gems like The Swapper and Soma as one of the best science fiction games that I've ever played. And it's also a rare breed of game (along with Return of the Obra-Dinn) that makes you feel like you are genuinely solving these mysteries, rather than just having the solutions handed to you after playing Simon Says. If you're a science fiction or physics nerd, then Outer Wilds is a must-play. Even if you aren't a nerd, it's still a fun and cute little space adventure with a captivating mystery.

It was well worth the wait!

Other Game Reviews I've Published

Ace Combat 7Ace Combat 7Alan WakeAlan Wake
Alien: IsolationAlien: IsolationAmnesia: a Machine for PigsAmnesia: a Machine for Pigs
Amnesia: the Dark DescentAmnesia: the Dark DescentAmong the SleepAmong the Sleep
Assassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed: OriginsAssassin's Creed: OriginsAxis Football 18Axis Football 18
Axis Football 2019Axis Football 2019Back to the Future Episode OneBack to the Future Episode One
Backbreaker FootballBackbreaker FootballBanishedBanished
Batman: Arkham CityBatman: Arkham CityBattlefield 1Battlefield 1
Blair WitchBlair WitchBloodborneBloodborne
Bloodborne: the Old HuntersBloodborne: the Old HuntersCall of Duty World War IICall of Duty World War II
CatherineCatherineCities SkylinesCities Skylines
Cities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: CampusCities Skylines: Campus
Cities Skylines: Green CitiesCities Skylines: Green CitiesCities Skylines: IndustriesCities Skylines: Industries
Cities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Natural DisastersCities Skylines: Natural Disasters
Cities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: SnowfallCities Skylines: Snowfall
Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4CitiesXL & Cities XXLCitiesXL & Cities XXL
Dark SoulsDark SoulsDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLCDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLC
Dark Souls IIDark Souls IIDark Souls II: Scholar of the First SinDark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Dark Souls IIIDark Souls IIIDark Souls III: Ashes of AriandelDark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Dark Souls III: the Ringed CityDark Souls III: the Ringed CityDawn of ManDawn of Man
Dead Space 2Dead Space 2Death StrandingDeath Stranding
Death's GambitDeath's GambitDemon's SoulsDemon's Souls
Devil May Cry 5Devil May Cry 5DmC (Devil May Cry)DmC (Devil May Cry)
DOOM (2016)DOOM (2016)DreadOutDreadOut
F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)Fallout 4Fallout 4
Fallout ShelterFallout ShelterFar Cry PrimalFar Cry Primal
Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XV
FirewatchFirewatchFive Nights at Freddy'sFive Nights at Freddy's
Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)God of War (2018)God of War (2018)
God of War IIIGod of War IIIGone HomeGone Home
Grand Theft Auto VGrand Theft Auto VHellblade: Senua's SacrificeHellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Her StoryHer StoryKingdom Come: DeliveranceKingdom Come: Deliverance
L.A. NoireL.A. NoireLifeless PlanetLifeless Planet
Lollipop ChainsawLollipop ChainsawMad MaxMad Max
Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 11Madden NFL 12Madden NFL 12
Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 15Madden NFL 15
Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 17Madden NFL 17
Madden NFL 18Madden NFL 18Madden NFL 19Madden NFL 19
Madden NFL 20Madden NFL 20Mars Rover LandingMars Rover Landing
Marvel's Spider-ManMarvel's Spider-ManMaster of Orion: Conquer the StarsMaster of Orion: Conquer the Stars
Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2019Maximum Football 2019
Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMetal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMiasmataMiasmata
Middle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of WarMiddle-Earth: Shadow of War
Monster Hunter: WorldMonster Hunter: WorldMoons of MadnessMoons of Madness
NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 11NCAA Football 12NCAA Football 12
NCAA Football 13NCAA Football 13NiohNioh
No Man's SkyNo Man's SkyObservationObservation
Outer WildsOuter WildsPapers, PleasePapers, Please
Portal 2Portal 2Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption IIRed Dead Redemption IIResident Evil 2Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 3Resident Evil 3Resident Evil 7: BiohazardResident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil RemasteredResident Evil RemasteredReturn of the Obra DinnReturn of the Obra Dinn
Rock Band 3Rock Band 3Room 404Room 404
Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceSekiro: Shadows Die TwiceShadow of the Colossus (2018)Shadow of the Colossus (2018)
Sid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New WorldSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization VISid Meier's Civilization VI
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering StormSid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering StormSid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and FallSid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and Fall
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising TideSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising Tide
Silent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD Collection
Silent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill Downpour
SimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)SimCity BuilditSimCity Buildit
SomaSomaSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsStar Trek TrexelsStar Trek Trexels
Star Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi Fallen Order
StellarisStellarisStellaris mod: New HorizonsStellaris mod: New Horizons
The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC
The Evil WithinThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2
The Last GuardianThe Last GuardianThe Last of UsThe Last of Us
The SaboteurThe SaboteurThe SwapperThe Swapper
The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil War
Uncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUntil DawnUntil Dawn
What Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch 

Contribute Comment

avatar


We'll incarnate your avatar from the services below.
PlayStation Network Steam Xbox LIVE Facebook MySpace Pinterest Twitter YouTube deviantART LiveJournal



biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview


Grid Clock Widget
12      60
11      55
10      50
09      45
08      40
07      35
06      30
05      25
04      20
03      15
02      10
01      05
Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

Patreon

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

A Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to addA Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to add08/18/2017 Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster or remake have been floating around for a while now (as have rumors of a sequel). I have mixed feeling on the idea of a remake/remaster. On the one hand, Demon's Souls is one of my favorite games ever and may represent the peak of the series. Naturally, I want more people to play it and recognize...

Random Post

Repairing a PS3 - Another Horror Story RantRepairing a PS3 - Another Horror Story Rant07/05/2012 The last thing that any PS3 owner wants to see: The "Yellow Light of Death" Some of you may remember that I wrote about my experiences (and frustrations) with trying to repair or replace a PS3 through Sony last year. It was not a pleasant experience. So when that replacement unit suddenly failed on me a few weeks ago while playing...

Month List

RecentComments

Comment RSS