Here’s the concept: you’re a young Hearthian (alien race) and today’s the day you begin your space travels. You can set out to any planet you want. You can meet up with any of the other space travellers out there. Regardless of what you decide, you’ll learn quickly (22 minutes to be exact) that the sun goes supernova, and the entire system is destroyed and obviously you along with it. Then all of a sudden, you awaken where you started, alive and well. You realise then you’re stuck in a time-loop…and your adventure begins!
There’s so much to praise this game for, but one of the biggest praises must go to the storytelling. Most games guide you through a story through linear means. Even if you can move through the story at your own pace, you’re still going to be lead along the one straight path. Well most of the time anyway, and not that there’s anything wrong with that of course!
But Outer Wilds does things differently. There’s no cut-scenes, there’s no quest log, and there’s certainly no waypoint markers telling you where to go. The game doesn’t give you any indication of what’s to come and what you must do. Once you’re free to fly, the story really begins once you find your first clue.
Because you can start on any planet or location you wish, you’re going to start discovering clues and unravelling the story almost at random. There’s various planets in the system, and each one plays their own part, with their own set of clues. Some clues relate directly to the planet you find them, some relate to off-world events, but everyone one of them is important.
But here’s what makes it great- there’s multiple storylines going on and not strictly just the one. You’ll discover clues for each storyline scattered on almost every planet, so it’s well worth your while to visit every location and scour every nook and cranny. Without giving too much away, it’s how these multiple storylines come together and are linked in some way that makes it all the more fascinating.
Normally games that tell their stories through hidden means like this tend to not interest me. I always preferred some sort of clarity and focus so I know what’s going on and what I need to do. This game does it in a way that the fragmented storytelling is what made it addictive, and what drove me to thoroughly explore everything I could. Every time I found new information, I was actually excited to learn about it.
But because there’s quite a lot of information for each particular storyline to remember, everything important worth remembering is stored in your ship log, so you can access it whenever you’re in your ship. It’s great being able to check out new information and see how they link to one another, and it’s so satisfying when it all comes together.
It’s not just about finding clues and that’s it. Sometimes you need to use those clues to solves puzzles in order to progress. The puzzles do require some real thinking, but aren’t obscure enough to be unsolvable. While there aren’t too many puzzles in the game, the ones that are there are fantastic. They actually fit in with the game and aren’t just tacked on for the sake of it.
A Story To Remember
It’s one thing to have unique storytelling like this game has, it’s another thing to have an actual great storyline. Thankfully, Outer Wilds has one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever played through. It may be a bit far-fetched at times, but it is science fiction after all, so let it go wild I say!
Because you are stuck in a time-loop, you have a limited time to do everything you can, to gain as much knowledge as possible. That is essentially the point of this game. Once you’ve gained all the knowledge on all the planets/locations, it’s just a matter of carrying out what needs to be done in order to end the story. So technically, it’s possible to finish the story in your first time loop, as unlikely as that would be though.
But because the story is so fascinating, that alone is always going to drive you forward. Every time I loaded the game up, I was always full of excitement and anticipation as to what I was going to discover next. The more I learned about the game, the more it drove to want to learn more.
The planets and various locations are almost characters in their own right. You’ll need to visit each one and explore them well, but each planet has its own set of challenges for you to overcome in order to progress.
For example, Brittle Hollow has a menacing moon that shoots fireballs onto the planet, loosening the structure and breaking it apart. These broken fragments fall down into the middle of planet, where a dreadful black hole awaits!
Then there’s the Ash Twin and Ember Twin planets, that are linked together by sand that pours constantly from one planet the other. This means you need to explore Ember Twin before it fills up, and you need to wait for Ash Twin to empty before you can properly explore it. There’s plenty more unique dangers for each planet, but I’ll let you play the game and discover them for yourselves.
A Relaxing But Frightening Experience
This might seem strange but Outer Wilds has the ability to feel relaxing, but frightening, at the same time. The music and overall vibe of the game is very chilled, but as you venture out (especially to somewhere new) the game finds many ways to keep you on your toes.
Even after spending many hours on this game, heading off to a new area filled me with dread, but at the same time, curiosity and wonder. That’s yet another thing that’s great about Outer Wilds, the emotions you feel are naturally generated. The game doesn’t try to evoke them from you, you do it yourself.
The same can be said when you’re ready to end the game. There’s a huge feeling of anticipation but fear at the same time. But the game doesn’t have cut-scenes or any lead up moments that build towards your final journey. All those emotions are purely generated by YOU, and that’s the power Outer Wilds has.
I’m obviously not going to go into any spoilers, but the ending is fully up to interpretation, and it’s brilliant! The possible messages the game tries to teach you are profound and thought-provoking. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about this game, and what it means, for a long time to come.
Outer Wilds is one of the strongest contenders for this year’s GOTY. Everything it tries to achieve, it absolutely nails. Brilliant non-linear storytelling, an absolutely fascinating storyline, addictive exploration, and the emotions in manages to evoke.
I believe I’ll still be thinking about this game, and the messages it tries to telling you, well after 2019 has passed. It’s not just a fun space exploration game, it’s an experience and a masterpiece.
The effort and detail the developers went into to create such a memorable universe, and everything that takes place within, should be commended with the highest praise.