Outer Wilds is one of those video game masterpieces that most people have probably never even heard of. To give you a little bit of background, this game is like an open-world mystery that takes place in outer space. You explore a small, but complex, solar system, and your goal is to basically play the role of a space-faring detective as you uncover the mysteries of an alien race called the Nomai and the 22-minute time loop in which you have found yourself trapped.
The game can technically be beaten in less than an hour if you know what you’re doing. (If not, it took me a little over 20 hours, I think.) You don’t obtain items or unlock new areas as the game progresses. Everything is available to you from the very start of the game, which includes your ship, jetpack, signalscope for tracking down various signals, and your Scout Launcher, which sends out a small probe for taking photos and illuminating dark places. The whole point of the game is to gather information, following one lead after another until you gain a better understanding of your eventual mission.
This is one of the best examples of a game that doesn’t hold your hand. It tells you basically nothing, and your initial goal is to merely start exploring the various planets, including your home planet of Timber Hearth. From there, it will slowly start to make sense what you should be doing and where you should go, and I absolutely loved that. Rarely has a game ever given me so much freedom to do whatever I wanted. An example would be Breath of the Wild, and even then, I couldn’t do certain things until I was sufficiently strong enough. In this game, the greatest challenge is figuring out what to do, not actually following through with it.
Despite having so little direction, or perhaps because of it, I was constantly engaged as I discovered new places and learned new things, constantly travelling from one planet to another in my quest for knowledge. And even though there are only a handful of planets, the game is much better for it because each planet is quite interesting, with its own unique dangers and things to discover. Frankly, I’d much rather a few really interesting planets over a bunch of mediocre ones. Furthermore, with the 22-minute time loop, time is a major factor in your environment, as well, and not just as an obvious time limit. Several locations change over time, requiring you to rush to certain places before your limited time window runs out or to visit other locations later on once they’ve become more accessible to you.
You may have noticed by now that I’m being intentionally vague in this review, but that’s because this game is much better if you go into it without any knowledge of what you’re getting into. The best part of Outer Wilds is the thrill of discovery, and I would highly recommend playing this game with minimal (preferably none) spoilers and tips. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on all those moments where you go, aha, so that’s how that works…so that’s why I’m…oh, so that’s what happened to…
This game is an absolute masterpiece. I loved my time with it. I loved where this fantastic journey took me, to all kinds of places that defied my imagination. This game was beautiful, poignant, and sometimes downright terrifying (good luck if you’ve got a lot of phobias like I do…including a general fear of outer space)! I even loved the fact that I started out as a complete and utter oaf that would crash into planets at top speeds, but by the end, I was landing my ship and jet-packing around with what I could almost call grace and finesse. (It’s just a shame I was practically done with the game by the time my extreme clumsiness wore off.) I can’t even begin to describe how amazing of an adventure this was…because again, I simply can’t spoil anything for you.
That’s why this is kind of a tough game to review. But if you like open-world games with no handholding…if you like science fiction…if you like solving mysteries and discovering new and interesting places and morsels of knowledge, then I would highly recommend this game. The only problem I have is the fact that this game has little to no replay-ability. While I wouldn’t necessarily mind revisiting it years from now, it’s still hard to feel motivated to play something after you’ve uncovered all the mysteries and can go straight to the end. I wouldn’t call this a flaw, but it is an inevitable consequence of a game designed to give you complete freedom, your only barrier your current set of knowledge.
Of course, if you’re interested in this game, but don’t feel like playing it yourself…or if you just want a little sneak peek, the first episode of our playthrough is below.