STAFF REVIEW of Outer Wilds (Xbox One)

Saturday, June 29, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Outer Wilds Box art I’ve always gravitated towards games that have a strong narrative. Some games utilize lengthy and dramatic cutscenes to tell its story, others immerse you in a living world, but in the case of Outer Wilds, it focuses on exploration mechanics for you to search and find out more about its lore. Outer Wilds is an interesting concept that took me a while to wrap my head around, but once I did, I kept wanting to go back after every 22 minutes, but more on that shortly.

If I was forced to make a direct comparison, I would best equate Outer Wilds to something that resembles a No Man’s Sky, though nowhere near in size and scope. That’s not a bad thing though, as Outer Wilds has some very interesting roguelike elements that keeps gameplay quite interesting throughout your space adventure. Normally I like to be guided and told what to do and when, but Outer Wilds is exactly the opposite, allowing your curiosity dictate where you want to go and what to do.

You’re the newest recruit for a small space program, the Outer Wilds Ventures. Your goal is to find answers and explore the known solar system with your trusty spaceship and suit. This solar system is nothing like our own though, with many moons, orbiting planets nearby and even more mysteries as to why your alien race is stuck here in the first place.

There was another race here before you though, as there are remnants littered throughout the galaxy, pieces of which you’ll find during your vast exploration. The main catch though? You’re stuck in a time loop where the solar system is engulfed by the Sun turning into a Supernova. When you die though, you simply wake up once again at your camp fire alongside a friend; something you’ve done countless times before.

Sure, once I realized there was a Groundhog Day element to the narrative and gameplay, I was intrigued, but it’s a very clever way to add roguelike elements to the gameplay. Even though the universe is destroyed every 22 minutes and your game restarts, you keep any progress you’ve made with found clues and researched lore. For example, your first task is to find the launch codes for your ship so you can take into orbit, and even though you’ll die in 22 minutes, or sooner if you have a mishap, once you’ve found those codes, you’ll already start your next time loop with that knowledge. So while it’s a roguelike with guaranteed deaths, you do constantly progress as well.

Every time you die, be it the Supernova, running out of oxygen, crashing your ship or numerous other means, you’ll always awake moments later back at your campfire. Why is this happening, what happens if you can stop the time loop? Can you even do such a thing? These are the questions that are asked and for you to solve on your own through exploration in the solar system.

You’re going to need to venture into unknown space to find answers. Where do you begin? Do you equip tools and check your map? Do you aim for the nearest planet? What’s that dark planet in the distance that looks like it’s frozen in time after exploding? Why is there ancient text strewn around nearly everywhere? Your curiosity will get the best of you, and you’re not guided in any way or another, so free to choose what you want to explore.

There’s a surprising amount of detail within Outer Wilds’ worlds, as each planet looks and feels distinct, every cave and mystery is unique and some of the landscapes you’ll come across are simply magnificent to take in and enjoy.

Getting around the galaxy though will take some practice, as you’ll need to deal with navigating all of the axis’ in your ship and suit. You’re going to crash a lot in the beginning, but eventually it'll become second nature. You can also use the autopilot to get within range of a planet before setting down to explore. There’s a steep learning curve, not only in the controls, but how to progress, and more importantly, why. Just as you discover new areas, you’ll plunge down a rabbit hole that will only open up more questions and be presented with puzzles that will almost certainly take a good walkthrough to solve. However, solving the puzzles and deciphering ancient text that reveals more about the lore is very rewarding. Yes, you’re going to die in 22 minutes, again, but all of your discoveries carries over into the next time loop.

22 minutes might not sound like long, but when you’re exploring the galaxy, I actually ended up dying most of the time well before the Supernova event occurred. Sure, a few of those were accidentally ejecting myself into space and running out of oxygen, or crash landing onto a planet at breakneck speeds, but every time you awaken at the campfire once again, it only takes a few moments to get back into space and your next destination. While you’ll only make minor overall progress in small steps, once things start to come together and uncover the past, it’s quite rewarding.

I really enjoyed that there were no enemies or combat elements within. That doesn’t meant there aren’t specific dangers that need to be avoided, but I really appreciated the exploration focus rather than adding a survival element. Your ship's on-board computer will keep track of all the progress you’ve made, laying out the ‘quests’, so to speak, in an easily visual way that makes sense and allows you to figure out what you want to do next or set markers.

Puzzles will play a large part of your exploration, as certain orbs can be moved along paths, much like switches, or finding a room where touching a crystal changes the orientation or gravity. There’s many more secrets to uncover within, many of which I could list off as immensely cool moments, but that would be spoiling grand events that truly need to be witnessed and experienced.

Visually, Outer Wilds may look basic at first glance, but once you start to take in the universe as a whole, explore within the layers of planets and appreciate the more unique moments, ‘impressive’ is only the start of how to describe how everything looks. Arguably even better is its soundtrack, with movingly beautiful instrumentals that fit a great space exploration perfectly. Witnessing your first Supernova death with the orchestral soundtrack is simply a beautiful experience.

While some may be turned off by the lack of focus and direction, Outer Wilds excels because it doesn’t do either of these, allowing you to explore the galaxy at your own pace in any way you want. Curiosity will constantly pique your interest, pulling you to new places every new time loop, with tons of secrets and mysteries to uncover for those that want a specific goal. Oh, and it’s on Game Pass currently, so there’s absolutely no reason to not suit up for 22 minutes and explore wherever you desire.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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