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August 2021

Outer Wilds

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Mobius Digital
Release Date: May 30, 2019


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PC Review - 'Outer Wilds'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 18, 2019 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Outer Wilds is an open world mystery where you explore a solar system trapped in a 20-minute time loop.

Buy Outer Wilds

Time limits in games can be tricky. It can be a mood-killer to know that you're forced to act or lose all of your hard work. To me, the ideal was The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask; it had a hard time limit, but you used that precious time to explore, learn and improve, and you restarted each cycle knowing more. Outer Wilds isn't quite a Majora's Mask, but it uses its time limit in the same way — to encourage exploration, not as punishment for dying.

In The Outer Wilds, you are a being from a small planet. On the day of your maiden voyage via spaceship, the sun goes supernova. You are spared destruction by being thrown into a time loop. Every time you die, you end up about 20 minutes before the destruction of the solar system. You must seek out clues and mysteries to unravel what happened and if it's possible to stop it.

As you can gather from the story, Outer Wilds is pretty simple. You have a spacecraft, it's dark, you're wearing a spacesuit, and you have 20 minutes. Hit it. You pick a direction, go there, and perhaps you'll find something to explore. It could be puzzles. It could be ancient ruins with an alien language that you have to translate. It could be death. (Honestly, it's probably death.) There are rumors you can follow that lead to more mysteries, which can offer more things to explore, and it all comes together.

Outer Wilds is a game that's unashamed to kill you. You can crash your spaceship, get crushed, get immolated, be trapped forever, or countless other things. Your goal is not to avoid death but to learn from it. If something happens, you'll learn something from them, such as, "That is dangerous," "That can launch me," "I need to learn to park my ship better," and various other pieces of wisdom.

The game has plenty of time limits, and the most obvious one is the big red sun in the sky. This particular doom is inescapable, and your goal is to learn as much as you can. The sun has more than a little similarity to the big grinning moon in Majora's Mask, but oddly enough, it's less nightmare-inducing. There are other things to keep track of. You have limited oxygen (although it's plenty for your time limit) and limited jetpack fuel. Using too much fuel forces you to burn O2 to propel yourself, which gives you less time to explore without finding a means of replenishing yourself.

It's important to note that Outer Wilds isn't a die-hard game, despite the fact that you will die quite often. It's quite relaxing, each subsequent death slowly dissolving from terrifying to surprisingly peaceful. Everything about the game sounds like it should be punishing, but there isn't enough time to feel punished. Each life is around 20 minutes, so anything you need to do can be done within that time frame. It can be annoying if you're trying to solve one of the puzzles and the solar system is suddenly obliterated.

It also isn't a title about getting more powerful. You don't really get "new abilities" or upgrades throughout the game. Most of what you start with is what you have, and knowledge is your power. This can make the game feel repetitive at times, but it works well. You know that the locations you explore will unveil secrets if you can think things through, rather than coming back with your Varia Suit and a grappling hook.

Perhaps the most important thing about Outer Wilds is that it is charming. The sandbox may not have the sheer square footage of larger games, but it focuses on having an interesting environment to explore. This made it infinitely more enjoyable because if I decided to spent my precious moments of life going somewhere, I knew it was likely to be somewhere relevant rather than random.

This is also going to determine if you enjoy Outer Wilds. It's a game you play to explore, not shoot or hardcore puzzle-solving. It's a game where you look in a direction and think, "Hey, I want to see what is over there," and go for it. If you don't like the idea of what amounts to a "walking simulator," then perhaps Outer Wilds isn't for you. It's a darn good simulator in that way. It's full of genuine love for the mere idea of space exploration, venturing out, and discovering new and strange places. It drips with enthusiasm for the mere idea of the universe. Even the omnipresent threat of utter destruction isn't seen as an omnipotent evil but rather a part of the universe, beautiful even in its cataclysm.

This is what sold me most on Outer Wilds. I enjoyed exploring and poking around, and at its heart, I felt like the game enjoyed that, too. It didn't linger over deaths or revel in sadistic glee like Dark Souls. It won't work for everyone, but it's not trying to. It knows its audience and is perfectly eager to do what is needed.

Visually, it's also a pretty game. The art style does a lot of the heavy lifting, and that works wonders for the title. It's colorful without being lurid, and each area has a sense of wonder and excitement. Most of the objects are clear and distinctive, and it's easy to learn the language of the game. The soundtrack is delightfully good at conveying emotion, especially the ominous sound that ushers in the end of the solar system.

Outer Wilds is a genuinely delightful experience with a lot of bright points. It somehow manages to take the idea of a game about repeatedly dying in terrible ways and makes it enjoyable, relaxing and enthusiastic. It won't be a game for everyone due to its self-guided nature and its focus on puzzling things out for yourself, but it's exactly the game it needs to be. If you long for the space travel that No Man's Sky couldn't provide, give Outer Wilds a shot. It might not have a billion worlds, but each one is worth a visit.

Score: 8.5/10

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