Outer Wilds is a fascinating game of discovery in a finely-crafted, tiny solar system trapped in a time loop.
It’s a space exploration game that starts in a forest next to a campfire. The first thing you can do is toast a marshmallow. (You can do the same at campsites on all the planets.)
You explore the other planets in your tiny solar system using a ship made of plywood and sheet metal, with duct-tape repairs. You need to figure out why the system is stuck in the time loop, and what happened to the ancient aliens who visited the system eons ago and died out, leaving only ruins.
Each planet is wildly different. One’s a hollow shell around a small black hole. Another is an ocean world with constant storms. There’s a rocky world with a deep equatorial canyon that shares an orbit with a world covered in sand…that flows between planets as the loop goes on. Another has been shattered into pieces by a giant space-growing bramble. Events during the loop change the environments too, blocking some areas and revealing others.
In theory you could finish the game in 22 minutes…but the fun is the hours of exploration in which you uncover the story and figure out how to finish the game. The ending, once you get to it, is a perfect, bittersweet coda to that story.
Vs No Man’s Sky
In a sense, Outer Wilds is the opposite of No Man’s Sky.
- One’s a tiny cluster of carefully-crafted worlds, each unique, each requiring different ways of exploring.
- The other is an infinite galaxy of auto-generated worlds, but when it comes down to it, the differences are mostly in the aesthetics and labels. A high-radiation world and a high-temperature world don’t really differ except in which resource you use to recharge your shielding.
I mean, I like No Man’s Sky. I’ve got several hundred hours on it. But a lot of the game play is the same thing you’ve done before a zillion times, just dressed up differently and with better equipment or more inventory slots as you go along.
I love the the soundtrack too. Most space games don’t use banjos and harmonicas as key instruments, but each astronaut in the game also plays music on a different instrument while sitting by their own campfire, each on a different planet. Though I’m not sure how the ocean one stays lit.
So here’s a toast(ed marshmallow) to the travellers from Timber Hearth.