When I first started playing Outer Wilds I knew exploration was going to be a big focus of the game, but I did not expect how focused and well implemented exploring would be to its entire gameplay. Every tool you use from your space ship to a fancy alien translator is essential for discovering the mysteries hidden in the Outer Wilds beautiful and dangerous solar system. And be warned: time isn’t on your side.
You take control of an unnamed blue skinned four eyed alien on a planet with fellow aliens like yourself. It’s the day of your first flight day into space. But strange things begin happening after the discovery of a statue of a long dead alien race, known as the Nomai. As soon as you take off a time loop occurs. When you die or go through the universe’s 22 minute time limit the game returns you back to the beginning, after the sun goes supernova, waking up looking at the stars again.
There is a lot going on in Outer Wilds gameplay-wise. First and foremost, is the time loop mechanic. It is very reminiscent of Majora’s Mask time travel mechanic. You retain what has happened in your last run and you sort of maintain the “progress” you make. And your main form progress in the game is information gathering.
You can gather said information with the help of three very handy tools. A Nomai translator to read the experiences of a small group who have explored the very same solar system you live in. Much of the information you find is through these translations.
You are also given a signal scope to pick up on different frequencies you find throughout the solar system. Some of them belong to the fellow travelers of your space organization. Other sounds and signals are of a mysterious rock shard associated with a strange moon that disappears and reappears throughout the solar system.
Lastly you can use the scout launcher, a launchable camera to take pictures of distant places and things. It is particularly useful for places you can’t reach and survey the area. You can explore some even further places and areas of mystery if you find the right clues.
All of these tools are easy to use and control, comfortably allowing you to explore the solar system.
They also all help you find information which get added to your ships log. Each discovery you make adds a new ship log entry. These entries are organized into the specific discoveries you’ve made like specific quest entries in other games. Much like real life discoveries and exploration you follow the thread of information to expand each log entry. Outer Wilds is very helpful guiding you subtly to the next clue with notifications and highlighting certain sentences in orange in the entry.
It’s a very compelling and immersive way of getting the player to explore the world. Seeing the branching connections of your discoveries helps to provide depth to the solar system your exploring and gives you the sense you are uncovering a deep mystery. And with each discovery more questions rise making you want to eagerly explore the next clue to find out more.
I love this method since it helps you when you’re lost, but doesn’t shove a marker on the HUD in your face. This makes less clutter on your HUD and gives you the freedom to switch up priorities, letting you explore as you please.
Outer Wilds solar system is wonderfully rendered in a cel-shaded, cartoon-y look. And well made cel-shading. Each planet is well crafted and unique in its look, making for a small, but well lived in solar system. One planet is cracking apart with a black hole at its core. Another is wracked by storms and covered in oceans. Several of the planets even feature well constructed and beautiful Nomai ruins.
Outer Wilds is wonderfully successful at using all of its mechanics to make exploration highly rewarding. It makes the moments of discovery on each planet and object in the solar system unique, awe inspiring, chilling, scary, or even perplexing. Outer Wilds maintains such a great level of mystery to its universe it makes you want to explore every bit of it. And it is worth bit of your time to do so.
Image source: mobiusdigitalgames.com press documents