Outer Wilds was released last week to little fanfare, in fact I had never even heard of the game till it popped up on Xbox Game-pass. I was immediately intrigued, I’m an absolute sucker for space exploration games and just space in general. So I ended up playing Outer Wilds, and to be perfectly honest, it’s now my favourite space exploration game I have ever played. It’s a mixture of the exploration of No Man’s Sky and the technical piloting of Elite Dangerous, with a quirky cast of characters thrown in.
So let me explain the premise the game, you’re an alien living a happy life on your home planet of Timber Hearth. Your species live mostly in wooden huts, but have progressed enough to have the technology to achieve spaceflight, it makes for an interesting style where your spaceship or “module” is made up of both metal and wood, and everything inside your module is held down by tape. You’re the newest astronaut in the “Outer Wilds Ventures” program, which sends astronauts to space to explore the solar system. There were other astronauts before you, all of them going to investigate other planets, you can locate them by pointing your Signalscope at a planet and listening for their signature instrument. Anyway, your adventure starts with you waking up beside a campfire on Timber Hearth, you can roast some marshmallows (make sure not to burn them!) then head up to the Observatory to collect the launch codes for your ship. Along the way you talk to the locals around your village before getting the launch codes, but on the way out of the Observatory a statue of an ancient alien known as the Noami opens its eyes and shines a light into your face, you see a vision, then it’s over. It’s…. Weird. You then proceed to enter your ship, then once you’re comfortable with the ship controls, you take off into space. And from there you can go anywhere, to any planet. But….. there’s a catch. Once you’ve been playing for 20 minutes (if you haven’t died by then yet, space is an incredibly hazardous place) the sun goes supernova, and there’s no escaping it. It kills you and everyone in the universe. But that’s not the end, you suddenly wake up back on Timber Hearth in front of the fire. If you try and talk to anyone about how you just died, they have no idea what you’re on about, and that’s when you realise that you’re in a time-loop, Groundhog day style.
So every 20 minutes the sun goes supernova, there’s no avoiding it at all. The only thing you can do is hope that you can find an answer for why this is happening, and that answer had to be out there on the distant planets. In Outer Wilds every planet is different, and there is more to them then meets the eye. The first planet I ever landed on was Brittle Hollow a plant with a black hole at its core, because of this the surface is slowly being pulled into the back hole, making exploring dangerous. I’m not going into detail about these planets, you are better off exploring them for yourself. The next planet I landed on was Giants Deep, at first glance it seems that Giants deep is covered in green “grass”, but as I tried to land I went straight through the “grass”. Giants Deep is actually covered in green clouds, and underneath the planet is one huge ocean that constantly being ravaged by an endless storm. There are islands on the planet for you to explore but watch out! When the tornadoes get close they will pick up the island and launch it into space! So keep your ship close. You can also try to get to the core of Giants Deep, but there a strong current in your way that not even your ship can fly through, but maybe if you were going fast enough you could break through? Ah it’s just a theory.
The next planet or “planets” is the twins. They are two smaller planets so close together that they are in the same orbits each other around the sun. One of the planets is covered in sand, and over time will poor the sand onto the other, slowly covering up the planet and all the structures and caverns in it making it impossible to explore. So timing is the key, as soon as you die and respawn you have to immediately fly back to explore the planet further. That’s what makes exploring the planet so interesting, you begin to conjure up a map in your head of the layout of the planet, giving you shortcuts and easier ways to explore them. The final explorable planet is Dark Bramble, this planet by far is my favourite because it’s the creepiest and scares the crap out of me. Dark Bramble is basically one big seed, inside it’s core is a white mist that is so thick that you can’t see a couple of metres in front of you. The only thing you can see are a few white lights and a red light glowing in the mist. Now there are no real enemies in Outer Wilds, usually there are hazards you have to avoid but not something that will try to kill you. Dark Bramble is an exception to that, the first time I flew into the core I saw the white light, thinking that that was a safe place to land I flew straight towards it at a cruising speed, what I didn’t expect was a huge space fish attached to the light that immediately screamed and swam toward me. Before I could even frantically put my ship into backward thrust its jaws had closed around me…… and I was dead. It’s these sort of curveballs that the game suddenly throws at you, exploring Dark Bramble is terrifying knowing that the light could lead you to safety, or death.
Another interesting thing about all these planets is the Noami technology and structures littered throughout them. The Noami appear to be extinct, or something else has happened to them, and they have left messages throughout the system that may hold the key to ending the loops and stopping the sun from going supernova. I think the technology that the Noami left when they disappeared is the most interesting part of the game. You can piece together a story of what happened to them and how they ended up in your solar system in the first place. There are a few endings you can get to Outer Wilds, I actually ended up breaking the universe in my playthrough which is considered the “bad” ending, (for obvious reasons).
But what is the flying like? Well flying your module in the Outer Wilds is a tiny bit like flying your ship in Elite Dangerous. Let me explain what that means. The universe of Elite Dangerous is built to be exactly like ours, with planets orbiting suns and even how ships work in zero gee. It’s not easy to accelerate and decelerate when out in space, in fact if you’re travelling too fast you will completely overshoot your intended landing spot. And even landing the space ship is hard, it comes down to small bursts of propulsion and adjustments from your ship to accurately land. But Outer Wilds has taken that idea and made it a little bit easier. You don’t have to worry about frameshifts or fuel or landing gear in Outer Wilds, you just have to make sure you can adjust your speed well enough to match up to a planet’s orbit. Your first few attempts will probably have you crash landing or propelling yourself into the sun, but that’s no matter, you can just try again! At some point you will be flying the module like a pro, ducking and weaving out of caves and ravines. Landing on space stations and asteroids that would have been impossible a few hours ago.
So what are my final opinions about Outer Wilds? Well to say the least I am absolutely in love with this game and I’m shocked that I had never heard anything about it before it’s release. It really captures the feeling of space exploration, of heading into the unknown and seeing what you can discover. It doesn’t try and be a huge universe spanning space sim like Elite Dangerous or No Mans Sky, it takes the best pieces of those games and condenses it down to one solar system, but in that one system there is a huge story waiting to be uncovered. Every planet is unique in its own way and each one adds to the overall narrative. So would I recommend Outer Wilds? Yes of course, I tried to see as much as I possibly could while playing, even going as far to trying to 100% it, which is something I don’t do very often at all and I will only try and do it for games that I really really enjoy playing and spending time in. So yes, go play Outer Wilds I can’t stress that enough.
I give it 9 terrifying space fish out of 10.
Since I love space so much, I decided to end this piece with some random facts about space. Because why the hell not?
Random fact 1- Did you know that it takes around 6-7 months to travel from Earth to Mars? The reason it could take longer or shorter is the orbits of both planets are different, so they could be closer together or further apart at different times.
Random fact 2- Our sun actually doesn’t have enough mass in it so it will never turn into a black hole. In fact in around 4 billion years our sun will slowly die and become a white dwarf star.
Random fact 3- The Andromeda Galaxy is actually moving towards us (the Milky Way galaxy) at a speed of 402,000 kilometres per hour, meaning that in 4 billion years the two galaxies will collide, throwing around the planets and stars into different places. Hopefully humanity still isn’t living on Earth by then because the Sun would have burnt the planets surface to a crisp, and even if it hadn’t any movement of our orbit would probably mean the extinction of our species and all life on Earth. Almost makes you realise how fragile we are uh.
You know what? I think that’s enough facts, that got really depressing really quickly. So I will see you in the next blog post!!!