Outer Wilds is an open world exploration game, where you travel a handcrafted solar system in which each planet is different than the last. It's currently available on Xbox One and on the Epic Games Store but will be releasing on PS4 and Steam later. You play as the newest member of a small space program known as the Outer Wilds Ventures and partake in a journey to discover the mysteries of the cosmos. This is one of those games that's meant for you to go in blind. This review will be as spoiler-free as possible. I’ll be upfront that this is a fantastic game, and is among one of my favorite single-player experiences ever. I highly recommend not watching any trailers or gameplay, and going in completely blind, because that's how I played it.
Calling the solar system handcrafted isn’t an understatement: each planet has been meticulously constructed, and it shows. The solar system is a wonder to look at, and the art suits it beautifully. The games' scale is relatively small, but the game is designed like a Russian doll, where there’s always more beneath the surface. There are two ways of traversing the world: your space suit and your ship. Your space suit is as small and nimble as your character, but has a limited oxygen and fuel supply. Your ship, on the other hand, does not have to worry about either of those things, but it's big and can be damaged. Other than these key differences, both feel great to move around in space and in the atmospheres of planets. Both have the same core mechanics too. The tools you have, the Scout and the Signal Scope, are both accessible in the ship and your suit. The flight mechanics do the same thing (with some exceptions), like being able to match the speed of a planet or other body floating in space. The space physics are fairly realistic, which is something you always have to be aware of. Landing on a planet can be tricky, depending on which planet.
Each planet is incredibly unique, and going from one planet to another is a huge difference. The sense of wonder when you go to a new planet is amazing, and can sometimes be scary. Many of the puzzles are often related to the unique properties of each planet.
The puzzles will really challenge your brain, and you have to mix the game’s mechanics and your tools along with the planet’s properties to solve them. The Scout is a portable mini camera that you can shoot into areas you cannot access, and it provides a waypoint to wherever it goes. The Translator is used to decode ancient writings, and the Signal Scope is used to follow the sources of certain sounds, like music.
The music in Outer Wilds is awesome and incredibly unique. Unlike your usual space exploration game, Outer Wilds has a heavy emphasis on acoustic music. There are tracks that use synthesizers and other kinds of instruments, but the key music tracks are all acoustic. This gives the game a very cozy feeling and helps make the experience fairly relaxing. While it's one of my favorite soundtracks, don’t look up the tracks on Spotify or any other music app until after you've played, because the track names include spoilers (be warned).
The story of Outer Wilds is stellar, with a huge overarching narrative on what happened to the ancient civilization that traveled the stars long ago, the Nomai. Everything you read with the translator is added to your ship’s logs, helping you unravel the mysteries of the solar system. One great feature is the fact that the game doesn’t force you to do anything, and you can choose to explore whatever leads on whatever planet in any order you choose. I won’t discuss any more of the story because spoilers.
All in all, Outer Wilds is one of my top games this year and is a fantastic experience I highly recommend. An atmospheric soundtrack, amazing visuals, a gripping mystery, and a wonderful world create a game that's even greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t stress enough how going into this game almost completely blind is the best way to play. I may have even said too much. But take my word for it, get Outer Wilds. It's an absolute must-have.
Nate Beeler is originally from Hazlet, New Jersey. He is currently a game production management student at Champlain College. He loves FPS games and 4x games, and he's exploring modding Civilization V.