Thrilling, serene, and full of incredible moments you need to experience firsthand.
By Tom Marks
It’s barely June and there are still a whole lot more games to come, but Outer Wilds is currently sitting at the front of the pack for my personal game of the Year. It’s charming, unique, clever, and full of incredible moments that I don’t want to tell you a damn thing about.
So much of this space-camping-themed exploration game is about getting in your rocket, picking a planet in its expansive but intimate hand-crafted solar system to fly to, and then seeing what mysteries you can piece together for yourself when you get there. It’s full of serene views, exciting thrills, challenging platforming (sometimes in zero-gravity), creative puzzles, and a captivating story told through the ruins of an ancient civilization – and you owe it to yourself to experience all of the above firsthand.
What really sets Outer Wilds apart for me are the naturally occurring encounters you’ll often stumble across – some of which made me literally yell “OH MY GOD” out loud. The whole solar system is stuck in a time loop that endlessly repeats itself, its planets spinning around the sun in real-time like clockwork, and the sometimes cataclysmic events throughout it can be truly incredible if you find yourself in the right (or maybe wrong) place at the right time.
Every event, big or small, is hand-placed to happen at a predetermined moment in the loop, but you have no idea what they’ll be or when they’ll occur until you go out and witness them. With so much freedom to explore, there’s no way for the game to know what part of what planet you might be on at any given time, so instead this world just doesn’t care about you. The clock keeps spinning if you’re there to see it or not, which gives the impression that incredible things are happening all around you all the time.
It’s unlikely any two players will take the same path through Outer Wilds, so what could be the beginning of the game to one person might be the end to another.
With a relatively small-scale solar system housing fairly large planets, you can look up in the sky, see another heavenly body drift by, and know that some shit is going down there – and that all you have to do is fly over to find out what. With zero load times, that’s not just cool, it feels like a freakin’ technical miracle. It’s such a rich tapestry of things to see, and it’s so impressive how well all the gears still manage to mesh together.
Outer Wilds has reminded me a lot of Breath of the Wild for that reason. It’s a very different game in terms of scale and what you’re actually doing, but it similarly makes every experience feel spontaneous and unique to you, despite actually being the product of years of careful planning and playtesting designed to make you feel that way. Like Breath of the Wild, it’s unlikely any two players will take the same path through Outer Wilds, so what could be the beginning of the game to one person might be the end to another.
The trouble is, that means I can’t talk to you about any of its wondrous moments without robbing you of the same joy they brought me. I have so many stories I want to share, so many unexpected moments that felt completely unplanned despite the meticulous craftsmanship behind them. In a game where discovery is everything, you need to discover them for yourself.
I haven’t finished Outer Wilds yet, but all I want to do already is talk about it with people. That’s the reason I’m even writing this overly-vague love letter, because I need you people to wise up and experience it too so we can all freak out about that moment where [REDACTED] or the time that [REDACTED] together. I know a thing or two about avoiding spoilers, and while there’s plenty of story and puzzle here to spoil, the real thing at risk is the blissful surprise that comes from being wowed by these moments firsthand.
For more detailed thoughts on Outer Wilds from someone who has finished it, you can check out our full review here, but I’d probably say the less you know the better. Here’s the important stuff: It’s an exploration game with no combat in a hand-crafted solar system, and you should absolutely play it.
Here’s hoping it comes to ps4 and Switch eventually so everyone can join in the conversation.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor and resident pie maker, and he literally can’t wait to get home tonight so he can keep exploring. You can follow him on Twitter.