Outer Wilds is One of the Best Gaming Experiences I've Ever Had

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BRG

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Edited By BRG
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Note: this is a re-upload from September 26th, 2020.

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I don’t like dealing with absolutes. Whenever someone asks what my favorite game or movie is, I tell them I don’t have one, because that is the truth. The more games I play, the more I realize I haven’t played, so how could I possibly say something is my favorite if there are so many other experiences I haven’t had yet? Outer Wilds is no exception. I am not going to label this game as my favorite, but oh man does it come close. I can say without a doubt, however, that Outer Wilds is an experience unlike any I’ve ever had, and it’s one I cannot recommend enough.

The only thing I knew going into this game was that it was a fantastic game, but one I should blindly trust. The less I knew going in, the better, and that is something I agree with. As much as I would love to tell you why you need to play this game, I think even alluding to this game’s greatness puts a burden on the experience (though how else would I call attention to it?). If you haven’t played the game yet, I ask that you trust this blog title, stop here, play the game in its entirety, and then come back to read this. I know it’s a little silly to talk about my thoughts of a game to a crowd (I hope) only consists of people who have also played the game, but I have so many thoughts I really want to share.

The only people who should be reading this caption are the ones who have already played the game.
The only people who should be reading this caption are the ones who have already played the game.

Where do I even begin? I guess I’ll start with the set up. I played the game on stream every day over the course of six days, with either my friend or viewers playing a bit of backseat gaming (nothing was spoiled to me). Thinking back on it, maybe keeping all of the discoveries to myself may have been a better experience, but being able to talk to my friend about these discoveries and overall get excited with him was great.

My understanding of just how great this game is didn’t happen initially. My first few hours were solid, but I didn’t really understand the hype or the secrecy. I did have a few cool moments early on, like the first time my memories flashed before my eyes or the first time I left Timber Hearth, but I still didn’t really “get” the game. One thing I did notice, however, was how little the game held my hand. For a game that requires space travel, it doesn’t ever stop you and tell you how to play. There are areas on Timber Hearth that teach you about some of the mechanics like Ghost Matter, flying the ship, zero gravity suit capabilities, and more, but they can all be easily missed if you don’t look for them. I originally thought it was like this because a tutorial could interrupt the start of every loop, but I think there is much more significance to this that I’ll get into in a bit.

I remember sitting down in the ship for the first time, turning on my landing camera (because I thought it was something I should have on when I lift off), and blasting off into space. I remember watching Timber Hearth shrink on my landing cam, and then looking up to see the vast sea of stars. When I did this, I realized two things about this game. The first thing I realized was just how vast this game is. I just lifted off from a planet into space with no loading screens, and that plus a few other things like the signalscope give the sense of this vast, seamless world that just amazed me. The other thing I realized was how open the game, as for I didn’t have a set direction. There isn’t a little notification at the top of my screen telling me where to go, and there is nothing that stopped me from going to any of the other planets. Just like the tutorial, it’s your choice on what you want to do, and I love that. It shows a level of confidence in both the player and the world that no matter what you do, you will find out what to do next.

The first time I lifted off from Timber Hearth.
The first time I lifted off from Timber Hearth.

I decided to land on Attlerock and explore. I eventually made my way to Esker, who told me about the instruments played by others. I remembered reading a sign on Attlerock talking about a harmonica and a missing person, so I decided to pursue this lead. Long story short, I eventually ended up next to Feldspar, the missing harmonica player of interest, as well as a random note about not eating a giant jellyfish. That’s when I realized that not only is the world truly open, but the narrative is as well. There is always a lead to chase, but it’s up to you to chase it, and I love that I chase the story out of my own interest instead of being forced to follow a path. I also didn’t realize it at the time, but the hint about the jellyfish became helpful later on, and the game does a good job at teaching new mechanics and how to deal with certain situations without outright telling you what to do.

From there, I decided to stick to each color and complete the green “questline” before moving on to the next. I completed green not long after, and remember feeling excited finishing that questline. Despite my excitement ramping up as the time went one, I still didn’t “get” the game. So, I started to work on Ash Twin Project. By this point, I had already been to most of the planets and had a basic understanding of each one, and I found all of them to be incredible as each one has a function I’ve never really seen before in a game. The Hourglass Twins are two planets where one planet is sucking the sand out of the other, Giant’s Deep is a stormy planet where tornadoes lift the islands out into space for a brief period before crashing back down to the water, and more. On top of that, the music that accompanies these planets is also fantastic. Each planet has a uniqueness to them, and experiencing what that planet has to offer is really unlike anything I’ve ever done in a game.

The planets are cool, the sights are pretty, the music is stellar, the openness is great, but where is that moment when it all clicks? For me, that moment was completing the Ash Twin Project. I remember reaching the center of Ash Twin and being amazed by how much was there. I just figured out how the time loop is happening and how I remember everything, and now I have the ability to shut it off. I also noticed a third mask activated, meaning someone I don’t know is also in this time loop. I remember going to bed that night thinking about what I just discovered and what I was going to do next, and I can’t think of a time I’ve been that excited to play a game maybe ever. This is what I love about the game. Instead of telling the story to you, the game gives you the pieces and you solve it yourself. The only game I can think of that treats both its narrative structure and characters (specifically the Nomai) in this manner is Return of the Obra Dinn, but that game is nowhere near the scale of this one. Every night from thereon, I went to bed thinking about my accomplishments of the day and what I would do next. Then I would talk to my friend who came along for the ride about my excitement to keep playing as well as my findings and hypotheses. Looking back on this, I find it funny how I essentially put myself into a loop of playing this game, just like how my character was in a loop.

The core of Ash Twin is one of the most mesmerizing places in the game.
The core of Ash Twin is one of the most mesmerizing places in the game.

After Ash Twin, I completed Vessel, tried out an ending, went back to complete Quantum Moon, then completed the game again with the slightly-altered ending. Vessels was a bit forgettable, but Quantum Moon was just as memorable as Ash Twin. All of it, though, ultimately leads to the ending. It was neat to see the new big bang, but I found the part right before it to be much more interesting. You just spent all of these hours and all of that travelling just to bring a few people around a campfire, and I found that to be profound. Ultimately, it’s the people you meet who are most important in your life, and being with them is better than finding the secrets of the universe. Most importantly, though, it shows what is most important when the inevitable happens. Death is an inevitability, so it’s best to make the most of that time with the people you love.

The ending also made me realize another strong element of this game that I don’t find in many other places: the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Whether it be with the tutorial, the ending, or the worlds flying around in-between, you are not center-stage. Hearthians aren’t going to flock to your feet and tell you how to play the game, you cannot save Brittle Hollow from collapsing into a black hole, and you ultimately cannot stop the supernova from happening. You are not the hero or even the main character. You are just another person in a galaxy that is going to keep spinning and repeating with or without you, and being able to accept that allowed me to accept my fate, try to make the most of my situation, and really enjoy the beauty this game has to offer.

So, what is the “thing” that shouldn’t be spoiled to newcomers? I would argue it’s the whole thing. It’s figuring out the Ash Twin Project and thinking about who that third person can be. It’s landing on an island in Giant’s Deep and being flung into space. It’s watching the supernova envelope everything around you in a brilliant blue flame. It’s seeing the dead Nomai float out in Dark Bramble chasing a signal only to find it coming from a hole too small to fit through. It’s going to bed piecing the puzzle that is the story together and thinking about what to do next. A lot of spoilers for games are usually about the story or a single mechanic, but I can’t think of a time where the whole entire experience is a spoiler.

The world isn’t going to stop for you. Are you going to stop for it?
The world isn’t going to stop for you. Are you going to stop for it?

Despite this blog title, Outer Wilds isn’t a video game; it’s something better than that. In an industry that is starting to feel more and more stale, this game feels like a daring step into the unknown. I wish I could take those steps into the unknown again and again, but I don’t think it will have the same impact the second time around. Still, I can at least cherish these memories underneath the stars with a good campfire and a bag of marshmallows.

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davidmerrick

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Did you ever catch up to/EVA with the probe that launches at the very beginning of each cycle? You can't meaningfully interact with it and it's completely optional, but I felt such a sense of pride being able to reach it, match velocity and spacewalk around it. What a fantastic game.

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Justin258

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#2  Edited By Justin258

I would love this game... if it weren't for the 20 minute world reset. It's sorta the same hangup I have with roguelikes - don't make me restart, please, for the love of god.

Edit: I want to clarify, I did try it. I was ok with the first reset, annoyed with the second, frustrated with the third, and legit angry with the fourth, and that's when I quit.

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It's a special game, one that really shows what video games can do as an art form that set them apart from non-interactive media. I hope more games follow in its footsteps.

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#4  Edited By Atlas

I recently started playing it. Am seven hours in, and I think it's a great game that I have a lot of respect for...but I don't think I like it all that much. I'm finding myself less pulled into the mystery than I think I should be, and more frustrated by the loop and some of the gameplay annoyances than I would like, and while I respect the decision to not hold the player's hand I feel like it presents a barrier that I'm finding myself less compelled to want to overcome. It's a game that I'm picking up because I want to see if/when it starts to get really good, but I'm not particularly expecting to enjoy myself. I've had a few great moments with the game, but not enough to make up for my reservations with it.

Disclaimer: I have depression, ADHD, and autism, so maybe it's just not the kind of game that works for me. Maybe I don't get the same dopamine rush when I find something new, or maybe I'm too depressed right now to let myself be overtaken by the joy of wanderlust. I've seen comparisons between the game and Return of the Obra Dinn, and that makes sense to me because I also absolutely hate Obra Dinn and found it impossible to play, despite being a big Lucas Pope fan and a massive fan of Papers, Please.

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@davidmerrick: I don't think I ever did, but it has been a while since I played the game, so I'm not quite sure.

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@wollywoo: Games that step out of the boundaries of conventional storytelling are some of my favorite games. The video game medium is unique because we have control over it, and I would love to see more stories play to the strengths of this medium. Another game with unique storytelling is Return of the Obra Dinn, and I absolutely love that game too.

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#7  Edited By BRG

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

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Justin258

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@brg said:

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

There are mods out there that actually simply remove the time loop mechanic entirely and I've given quite a bit of consideration to restarting the game with that mod installed, so maybe I'll play through it that way. I understand that's sort of like reading the Brandon Sanderson rewrite of Moby Dick, but hey I might enjoy that more, and get to the juicy part that I actually liked - the exploration and crazy weird world and insanity that you can discover in this solar system. For me, that's the stuff that was making the game special, that was drawing me in, and interrupting that every twenty minutes thoroughly and brutally murdered all interest I had by the fourth time it happened.

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@theoriginalatlas: I don't know if you read this piece or not (I did say not to read it if you haven't played it in my defense), but there was a specific moment for me when it all clicked. When I finished the Ash Twin Project storyline, that was when it all clicked for me. I started to see everything connect together from that point on. I would say if you are being hung up on the exploration clashing with the time loop, then I would think about it like this: if these twenty minutes played linearly and you saw the other side of it, then think about all of the things you would be missing by only getting one shot at exploring it all.

With your reference to Obra Dinn (which I do think the comparisons in regards to storytelling is accurate), maybe it's just that you don't enjoy non-linear storytelling. For both games, it can be difficult to keep track of every story bit that's happening and being able to re-arrange those pieces into one linear story can be even harder. If non-linear storytelling isn't your cup of tea, then it isn't your cup of tea, so maybe this plot won't grab you, but I do think this game does a better job at connecting everything together than Obra Dinn, and I think that if you do reach the end, then I think it will connect with you in some capacity.

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ll_Exile_ll

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@brg said:

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

There are mods out there that actually simply remove the time loop mechanic entirely and I've given quite a bit of consideration to restarting the game with that mod installed, so maybe I'll play through it that way. I understand that's sort of like reading the Brandon Sanderson rewrite of Moby Dick, but hey I might enjoy that more, and get to the juicy part that I actually liked - the exploration and crazy weird world and insanity that you can discover in this solar system. For me, that's the stuff that was making the game special, that was drawing me in, and interrupting that every twenty minutes thoroughly and brutally murdered all interest I had by the fourth time it happened.

I don't know how that mod works logistically, but I can't see how the core of the game can maintained without the time loop. The time loop is so much more than just a 20 window to explore before having to start over. Every planet in the system has it's own series of events that transpire during those 20 minutes. If you continued from where loop ends, there's nothing left to happen.

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I think the resets are fine. And the way the game controls is fine.

But not together in the same game.

If you're going to give me wonky controls which make it difficult to get anywhere quick, then give me the time to explore in peace.

Or if you give me a time limit to get somewhere, give me a control scheme which makes it fun to quickly get back to where I want to go.

I gave up after a few resets, it really wasn't fun for me to explore the game world with these limitations.

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@warpr: There is an auto-pilot feature that does help with traveling around. You do still have to land on your own I believe, but the auto pilot will assist with a majority of the flight.

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@justin258 said:
@brg said:

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

There are mods out there that actually simply remove the time loop mechanic entirely and I've given quite a bit of consideration to restarting the game with that mod installed, so maybe I'll play through it that way. I understand that's sort of like reading the Brandon Sanderson rewrite of Moby Dick, but hey I might enjoy that more, and get to the juicy part that I actually liked - the exploration and crazy weird world and insanity that you can discover in this solar system. For me, that's the stuff that was making the game special, that was drawing me in, and interrupting that every twenty minutes thoroughly and brutally murdered all interest I had by the fourth time it happened.

I don't know how that mod works logistically, but I can't see how the core of the game can maintained without the time loop. The time loop is so much more than just a 20 window to explore before having to start over. Every planet in the system has it's own series of events that transpire during those 20 minutes. If you continued from where loop ends, there's nothing left to happen.

Looked it up because I was curious too:

  • Brittle Hollow does not break apart.
  • The Sun Station does not fall into the sun.
  • Interloper does not fall into the sun.
  • Ash Twin and Ember Twin share the sand back and forth, on a 44 minute cycle.
  • The supernova never happens.
  • The Nomai Statue in the observatory does nothing.
  • Stars in the skybox do not supernova.
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This game did a ton right, and is one of my favorite games of all time, despite its mechanical flaws. Because the game isn't really about mechanics, it is truly a game about the dangers of exploring space, and about bigger things than your strange, wonderful little planet can even conceive of.

The story, such as it is, is one of the greatest I've experienced, and I'd say the only piece of advice I'd really give is: if you find yourself well and truly stuck don't be afraid to look up walkthroughs. Most are written to be VERY spoiler-sensitive, which is necessary, but by the end, I was definitely leaning on those a little hard.

It was also strange while playing how scary it was, especially for a non-horror game.

As for the debate that's broken out in here, I'd say whatever: play the game how you want, but just know that the resets aren't just a gameplay mechanic, and if you come away from the game with a shrug and a "that's it???" that you've fundamentally altered a core part of the overall game, not just a mechanic. It'd be like taking the death out of Dark Souls, a game that is fundamentally about death and rebirth and overcoming in the face of impossible bleakness.

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@ll_exile_ll said:
@justin258 said:
@brg said:

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

There are mods out there that actually simply remove the time loop mechanic entirely and I've given quite a bit of consideration to restarting the game with that mod installed, so maybe I'll play through it that way. I understand that's sort of like reading the Brandon Sanderson rewrite of Moby Dick, but hey I might enjoy that more, and get to the juicy part that I actually liked - the exploration and crazy weird world and insanity that you can discover in this solar system. For me, that's the stuff that was making the game special, that was drawing me in, and interrupting that every twenty minutes thoroughly and brutally murdered all interest I had by the fourth time it happened.

I don't know how that mod works logistically, but I can't see how the core of the game can maintained without the time loop. The time loop is so much more than just a 20 window to explore before having to start over. Every planet in the system has it's own series of events that transpire during those 20 minutes. If you continued from where loop ends, there's nothing left to happen.

Looked it up because I was curious too:

  • Brittle Hollow does not break apart.
  • The Sun Station does not fall into the sun.
  • Interloper does not fall into the sun.
  • Ash Twin and Ember Twin share the sand back and forth, on a 44 minute cycle.
  • The supernova never happens.
  • The Nomai Statue in the observatory does nothing.
  • Stars in the skybox do not supernova.

Wow, that seems like very much not the way the game should be played. That's a lot of main mechanics just disabled or severely comprised.

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As for the debate that's broken out in here, I'd say whatever: play the game how you want, but just know that the resets aren't just a gameplay mechanic, and if you come away from the game with a shrug and a "that's it???" that you've fundamentally altered a core part of the overall game, not just a mechanic. It'd be like taking the death out of Dark Souls, a game that is fundamentally about death and rebirth and overcoming in the face of impossible bleakness.

This is very true. If the time-loop aspect of the game is bothering you then the game just isn't for you. Play something else, or watch someone play it. I have actually watched a couple people play through it on Youtube just to try and capture the feeling I had when I played it first.
Taking out the time-loop is like removing the entire game. You are left with a mode akin to the Assassins Creed history modes. The story is no-longer in the game, and the game is all about story.

And boy, that story hit me hard. I played this when it first hit Epic Games Store. I also got it on Steam when it hit there. I am still thinking about it. About the story, the people, the music. The ending. I have the cozy "campfire on small planet with spaceship in the woods" art tattooed on my arm. It's my number one game with a bullet.

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I played this like 6 hours and then it crashed and corrupted my save, that's the only time that has happened me on PS4. Maybe in 10 years I will forgive.

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Justin258

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@ajamafalous said:
@ll_exile_ll said:
@justin258 said:
@brg said:

@justin258: I can see the resets being tedious, but I also think they are necessary to the game. Slowly discovering just how much happens within those twenty minutes was not only jaw dropping for me, but it also plays into the theme that you aren't the center of the universe. Imagine how much would be missed if those twenty minutes kept going on. I suppose you could take each bit of the story and stack it linearly to get around the time loop, but then I think that defeats the purpose of the game and what makes the game special.

There are mods out there that actually simply remove the time loop mechanic entirely and I've given quite a bit of consideration to restarting the game with that mod installed, so maybe I'll play through it that way. I understand that's sort of like reading the Brandon Sanderson rewrite of Moby Dick, but hey I might enjoy that more, and get to the juicy part that I actually liked - the exploration and crazy weird world and insanity that you can discover in this solar system. For me, that's the stuff that was making the game special, that was drawing me in, and interrupting that every twenty minutes thoroughly and brutally murdered all interest I had by the fourth time it happened.

I don't know how that mod works logistically, but I can't see how the core of the game can maintained without the time loop. The time loop is so much more than just a 20 window to explore before having to start over. Every planet in the system has it's own series of events that transpire during those 20 minutes. If you continued from where loop ends, there's nothing left to happen.

Looked it up because I was curious too:

  • Brittle Hollow does not break apart.
  • The Sun Station does not fall into the sun.
  • Interloper does not fall into the sun.
  • Ash Twin and Ember Twin share the sand back and forth, on a 44 minute cycle.
  • The supernova never happens.
  • The Nomai Statue in the observatory does nothing.
  • Stars in the skybox do not supernova.

Wow, that seems like very much not the way the game should be played. That's a lot of main mechanics just disabled or severely comprised.

I'll probably just not play it then.

This is a case of "not every game being for everybody" and sometimes a thing is "not for you" because of one or two very specific aspects. Oh well.

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#19  Edited By Kyary

I think the theme of "the universe is bigger than you (the player)" is so unique in games that it only really hit me towards the end. You're just this little space creature, and you're going to die, and your only objective is given by characters in the world as "Hey, maybe explore around a bit, I dunno. There's tons of neat stuff out there so maybe check it out I guess". In this sense it's actually the perfect space exploration game, because your only real motivation is the quest for knowledge.

It's such a break from the AAA "You are the chosen one" type game that just coddle you the whole time! You can lampshade that theme (I mean, Doom 2016 was a game built around the idea that the demons exist explicitly for you to kill them - like, that's their literal purpose) but it's so core to modern games. Like, in Fallout the developers refer to the player character as "Atlas" because they "hold up the world" ie the entire game explodes if you take the player out. But Outer Wilds gave me the sense that I was just here for a little while, that the game was going to be there long after I was done with it.

The real appeal of the game for me, though, is the dozens of tiny little ways it gives you that feeling of discovering something - how a mechanic works, some bit about the world, some new character, etc. That discovery is organic and just doesn't happen in other games (what is a boss fight, except a check to make sure you understood something fundamental about the game?) By removing all combat mechanics and all competition, they were forced to build a game that challenged you in other ways - and the time reset mechanic gives you an opportunity to decide if the puzzle you were stuck on is worth attempting again, or if you want to maybe try something else for a bit (it helps that there are guides that are written to give you just a little bit of information if you're stuck)

I'm not going to sit here and claim they invented the puzzle game or whatever, and there are other games which teach you about the world through your curiosity - Subnautica is a game built around similar ideas of teaching through exploration, and as you stated Obra Dinn gives you the opportunity to "solve" the game at the very start and forces you to infer the solution through observation. But I think this combined with the theming around mortality and acceptance in the face of inevitable disaster (without being claustrophobic or dour) create a genuinely wonderful experience that reveals itself over weeks and left me thinking for months.

For everyone complaining about controls - I want to gently suggest that it's not the controls you're struggling with, it's moving in 3D space, which you have never been asked to do in a game before, because you never played Kerbal or Descent or whatever. If you have, the skills translated basically one to one (and if you're coming from Kerbal, you barely even need to worry about fuel anymore!) The solar system isn't actually that big and you can cross it in maybe a minute, with some of the most out of the way locations taking a few minutes to reach tops.

I guess the thing I'd say to anyone who feels like they "should" play the game but aren't feeling it, or to anyone who went through a cycle or two and never picked it up again - it's okay - you don't have to play the game right now. Sometimes the best time to play a game is when nobody's talking about it anymore.

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wollywoo

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#20  Edited By wollywoo

Is there a mod that just lets you slow down and speed up time? I think that would be the ideal quality of life compromise. The game doesn't work without the cycle but it work fine if time was slower. Like playing the Song of Time backwards in Majora's Mask. I don't think it would hurt the experience.

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OSail

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I felt a bit down on Outer Wilds, as much as I appreciate everyone who likes/loves it having genuinely great reasons. Beyond the controls being a bit crap and the 'explore to resolve the puzzles' thing never fully realizing for me despite a fair amount of play-time, I never felt the plot or themes mattering to me in the same way they did to a large portion of the player base.

I already knew what the game was due to it's grounding in tried and true sci-fi tropes (and aspects covered in certain spiritualities like Buddhism), and that's why I generally disagree with this game being an example of why video games being interactive inherently makes them better equipped to deal with certain themes in certain ways, because you can find similar themes and delivery/relations to the theme going back a long time in other art forms. Though that is an argument based around personal experience in certain genres, innit?

The other side of that coin is that Outer Wilds seems lovely, and it is a piece of art bringing ideas to new eyes, and that's great!