A Groundhog Day Archaeological Dig Gone Solar System Wide
Outer Wilds is a game like many others, but the way it comes together results in a game unlike any other. It's a game about space and time. It's a Groundhog Day archaeological dig gone solar system wide. And like such a dig, Outer Wilds is likely to be filled with times of stagnation and frustration just hoping that those feelings will be justified by the staggering discoveries and stupefying oddities that await. And they do, await.
You play as a budding astronaut finally given their shot to punch through the stratosphere and explore outer space. If that wasn't exciting enough, you are also the first astronaut to be given a brand new translator, which can decipher ancient Nomai glyphs, putting you in the unique position to make brand new discoveries about the Nomai precursor race. With the translation device in hand you're let loose to explore the far reaches of the solar system to learn what you can.
While being given free rein to explore an entire solar system might sound daunting, this particular system is quite scaled down, and it doesn't take long to cover a lot of ground, or in this case, space. It's a good thing too, because it turns out the sun is about to go supernova and wipe out the whole system. And as dire as that sounds, you are fortunate enough to find yourself in a Groundhog Day style time loop. So while your time is limited in one way, you also have all the time in the world to uncover the nature of the loop and how the solar system and sun are tied to it.
Outer Wilds' open ended exploration means it might take a minute to start making sense, and it may even feel aimless at times. This is where the time loop comes in as both pro and con. You might be deep into a cave on some faraway world when suddenly you find yourself waking up at the start of the next loop. It can be frustrating, but as much as it is a game about exploration it is just as much a game about observation. Studying the nature of each planet is as core to uncovering the mystery as finding the ancient Nomai text you were given a tool to decipher.
With so many sights to see, piloting your ship is key. It serves as both the catalyst to reaching grander scenes as well as a tool of childlike glee. It's not exactly trivial to operate either, and that's how it, like everything else in the game ties to its central loop concept. Maneuvers that seemed impossible upon first glance become less so as you get closer to becoming a master of space travel with each loop.
The loop also in some ways relieves the tension of impending doom. There's a whole solar system to explore, ancient mysteries to uncover and the world is ending, yet Outer Wilds gives off marshmallow vibes. There's a terrifying beauty to the space you'll explore, but the characters you meet are just as comforting as knowing there will always be a next time. Its cozy tone both contrasts and compliments the mysteries of its solar system.
In marrying time and space as well as the sorcery of the ancients with the scientific method, Outer Wilds truly is a one of a kind experience, the kind only this medium is capable of. It doesn't merely offer a sense of wonder; it instills it. It's magical. Maybe even mystical.