Spoilers for the entire game of Outer Wilds
We did it; we have finished Outer Wilds. What an amazing finish it is even the second time through. It’s hard to think of another game that even attempts something so elliptical in its final moments and the fact that it’s so emotionally satisfying is incredibly unique. The game doesn’t compromise to make things more tidy and instead focuses on the heart of your journey through it. Outer Wilds excels at showing you just how small you are in the vastness of the universe and the wider history of it.
During my first playthrough (not so much during this Let’s Play since I had a partner/knew what to expect) I was surprised at how scary everything was. Not in the usual horror sense of confronting fears in monster form but in the disparity of scale between me and the planets I was exploring. Entering an unfamiliar dark cave was intimidating because of the sheer vastness of its interior. I didn’t know what to expect or what might happen as I moved through it. The final venture into the Eye of the Universe is engulfing and terrifying. Lightning striking all around you as you head toward a giant whirlpool makes the event feel scary as much as it is momentous. And then there’s Dark Bramble (god those anglerfish). Stumbling upon Nomai technology was also terrifying; walking into a scrying pool for the first time and having your vision be consumed by blackness and strange faces is eerie. I even met unfamiliar objects with a lot of skepticism and trepidation. There were many times during this LP that Emily and I both jumped when a random Quantum Object would suddenly appear. It’s hilarious when it happens but makes me squirm every time.
The sound design and the soundtrack play a huge part in that (the entire composition from Andrew Prahlow is just amazing). I mentioned in the first episode that hearing the music made me tear up and that’s no exaggeration. The music is tied into everything the game does well and matches every moment perfectly. All of the songs during exploration (“Space” & “Outer Wilds” are two great examples) are emotionally upbeat with strain a yearning, the perfect companions for setting out on an uncertain adventure. To match the terror, the soundtrack will swap out instruments for drones (looking at you “Dark Bramble”) giving everything that supremely eerie vibe. It might be even scarier when the soundtrack completely drops out as you take your first uncertain steps into a new area. And nothing is as epic as when you finish your campfire song as your existence melts away to “Into the Wilds.”
Outer Wilds’ loop is also satisfying because it eschews video game tradition by removing the addition of new abilities and instead gates content through in-game knowledge. If you know what you’re doing, you can immediately finish the game. There’s no hidden items or upgrades just a rumor map that helps you piece the wider puzzle together. That puzzle is so interesting to piece together too, as you investigate old ruins like an anthropologist. Retracing the steps of the Nomai and their doomed search for the Eye of the Universe is equally fascinating and heartbreaking. Finding their bickering dialogues is funny but learning of their necessity to inhabit this unfamiliar and often hostile solar system is sad. The Nomai show the tragedy and ultimate fate of sentient beings; trying to accomplish an impossible goal before being snuffed out by an unstoppable calamity that was created by a seemingly random event. You get to take their learnings and run with it though and the fact that you’re doing this some two hundred thousand years later shows how small you are in the vastness of history.
And that’s what makes the final moments in the Eye so impactful. Your character surrounded by the friends they’ve met on their travels experiencing one last moment together is beautiful. Everyone joins in on the song whether that’s playing the drums or whistling. This game was the perfect companion to accompany the uncharted waters of 2021 and was the one project that felt accomplishable when my energy ran out (hello I’m finally returning to blogging). The LP reaffirmed why I love this game so much and why it’s supremely special.