Outer Wilds is an open-world action-adventure where you die. Repeatedly. That is fine: the player gets back in their ship and starts again, stuck in a loop where the Sun supernovas every 22nd minute. In those 22 minutes, the player can explore eight planets, each vastly different from one another. Each planet offers a variety of different ways to die. Whether the player is crushed by rising sand, suffocates, or is burnt to a crisp, the player always dies. Despite all the deaths and ways to die, Outer Wilds is not frustrating. You are going to die anyway, so why does it matter how you are killed?
Death is inevitable, after all.
Because death is so commonplace in Outer Wilds, the player slowly becomes numb to it. Death in most video games represents failure. In Outer Wilds, you get back up and start again. The persistence of starting over becomes second nature. The player already starts moving towards the elevator before the character opens their eyes, eager to learn from their failures. I believe persistence is an important lesson that Outer Wilds teaches, without the player realising.
Outer Wilds is designed in such a way that starting over feels natural. After each loop the player typically learns something new, whether from previous mistakes or through perseverance. Outer Wilds teaches players that they can not fail; they can die, but that does not mean they have failed. Life is full of failure, but we learn from those mistakes. Outer Wilds miraculously makes this process enjoyable.
Developer Mobius Digital has managed to make each loop strangely compelling. The thirst for answers is spellbinding; the player wants answers and they only have 22 minutes to get them. When a new loop starts, players can jump in their ship and charge towards the next destination. Whether that destination is an ocean planet filled with cyclones or a cavernous planet slowly filling with sand, the player always encounters environmental puzzles that incorporate each planet’s definable characteristics. Additionally, every puzzle is challenging and rewarding. Outer Wilds does not hold players’ hands; it merely introduces them to all the tools and information. Therefore, Outer Wilds makes players feel smart and satisfied.
Upon uncovering information about the solar system, the player becomes engrossed in an ancient story and is left on the edge of their seat at each revelation. Mobius Digital drip feeds information to keep the player invested. Perseverance is rewarded with heavy story beats and shocking plot twists. The player is gifted with genuine emotion for a short, deep story that they have dedicated their last few hours to. All the player’s hard work of getting back up and starting that loop again is rewarded.
As mentioned earlier, death plays an important role in Outer Wilds. Death happens every 22 minutes, and players know this. For the first few loops, that knowledge is nerve-racking, knowing that death is coming and unpreventable.
Then, you numb to it. You accept it is coming. Outer Wilds offers a soothing gameplay experience that other games have never really captured before. The idea of death, although still not pleasant, seems a lot less confronting after my experience with Outer Wilds.
Outer Wilds is more than a game, it is an unexpected experience. The game taught me lessons I did not expect to learn; it introduced me to a new outlook on life and perseverance. Outer Wilds taught me that failure only happens when you do not learn from experience, and I think that is a very valuable lesson.