Adventure Corner ~ Outer Wilds

Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.

In this edition of the column we take a look at Outer Wilds on Nintendo Switch.

Outer Wilds

Platform: Switch (also available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Release Date: 12.07.2023
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Mobius Digital


Crafting a solar system in a bottle that runs in constant harmony is not easy.  In Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds there’s a sense of freedom and wonder that makes each visit anywhere a thrill.  The cosmos is alive and constantly shifting as a background mystery of how the solar system works keeps players learning.  There’s a worthwhile sense of accomplishment as every new piece of the puzzle is obtained, either by scientific theory or solidified by the ancient Nomai murals.  This mental exercise mixed with the physicality of each planet’s hostile environments causes a variety of challenging moments along the way.

Players follow the story of a new recruit to Timber Hearth’s space program, whose other members are already out in the universe exploring different areas.  The player begins with an optional tutorial on flying, use of the noise-locating signalscope, what the dangerous ghost matter is, and how to operate in a zero gravity environment.  After completing or skipping the tutorial, they’re given the launch codes to begin their adventure.

This adventure takes players from planet to planet in a fictional solar system.  Many of the planets look much smaller from space than they actually are.  The game’s size and scope are amazing as hours can be undertaken exploring everywhere. The player doesn’t have hours though.  After an unearthed ancient statue from the Nomai civilization imprints itself on the player they are able to loop back after death.  These deaths will be frequent.  Whether it’s in the course of general exploration or from factors outside the player’s means, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

Hark fellow Timber Hearthian, there’s few characters in the game and they all have a lot to say.

There’s a lot of patience needed to fully take in what Outer Wilds offers.  It can be tempting to resort to a guide, but a lot of the charm comes from piecing together the puzzle.  The freedom the game offers means it can be difficult to figure out where to begin the journey.  Luckily, there’s a ship log that can be accessed to keep track of the rumours players uncover and lets them know which planets still have things to find.  Ultimately, the cosmos is the astronaut’s amphitheater with plenty to explore one step at a time.  Whether enjoying the wonders that each planet brings or puzzling out secrets of the Nomai there’s something to spark imagination and wonder in every adventurer.

A lot of the wonder comes from experiencing everything for the first time.  The Nomai have plenty to say, even if not all of it is integral to learning the laws of the solar system.  Some of the writings can be poignant, tugging at the heartstrings as players learn more about Nomai life and culture.  Each planet is littered with smaller areas to explore filled with exciting things to find, whether it be another piece to the puzzle or a Nomai mural to translate.  Each new discovery brings with it moments of comprehension and euphoria as the bigger picture becomes a little clearer, but can also be frustrating and scary in equal measure.

The solar system of Outer Wilds is a carefully crafted puzzle.  The presentation feels tightly bound into a Rubik’s Cube of shifting exploration and discovery that when everything aligns feels significant.  Some locations are only explorable at certain times causing a frantic rush to reach the spot punctually.  Given how enthralling the game’s universe is, it’s all too easy for time to slip away while flying through it.  This stress is compounded by making silly mistakes that lead to deaths.  Death isn’t the end of course, but the suddenness and occasionally unexpected manner of it followed by the frustration of loading and wait times to tackle that same area, stress can start to mount.  There are two ways to help combat this mounting stress.  One is to simply find another area to explore for a bit and enjoy the solar system.  The other is a helpful campfire that can skip time to avoid waiting for it to pass normally.

Two planets in constant close revolution around the sun.

Some frustrations in Outer Wilds can be alleviated by quickly adapting to the scientific controls of the ship and laws of gravity around them.  The ship isn’t easy to coordinate at times with forward, side, and rear thrusters that occasionally propel both faster and slower than how the player may expect they would react.  This is all based off of the gravitational pull of the area being flown in.  Luckily, the ship is quite durable and can be repaired easily.  After leaving the ship, players can find themselves in a variety of gravities and environments that can punish them as they may be spat into space suddenly or get sucked further down to the surface.  Mastering movement happens gradually as players lose themselves more and more in the world.  It happens by necessity, as nothing is more annoying than exploration cut short by user error.  Moving can be difficult at first but the accessibility and learning curve can make everything feel second nature after some practice and, if not, there’s features like an auto pilot and the ability to match velocity that help.

Each new planet explored is made visually distinctive from the last.  These landscapes are enchanting and have their own unique dangers around every corner.  Some locations present beautiful and fascinating contradictions that somehow exist in harmony with each other, such as a planet of harsh rock formations and buildings that slowly fill with sand from a twin orbiting planet, that simultaneously unveils structures of its own as the sand depletes.  Outer Wilds really captures the essence of freedom with players able to enact an astrological hike around the cosmos and not worry about being attacked around every corner.  It’s a cozy jaunt through a multi-coloured forest of environments that all coalesce into a work of art.

Everything is always larger than it appears.

Extracting every nuance of these new areas is the soundtrack: sometimes whimsical, other times tense, but always maintaining its adventurous spirit.  The music of Outer Wilds blends with the visuals to have each situation feel like its own micro-story.  The other Timber Hearthians all have their own instruments, and players can use the signalscope to follow their musical stylings like a beacon.  Each melody from the harmonica, banjo, or drum meld into the immersive soundtrack.

Outer Wilds is a mystery game that dares players to explore to their heart’s content.  With an ever-evolving cascade of colours and sounds to greet players, this playground doesn’t get old.  The Nomai are an interesting focal point and provide many new twists in how to look at the solar system once the joys of free exploration have been exhausted.  This is the textbook example of exploration and every point of interest begs to be found as it creates a cohesive and captivating experience that is a constant feast for the adventurous soul.


Disclosure: This article is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.


Ryan Costa

Friendly neighbourhood reviewer that thinks every RPG should be discussed, because one never knows where a hidden gem can appear.

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