In recent years indie devs have more and more often been diving into the world of first-person adventure, driven in a major way by the stories they want to tell. So while Outer Wilds reminded us a little of games like Firewatch, when we got our hands on it at E3 we actually saw that there's a lot more than just a strong narrative to draw you in. And so we took a closer look at the sci-fi adventure, with developers Alex Beachum and Loan Verneau on hand to guide us.
We started off by being thrown into the shoes of a budding adventurer next to the launch pad for a rocket. However, we can't go exploring space in this rocket without having the launch codes first. The search for said codes served as a soft tutorial for some of the mechanics in the game, and we explored a small village in the crater, talking to the locals and helping them out with various tasks... if we felt nice, that is.
The first thing that reminded us of the likes of Firewatch was the soft and gentle music guiding us through the world, and we felt inspired to explore at a leisurely pace. The second thing we noted was the reliance on narrative and the dialogue that conveys it. It's only by talking to the inhabitants of the world that you can find out information, even if none of it is compulsory in this open-world full of planets.
You'll need to gather information too because it's your curiosity that drives the game forward, except there's a twist: there's no one mystery that you're pursuing. Beachum and Verneau explained to us that there are a ton of different webs to unravel in the game, including the origins of a mysterious species that once inhabited the world and - perhaps more importantly - why the universe is stuck in a 20-minute time loop.
This loop is at the core of everything, and while it's hard to explain (Beachum and Verneau were particularly coy when answering our questions), everything resets in the world after 20 minutes, hence there are no ship upgrades you can lose nor progression to disappear. Instead, you'll have to just witness how the world changes in each loop, and use that to solve the mysteries around you, a little like Majora's Mask did back on the Nintendo 64 (and later on the 3DS).
In terms of the mechanics, it's not just walking and talking, there are a ton of ways to make your way through the final frontier, one of which is the spaceship. Believe us when we say that you'll need some practice to control this. Various thrusters need to be used to get to each planet, and there's also a landing mode to perfect as well. We imagine we'll find ourselves having a few bumpy moments as we make our journeys to the stars. We'll have to make sure we practice on the model rocket on our home planet for sure.
There's plenty more aside from that though, including making your way out using the thrusters on your space suit, managing zero gravity, tracking signals from other planets, and even solving some light puzzles along the way. You'll also, of course, have to use your investigative powers to search for clues, like deciphering ancient languages scrawled on walls to find out where to go next or what lies at the end of some mysterious tunnel.
It's hard to get a complete sense of Outer Wilds from a preview session on the show floor at E3 because there's so much to see and do from the outset. All we had time to see was mere teases of leads to follow later and we only saw a few planets from an entire solar system that we'll need to take a toothcomb too. The scale is massive, and you can see that from when you first look up to the skies. Moreover, the whole package is cute and colourful and really makes you feel like a brave little adventurer taking on the biggest questions in the world.
We were left intrigued by our glimpse into the Outer Wilds, so much so that we wished we could've played longer to find out more, and if that isn't a good sign for a game like this then we don't know what is. Everything has been deliberately crafted to entice your curiosity and draw you in, and we're looking forward to exploring this fascinating game when the full version lands on PC and Xbox One.
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