The other night I started playing Outer Wilds, a game I was eagerly awaiting on Switch since it was announced a couple years ago. This is a game that is universally beloved, with a central mystery that everyone who gushes about it is very careful not to reveal. Aside from the praise, I have been careful not to learn too much about the game before playing it.
Head’s up: The notes below contain minor spoilers from the first hour I spent playing Outer Wilds. I didn’t get very far and tried to keep it light on details, but if you want to play the game completely unspoiled I encourage you to go back now.
So I started playing, and the first thing I noticed was the first-person perspective. You start out looking up into the sky, since you had been asleep outdoors in a sleeping bag. You quickly discover that you are an astronaut of some alien species, and today is the day you are supposed to launch. But first you need to get the launch keys from the observatory, wherever that is. Along the way you meet a bunch of characters who all seem to know you well and are excited that your launch day is finally here. They are all kind, interesting, and sometimes funny, and the effect of wandering around talking to everyone is more like greeting your neighbors in a small town where everyone gets along. As a group, your people seem to treat space exploration with a kind of irreverent respect that is very endearing. Like coal miners, they take pride in their trade while being wary of the risks involved.
One of the key tools you have at your disposal is a signalscope — a device you can point at objects near or far to listen to radio signals on different frequencies. You learn how to use it by playing hide-and-seek with a couple local kids using a special frequency just for the game. The device gives you an indication of the signal strength and distance, and the game of hide-and-seek is a really sweet way of introducing what I assume will be a key item in your explorations.
After spending about an hour and making enough progress to get the launch codes and take off, I was ready to call it quits, but I couldn’t find any option to save my progress. When I tried to quit to the main menu, the game warned me that “all progress will be lost.” While I was frustrated at first, wondering if I just needed to get a little farther before the game would allow me to save, I now suspect that this may be a feature of the gameplay rather than an arbitrary limitation.
So, eventually, needing to call it a night, I accepted that I would have to do it all over again the next time. And to my surprise, I felt OK about that. The atmosphere created in the first part of Outer Wilds was beautiful, mysterious, and welcoming. I can’t wait to start over soon.