Best Adventure 2019: Outer Wilds

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

Our Best Adventure of 2019 takes us on a mysterious tour through the solar system, 22 minutes at a time. We'll be updating our GOTY 2019 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.

Rachel: I've put my space ship through thick and thin in the Outer Wilds. Crashing into planets, plummeting into black holes, botching up my landings, and spinning wildly through the endless solar system is all part of the exploration. I've lost count of the number of times I've busted up my spacecraft, and with Outer Wilds' time limit, sometimes there's just no time for a pinpoint perfect landing, you've just got to crash and dash. 

My ship is a slice of home, quite literally. It's made from the materials and tools found on the home planet, Timber Hearth, one of a handful of worlds in the Outer Wild's small but dense solar system. Solving a mystery that spans civilizations is quite the hefty task—one that will pull you in several different directions—but I know that my trusty wooden spacecraft will help me navigate through it all. I can retreat to my cubby hole of a ship and take a moment to think about the puzzles of ancient civilisations and plan out my next destination.

My spacecraft has been with me through it all, and solving a mystery that encompasses the outer reaches of the solar system in that broken, janky craft was the highlight of my adventure.

Tom: The Outer Wilds gives me a sense of wonder. Space phenomena like black holes feel mysterious and dangerous, and the looping time cycle allows you to die in lots of horrible different ways, sometimes crushed by an asteroid, sometimes lost in the infinite darkness of space as the universe explodes (again). As you explore each weird planetary body you come to understand an ancient lost civilisation through their writings and strange machinery. That's not a new premise, but it's executed beautifully in The Outer Wilds.

It looks lovely too. I came to love my rickety spaceship, assembled from detritus on my twee home planet. The planets and space stations you visit feel so different and alien. At times I felt so small—a tiny warm spec of life in a solar system full of weather patterns and storms that could obliterate me in a moment. It's a puzzle game, ultimately, but expressed through marvellous exploration systems that make you feel like an intrepid astronaut trying to unlock the deepest mysteries of the universe.

Phil: The solar system you explore is actually pretty small. It's just five planets (and a few moons), most of which you can easily walk the circumference of. Crucially, though, each is still dense with intrigue. You have just 22 minutes in which to explore before the sun blows up and you're reset back to the start. Thanks to that structure, The Outer Wilds' currency isn't things, it's thoughts, and that makes for a fascinating adventure. You pick at the frayed edges of mysteries in an attempt to unravel some deeper understanding, uncovering new leads and new questions that you file away for further investigation on the next loop. Sometimes you drop one thread for a bit and go and investigate something else. Sometimes you return to a planet earlier in the time loop and find it looks vastly different. Sometimes you just blast away to the very edge of the solar system and watch mournfully as your home meets its violent end. Outer Wilds is beautiful and sad and filled with stories that are worth discovering.

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