I, like I imagine most players do, tend to approach games with my hero-goggles firmly in place by default. It’s not an assumption that gets challenged often, but when it does, the effect can be powerful. And I’ve never seen a game subvert the hero fantasy as poignantly as Outer Wilds does.
As you play, you soon learn that what you thought was your goal — to prevent the sun’s explosion and save your world — is impossible, and has been impossible since the beginning of time. But Outer Wilds gently leads you away from the easy comfort of despair. It says, no one can take away your journey. It says, have this moment, here in the quantum dark, around a campfire with your friends. It says, lay down the burden of your expectations — the future was never yours to own.
The expansion, Echoes of the Eye, adds richness to this dying universe’s lore, and to its message. In it, you travel around a ring world’s central river on a small, exposed, and slightly unwieldy raft, a mechanic that confronts you almost immediately once you enter the Stranger. And when you set off, Andrew Prahlow’s award-winning soundtrack rises to the fore, keeping you company on your travels.
It’s with good reason that rivers are a frequent metaphor for the onward march of time. Echoes’ river splits and merges, swirls and eddies, but ultimately draws you ever forward — a fact that’s brought home emotionally by Prahlow’s propulsive, yearning music. All these elements combine to center you on your metaphorical raft, riding the river of reality, as your universe slides toward its end around you. Bear witness, the game seems to say, because no one steps in the same river twice. It is not the same river, and you are not the same person.
Image credit: Jay Castello