2019 was a truly bountiful year for video games. We received countless games of peerless quality, some not falling far from the hoary old tree of Genre, with others inventing new genres all by themselves. It is not difficult to draw lines between some of these standouts: Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics, Sekiro and Jedi: Fallen Order, Death Stranding and every other game to come out in the past decade. But no two games beg to be compared more than Outer Worlds and Outer Wilds.
[Is handed a piece of paper]
I’ve just received word that literally only their names are similar. Well... hm. Nevertheless!
Ah right, here’s something: You travel between planets in both games. In Outer Worlds, you do so via a map aboard your spaceship, the Unreliable. You don’t do much actual ship-flying in Outer Worlds. In Outer Wilds, you hop in your spaceship, the Unnamed As Far As I Know, and manually pilot your way to a series of alien planets. Oh, and you’ve got 22 minutes before you get Groundhog Day-ed back to the first planet, so, you know, chop chop.
In Outer Worlds, planets take the form of standard open-world-ish RPG environments, in which you complete quests handed out by NPCs who let you choose to be a corporate fascist, Elizabeth Warren, or a blood-crazed tankie. In Outer Wilds, planets are spherical environments with their own natural and unnatural quirks to discover, making them feel less like theme parks populated by quest-giving automatons (of which there are none) and more like actual places. For example, the planet Giant’s Deep is a great big ball of typhoons that sporadically rocket individual islands into outer god dang space. It’s so cool.
What was I talking about? Oh right. Yeah, so both games have ships and planets. Between the two, I guess I’ll give the edge to... Outer Wilds? Or maybe Outer Worlds. Both? They approach these things very differently. But the names! They are similar. Almost the same, in fact. Makes you think.
OK OK, now I’ve got one for sure: perspective! Both Outer Worlds and Outer Wilds are first-person games. But they use that perspective entirely differently. In Outer Worlds, there’s not much embodiment to speak of. You fight and talk to people and whatnot—and you can even don disguises to fool various factions—but you’re mostly just a first-person camera on a human-shaped stick. In Outer Wilds, you can look down and see your torso and feet. This, already, gives it a tremendous advantage over Outer Worlds and, frankly, pretty much all other first-person games. There is a purpose to this, too. Turns out, it’s important to have a rough idea of where your limbs are when you’re floating around in zero gravity or flipping upside-down to solve increasingly mind-bending, reality-warping puzzles.
So yes, both are first-person games. From this we can clearly observe... nothing. The two games are just really different. Sorry, folks! I keep trying to delete this post, but every 22 minutes, it returns to my laptop screen with just a headline, and time starts over. Also, I can never die. You’d think it’d be great, but nope. It’s kind of a bad time, after a while.
In Outer Worlds, you can engage in first-person shooting and melee combat with an assortment of marauders (so many marauders), aliens, and robots. In Outer Wilds, your main enemy is the sun exploding. You cannot fight it with guns or hammers because, again, it is the sun, and it is exploding.
Look, everybody, there’s nothing I can do about this. I know I’m grasping at straws. But the names are similar. Nearly the same! Only two letters are different! What are the odds? I think if I just acknowledge this a sufficient number of times, maybe I will be freed from this time loop, and the universe will finally let me die.
You can’t take the No Man’s Sky from me
Alright, work with me on this: Both games are sorta related (in, like, a third cousin once removed who you’ve never actually met kind of way) to No Man’s Sky. Outer Wilds has spherical planets and... that’s pretty much it. Outer Worlds, on the other hand, is clearly inspired by Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi cowboy show Firefly, whose theme song contains a line that goes “Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me.” From this, we can surmise that, in Firefly, it is actually one man’s sky—namely, the unnamed man who wrote the song. Maybe that is also true in Outer Worlds?
Just, whatever you do, do not forget that both games almost have the same name. Please, for my sake. The time loop has taken so much from me. So many memories have faded, replaced by infinite repetitions of this same blog. The faces of my parents and loved ones, an indiscriminate haze. How much can you lose before you lose yourself? I ask myself that question every day—or I would, if I could even comprehend days as a concept anymore.
Oh no, I’ve wasted so many minutes rambling. I fear that I may fail once again—that the tunnel of light may once again consume me, dragging me back into the clockwork darkness of the past.
Go your own way
In Outer Worlds, many quests offer you multiple routes and dialogue options. Ultimately, though, choices often feel reductive, taking a complex issue (workers’ rights and the plight of an underclass abused by capitalism) and turning it into a series of interpersonal office squabbles for laughs. In Outer Wilds, you can go to whichever planet you want, whenever you want. Remember when video games forced you to go to planets in a pre-selected order? Wow. We’ve come so far. Outer Wilds definitely wins this round.
What is time? Where is time? Whom is time? At the bottom of this blogging well, peering up at a starless sky, I have no answers. In Outer Worlds, you can briefly slow down time. I would do anything for this ability, if only to buy myself a little more of it. In Outer Wilds, you are at time’s mercy. You must free yourself or swirl an endless drain of existential torment, one which churns and revolves, but never releases you into the abyssal pipes below. Is it what you must do, or is it all you can do? After a certain point, it matters not. For you see, time and choice are both illusions, in the grand scheme of things, and—
[An explosion, followed by a tunnel of light]
2019 was a truly bountiful year for video games. We received countless games of peerless quality, some not falling far from the hoary old tree of Genre, while others inventing new genres all by themselves. It is not difficult to draw lines between some of these standouts: Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics, Sekiro and Jedi: Fallen Order, Death Stranding and every other game to come out in the past decade. But no two games beg to be compared more than Outer Worlds and Outer Wilds.