Entering a state of desperation is essentially a requirement to solve many of Outer Wilds’ puzzles. The game’s new $15 expansion, Echoes of the Eye, features one such puzzle that had me feeling like I’d exhausted every option. I had the right tool in hand, I was in the right room. I had followed the vague tips in the slide reels I had seen so far, left behind by an intelligent species. So I did what I usually do when I lose hope in the game: reset the loop. Maybe I needed to start again with a fresh perspective.
Then I woke up in a different world.
I hadn’t solved the puzzle completely, but I inadvertently progressed through the story by taking a chance on a hunch. Taking chances is core to progressing in Outer Wilds, and it’s also the theme of the new storyline in Echoes of the Eye, which itself feels different (and long) enough to be a standalone game. You won’t get anywhere without being bold, and sometimes they’ll pay off. But you might also end up somewhere you don’t want to be.
‘Echoes of the Eye’ feels different (and long) enough to be a standalone title
In case you haven’t played Outer Wilds, it’s an open-world (more like open-universe) space exploration game where you visit planets and make archaeological discoveries, sometimes accidentally. Each planet plays a role in the greater story, which lures you into figuring out why the sun explodes every 22 minutes, and putting a stop to it. Each time loop resets everything, except your ship’s log, which collects points of interest to make it easier to go back and to piece things together as you go.
The aforementioned species in this new expansion, which look like wise bipedal owls with antlers, abandoned their home planet in the hopes of a better life after picking up a promising transmission from an entity in another universe, the same one your protagonist inhabits. After a few trips around The Stranger, the new “planet”-like structure added to the roster in Outer Wilds, you’ll start to piece things together about what life was like, why things didn’t go according to plan, and why no one lives there despite it seeming perfectly capable of harboring life.
The base game of Outer Wilds lets you choose which planet to go to first, and you always start the loop at your Earth-like home planet. In terms of easing the player in, Echoes of the Eye is far from the easiest destination to get to or navigate within. As you might have seen from the expansion’s teaser, The Stranger is invisible. Though, you don’t need to have completed Outer Wilds to access it; just head to the observatory on the starting planet to get your first hint as to where you’ll find it.
It’s nice to play games without objective arrows sometimes
The Stranger offers a landscape layout that’s new to Outer Wilds, and I often found myself marveling at the artistic and technical achievement on display. Like the rest of the planets, developer Mobius Digital’s knack for effortlessly guiding the player through complex environments without obvious signposting is on display here. It reminded me that it’s nice to play games without objective arrows sometimes. Few games really trust the player to figure everything out with limited information. It feels great when you can solve the puzzles with your own brain, but there were a few moments later in the expansion where I wouldn’t have turned down a little help.
In case you were curious, The Stranger is impacted by the sun exploding every 22 minutes, as every other planet in the game is. Its terrain changes during that time span, covering up some areas and exposing others that were previously hidden, similar to some other planets in the game. But through some crucial story beats, you’ll figure out why the rules of the universe you might know from the base game don’t necessarily apply here, for better or worse.
You’ll utilize the same few game mechanics from the base game, including using your jetpack and flashlight, to enter places to which you otherwise wouldn’t have access. Compared to many other games where you have countless skills at your disposal, I’ve always enjoyed the deliberately small loadout in Outer Wilds because it makes every new addition — of which there are a few in Echoes of the Eye — feel important.
After about 10 hours with Echoes of the Eye, it felt different from the main game, but initially it didn’t deliver on the mystique I was expecting — though that changes as you approach the end. I won’t go into details, but the latter sections of the story put you in tense situations that made me feel like I was playing a survival horror game.
Like the rest of the adventures in Outer Wilds, once your objectives become clear, the gameplay morphs. The landscapes become obstacle courses, especially as you try to accomplish more with limited time in each loop. And it sheds its chill space exploration facade to reveal that it’s basically a speed-running game where you’re racing against the clock to find the answers to life’s biggest questions.
Once your objectives become clear, the gameplay morphs
Echoes of the Eye diverges from the base game in some welcome ways, but it still feels like it’s a part of the same universe. It was a risk for Mobius Digital to squeeze another planet into Outer Wilds, which already felt like a complete package with more than enough mystery to unspool. But this spooky, mystifying expansion is an integral part of the experience, as well as a fantastic send-off for a special game.
Echoes of the Eye and Outer Wilds are available on PC via Epic Games Store and Steam, along with PS4 and Xbox One (and playable on newer consoles).