Outer Wilds was bewilderingly good on two fronts: Gameplay and Tone.
I mean "gameplay" in the sense that, any one of its individual ideas could have made a completely adequate game. Every time you think you've seen the extent of the creativity involved, you get hit with another concept. You see the space travel and spherical world gravity physics, and thats the coolest thing. Then, a minute later, a chunk of a world caves in and you see a black hole in the middle a hollow planet. You can navigate that space for a while, looking at the sick light warp effect of the black hole, and that would be enough for an indie game to be noteworthy. But then, you miss a jump and fall towards the black hole. you expect to get a game over, but instead, it turns out to be a wormhole, and you appear at the other side of the solar system surrounded by fragments of the collapsing planet.
Outer Wilds hammers you with idea after idea, each one fascinating. Quantum rocks that jump to new locations when unobserved, a comet that melts when it passes by the sun, a planet wide plant system that burrows through space-time.
The amount of out-of-the-box thinking it must have taken to come up with this stuff is really inspiring to me.
The Tone of the game is just as good as the gameplay. I always appreciate strong musical ques and leitmotifs, and this game does not disappoint. You will hear "End Times" a bunch, which reinforces a feeling of panic, of desperation, a need to scramble to finish what you are doing. A feeling that adds weight to the final run of the game when it is re-used in "Final Voyage".
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker does this thing where you hear the title music every time you boot up the game. Then, 3/4ths of the way through, you have to get two characters to play a song. A song that both are playing separately, and that, when played together at the end, combine together to create the title song that you have heard so many times. Needless to say, Outer Wilds does this in a unique and powerful way.
For the entire game, the assumed goal was to break the time loop, and stop the sun from exploding. But, at the end, you realize that finality is terribly mundane. The sun was always going to explode. Everyone was always going to die.
All the player had, at the end, was the gift of perspective.
Everything I've said about Outer Wilds also applies to Echos. It adds a new sub story and new creative mechanics that feel completely at home in the world, while still being fresh. Mobius have proven that they aren't a one hit wonder, and I will buy anything they make in the future.
The end of Echos hits very different from Wilds. It is nowhere near as grand and cataclysmic, though still very personable. The final communication at the end is perfect. Instead of words, the Prisoner leaves a message in pictures. This short animation carries more meaning than text could, which makes it hit even harder.
- Its an exhortation to not be afraid of the end.
- Its a comfort that you aren't alone in your journey.
To me, it is the Prisoner, robbed of his time and knowing his end is near, looking back at the player and saying
"I think we would have been friends"