Witnessing The End - Messages & Meaning From Outer Wilds

Heavy spoilers follow for Outer Wilds - please play and finish the game before reading this post!

Outer Wilds gives you the opportunity to do something no one has ever experienced - be there to witness the end of everything.

That sounds like an incredibly frightening place to be, frankly. Yet, the conclusion to Outer Wilds is anything but. In truth, witnessing it is awe inspiring, heartwarming… freeing.

Over the course of the game, you see the “end” dozens of times. It might happen as you wander about an ancient city hanging beneath a broken planet’s surface; it could be as you discover the reasons behind why a precursor race went extinct 280,000 years ago.

Or, it might simply be a quiet moment, as you drift through space, alone, gazing on at the final moments of the sun’s life as it goes supernova - incinerating everything you know.

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As you pull all of the disparate parts of Outer Wilds together - what the Quantum Moon is and how to get there; how the Nomai came to be in this system, and why; why exactly you are stuck in a 22 minute time loop - the pieces slowly congeal together in your mind.

All the questions you have been searching for answers to lead to the same place; now it’s time to collate your knowledge and use your experience to wake up one last time, and break that loop.

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That final sequence, that final time opening your eyes under the stars to see the probe fire; it’s exhilarating. And also terrifying.

You’ve spent countless cycles here. You’ve learned so much. You know the history, the geography, the flow, the mechanics. You have become a master of this space.

You can continue in this loop, comfortable in the knowledge that things will be the same tomorrow; or, you can risk it all, dive into the unknown, and break that familiarality in pursuit of truth.

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Games have taught us that you can simply reload a checkpoint when things go wrong. But in the final stages of Outer Wilds, there is an uncertainty behind your actions. The game’s fiction has explained your rebirths thus far at the beginning of each cycle. It begs the question - if you take the core out of the Ash Twin Project, what happens if you fail?

The game has spent the last several dozen hours teaching you that death is around every corner - both from the flow of time and through a thousand other means. From the beginning, you’ve known that there was always a safety net, you’ve learnt how and why that safety net exists - and to finish the game, you need to remove it.

So, now that you know what you have to do, and all you need to do to achieve it, you need to just… do it. Be a participant, rather than simply a witness.

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That final loop, which stretches to 22 minutes and beyond, is a brave step into the unknown.

In Outer Wilds, you can stay as you are, fulfilling the same loop time and again.

Or, you can take a deep breath, and move forward.

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It’s normal to be scared of the unknown. Comfort is a built in mechanism to keep us safe. It’s easy to stay comfortable.

It’s frightening to tackle the unknown. Fear is a built in mechanism to hold us back. It’s hard to break free of comfort.

But what comes with it - exhilaration, adrenaline, excitement; curiosity, wonder, yearning for truth. These are mechanisms to move us forward.

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Outer Wilds is a game about exploration. About discovery. About stepping forward into the unknown, and embracing an unknown future, despite the cost.

Because what even matters in the face of the death of an entire race, the destruction of a sun; the end of everything that has ever existed?

Every ending is a new beginning.