Have you ever wanted to explore the vast nothing of space? Neither have I. But Miranda played Outer Wilds and was very insistent on me playing it as well. After finishing it I can see why she wanted me to: it’s pretty good. But there was one aspect of Outer Wilds that stood out to me above all else: the rumor log.
For those who don’t already know what an Outer Wilds is: it is an open-ended exploration game where you explore a micro solar system. You play as a Hearthian – the only sentient species in the solar system. Their are traces of a long since lost race known as the Nomai scattered throughout the solar system and your objective is to explore while piecing together what happened to them.
Oh and there is also a time loop. You have twenty two minutes real time to explore before the Sun goes supernova and explodes wiping out all life. This is explained in game even if it’s a bit contrived, but it does help to give a story reason for why you keep getting brought back whenever you’re horribly killed in the expanses of space.
So, rumor log – what is that?
As you explore the known universe you’ll come across a lot of information. Scrolls and data banks of knowledge left behind by the Nomai are all over the solar system. In addition, you’ll make discoveries about how specific settlement on the planets relate to one another. Keeping track of this information in your head would be an inhuman task as there is far too much to remember.
That’s where the rumor log comes in. The rumor log tracks every discovery you make in a handy post-it note before pinning it to a board. This keeps all of the information you find centralized and also gives you reference material in the event that you forgot a piece of info.
Furthermore, the rumor log records how entities relates to one another. If you make a discovery that references a settlement you haven’t found that relationship is stored alongside whatever you just read. A connective line is drawn between the two entities, and the nature of their relationship is stored within the connection. As with before, this creates a useful database to reference in the event that you forget any information.
While what I’ve talked about up to this point is useful, none of it is exceptional. What truly exceptional about the rumor log is how it can be used for exploration. Outer Wilds doesn’t give you any direction in where or when to go places. It can be incredibly daunting to explore so much with no direction, but your rumor log maps out unknown entities that you can investigate further. Instead of bumbling around blindly, players can move to the next point of interest that appeared following their latest discovery.
As a result, the rumor log not only acts as an informational database, it also acts as a tool for exploration. I was constantly referencing it choosing new unknowns to investigate and as such never felt like I was aimless falling through space. Instead, I was making meaningful decisions about where I wanted to explore next.
As an aside, I think that it’d have been even more neat if you were able to place your own notes and connections within the rumor log. Unfortunately, I firmly believe that’d over-complicate things. If a player got the wrong idea they could end up horribly lost and frustrated. But the inner detective in me thinks that being able to create your own notes and map the connections between them would be far more mechanically stimulating.
So that’s the Outer Wilds, or at least my favourite aspect of it. It’s a neat game about exploring. It was a little bit directionless, but once I started using the rumor log I was getting a lot of the same vibes I did while playing games like Hollow Knight. Constantly making meaningful decisions about where to explore next and an overarching sense of discovery make this one a joy to play. Well…a joy to play most of the time.
Thank you for reading.