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Video Game / Outer Wilds

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You: You're lucky I'm in a time loop, because otherwise I'd be super dead.
Slate: And you're lucky I don't have you grounded for medical reasons, because I have no idea what you're talking about.

Outer Wilds is an open-world exploration sandbox game with heavy inspiration from immersive sim games. As the newest recruit to Outer Wilds Ventures, you are an astronaut who's just completed their training and is ready to embark on their newest job: strapping in a ship, blasting off into space, and finding out the secrets of the Nomai, a race of precursor aliens who have mysteriously vanished. About 20 minutes into your first flight, however, disaster strikes. The local sun somehow goes supernova and violently explodes, wiping out your whole solar system and killing your entire race in a blast of nuclear fire.

And then you wake up back on your home planet, staring up at the stars. You discover quite quickly that you're stuck in a time loop, but you decide to use this to your advantage- maybe, just maybe, the Nomai had something to do with why the sun went all kablooey, and by exploring their ancient settlements and ruins, one could be able to stop your imminent demise. This is a mystery that's bigger than your entire race's collective knowledge of the Nomai, and it'll take guts, determination, and a whole lot of smarts to figure out just how to save your world.


The game is a first person exploration game that focuses around exploring different planets in your solar system. Each planet is unique and has a gimmick to them that makes exploration different per planet you're on, from the crumbling crust of Brittle Hollow to the sky-high water spouts of Giants Deep. Your main task is to uncover the history of the Nomai and their people, and to follow in their footsteps to figure out how to save your solar system.

The game was first released on Xbox One on May 29, 2019 (and on PC the next day). A Playstation 4 release followed on October 15. Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds.


Buckle up, blast off, and check out these tropes:

  • Adult Fear: One Nomai mentor, Melorae, experiences a harrowing episode in the Sunless City when her apprentice, upon playing with a strange rock, suddenly disappears as if into thin air. The youngling, Coleus, is found unharmed, and his experience teaches you how quantum entanglement works, but it's still quite scary.
  • Advertised Extra: Riebeck. Despite not being the main character, they get featured in a lot of promotional screenshots and trailers, and the prominence of the banjo instrument in the soundtrack (which they play) makes them more significant, often to the point that they're considered the face of Outer Wilds as a whole. In-game though, you only encounter them camped out beneath Brittle Hollow's surface and is revealed to be a bit of a coward when it comes to space flight. In the finale, Riebeck's banjo is the first instrument you gather out of the others, so the game at least acknowledges their status.
  • An Aesop: Delivered by Riebeck just before the Golden Ending.
    Riebeck: I learned a lot, by the end of everything. The past is past, now, but that’s... you know, that’s okay! It’s never really gone completely. The future is always built on the past, even if we won’t get to see it. Still, it’s um, time for something new, now.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Discussed by a couple of Nomai regarding the Ash Twin Project - namely, that not only would the Project activate if it was successful, it would also activate if it failed, potentially trapping any paired Nomai in the time loop for a very long time if the project wasn't shut down properly. Indeed, the numbers in the Probe Tracking Module show that the probe that successfully found the Eye was #9,318,054. The implication is that they were expressly trying to avert this trope, so they only made the statues pair up when the Eye was actually found, rather than forcing anyone to sit through what could potentially be millions of cycles.
    • Due to the Quantum Moon's nature, Solanum exists in all six of its locations at once, and only the one in the sixth location (in orbit of the Eye of the Universe itself) is alive. As time doesn't work in the Moon, she's been alive, but trapped in there for over 280,000 years. If you remove Ash Twin's warp core and you are in the sixth location when the supernova happens, you will suffer the same fate.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • After the player's first death, Slate will interrupt them as they go to the launch tower, reminding them to go and get the launch codes, and then shrugging it off when the player already has them. In all loops afterwards he won't speak up at all.
    • Because they're also in the time loop, Gabbro can teach the player to meditate, which immediately skips them to the next time loop. It is however a Guide Dang It! to get this ability, since you have to return to them in multiple loops to unlock the right dialogue option.
  • Apocalypse How:
    • The sun's explosion causes a Class X-2: Stellar Scale, Physical Annihilation variant, and this always ends a loop when it goes off.
    • What killed the Nomai was the dispersion of "ghost matter" across the entire solar system caused when the Interloper, a comet carrying it in its core entered the solar system and exploded. This killed all of them except for Solanum, who resided on the "sixth location" on the Quantum Moon and was thus spared. Her other Quantum Moon incarnations were not so lucky.
    • As the player discovers more information, it becomes clear that the X-2 is only a symptom of a Class X-4: Universal-scale Physical Annihilation, known more accurately as the Heat Death of the Universe.
    • Meddling with the wrong thing causes a Non-Standard Game Over and a Class Z through the destruction of the fabric of spacetime. The Xbox achievement text for doing so even paraphrases the description for 'Original Negation' - "There's no going back."
  • Apocalyptic Log: Since Nomai communication appears to be solely through the written word, many of their logs can be found throughout the solar system. Some actual "audio" logs left by Hearthian explorers can also be found in various places.
  • Artificial Stupidity: In-Universe, the player's ship's autopilot. It works in three stages: stopping lateral movement, accelerating towards the target, and then decelerating to bring the ship to a halt at a safe distance. It is completely incapable of recognizing obstacles in the way, such as moons. In worst case scenarios the autopilot will quite happily fly the player directly into the sun.
  • Baby Planet: All the planets are really small, traversable in only a few minutes tops. This makes getting around the solar system pretty easy.
  • Background Music Override: About a minute and a half before the sun goes supernova, End Times plays, replacing whatever music is currently playing. The sun proceeds to explode a few seconds after the track ends. If the loop is broken by removing Ash Twin's warp core, a variation of the song will play constantly from when you leave the Ash Twin Project until either you reach the Eye of the Universe, or the sun explodes.
  • Beast Man: The Nomai were three-eyed goat people.
  • Benevolent Precursors: The Nomai, who existed thousands of years ago, were very kind and conscientious with their designs.
    • When they were constructing the outer shell of the Ash Twin Project, they took most of the material from Timber Hearth, but stopped mining when they realized that a species was developing in the waters of the planet. That species is implied to be the distant precursors of yours, and the Nomai even left more than enough material to ensure that if your species ever developed spaceflight, they would be able to construct their own vessels.
    • Even the Sun exploding isn't their fault. Although they created the Sun Station, which was intended to cause the Sun to go supernova for their experiments, records on the station itself indicate that it was unable to function as intended. And even then, Nomai opinion was split on the ethics of such a project. Then they were wiped out before they could resume research on the project, around 280,000 years before the start of the game.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Dark Bramble. Something about it and its seeds warps space, and the space inside not only gets bigger the deeper you go, but the seeds are also capable of warping things that enter it to elsewhere in the Bramble.
  • Big Good: Discussed by the Nomai in relation to the Eye of the Universe itself, which may or may not be sentient. If it is sentient, then it is willingly calling sentient species to it in order to remake the universe, as the current one is dying.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hearthian enters the Eye of the Universe, and after a very surreal trip, collects their astronaut friends and Solanum (if you found her on the Quantum Moon) to help create a brand new universe. While it's implied they all die in the ensuing Big Bang, their universe was dying anyways, and life can go on in a new universe. The post credits scene shows a group of insect-people living in a brand new universe and roasting marshmallows, showing that the adventurous spirit of the Hearthians carried over into the new universe with gusto.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Right near the start of the game, the player is invited to play around with Mica's model ship, to get a feel for the controls, and one of the things they can do is drop the model into the nearby geyser. Go for a swim in the planet's underground waterways later, and you can find lots of model spaceship parts littered around the cave at the bottom of that particular geyser.
    • If the player fires their Little Scout into the Eye of the Universe before jumping in, they'll lose connection to it and be unable to call it back for the entirety of the finale. Credits roll, 14.3 billion years pass, the player is treated to a shot of a new civilization... and then the Scout goes flying past.
  • Captain Crash: Feldspar, apparently. Their logs that you can find keep a separate count of how many interesting crashes they've had versus the boring ones, and the only thing left from their inaugural flight is the pilot's seat.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Downplayed. If the sun exploding doesn't scare you, and the Quantum Moon only gives you the willies, then the malicious, semi-sentient pocket dimension of the Dark Bramble just might. Ultimately, though, it's a story about exploration, hope and new beginnings.
  • Credits Gag: Should the player trigger a Non-Standard Game Over in which they destroy the fabric of spacetime, a sillier version of the credits scroll accompanied by the main theme played on kazoos.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast:
    • As this is an exploration game where Death Is Cheap, this is a given for the player, especially if they're unprepared for what they find.
    • In the backstory, Escall, the captain of the Nomai Vessel, ordered his ship to warp to the source of the signal from the Eye of the Universe immediately upon discovering it, without telling anyone else where they were going, because he was afraid the signal might disappear. The ship immediately crashed in Dark Bramble, killing an unspecified amount of the crew. This crosses over into Hoist by His Own Petard afterwards, since while he did escape the Vessel, he was on Escape Pod 3, so he never made it out of Dark Bramble and instead suffocated.
    • Pye and Poke pressing deeper into the Interloper despite the obvious dangers. On the one hand, they do learn about the existence and danger of ghost matter. On the other, they don't live long enough to warn anybody else about it.
  • Cutting the Knot:
    • Getting below the current on Giant's Deep is a complicated affair to discover - you have to visit the Southern Observatory on Brittle Hollow to find out that one storm on the planet sucks in objects, rather than expelling them like the rest. Alternatively, fly about 350-400km away from the planet and just ram into it at top speed.
    • Getting to the Black Hole Forge normally requires you to wait for the sand to drain on Ash Twin for you to be able to access the Brittle Hollow Warp Tower. Or you could carefully pilot your ship under the planet's surface and land it upside down in the Black Hole Forge district.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • If you try to get to the Eye earlier than usual by going to the sixth location on the Quantum Moon, the upper atmosphere winds will be too strong for you to escape into space.
    • The Ash Twin Project contains a long set of Nomai writings that detail its history and all the steps to finding it, so that anyone who may have skipped some steps would get the clues added to their Ship Log.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Piloting the Nomai shuttles. Unlike your ship, shuttle flight involves looking for launch windows and timing your trajectories to meet up with your target destinations, much like space flight in Real Life. It's a bit tricky to pull off, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a fun way to traverse the solar system and also provides an alternative transportation option to your ship, should you lose it.
  • Driving Question: There's a whole number of these, and your ship's computer groups together rumors and research on the Nomai into five mysteries that link into one another.
    • What is the "Ash Twin Project", what does it do, and why were the Nomai so focused on creating it?
    • What is the Orbital Probe Cannon, where is it, and what is its purpose?
    • Where did the Nomai come from?
    • What is the significance of The Interloper, the comet that is orbiting the sun?
    • What is the Quantum Moon, why does it hold such importance for the Nomai, and how do you get there?
    • Narratively, there's also the question as to why the sun keeps exploding every loop, and whether or not it can be stopped.
    • For the Nomai, what is the Eye of the Universe, and what is the purpose of the signal it is emitting? Why can't it be found by simply following the signal?
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: In the solar system's history, there used to be a fifth planet where Dark Bramble now orbits, until a Bramble seed appeared at its core and shattered it from the inside. Remnants of that explosion can still be found around the solar system. There's enough evidence to suggest that the Giant's Deep jellyfish were actually native to this fifth planet but got displaced by the explosion. And if it's not dealt with quickly, it's likely the seed on Timber Hearth will cause the same fate, if it wasn't for the sun going Supernova anyways.
  • Easter Egg:
    • Not strictly; more of a case of a location that's unnecessary towards figuring out any of the mysteries and is never hinted at elsewhere. Hollow's Lantern, the firey ball orbiting Brittle Hollow that's spitting its own fireballs at it for the whole 22 minutes, has a Nomai conversation wall inside one of the volcanoes. The whole moon is moving very quickly and one wrong move will see your ship being melted by lava. It seems like a Violation of Common Sense to go anywhere near it, and if you do manage to get inside without being taken out by a flying rock, it basically just tells you that they abandoned a forge there in favor of the Black Hole Forge on the main planet.
    • One that more readily fits the definition can be found on Ash Twin. If you get sucked into the black hole that opens up in the middle of the Ash Twin Project, when you return there next loop you'll encounter... yourself. Dialogue options range from Casual Danger Dialogue through suggestions of Screw Yourself to just screaming at each other.
    • One particular knot inside Dark Bramble has an unusual destination - you can't fit into it yourself, but fire your scout inside and it'll end up in the Great Hall at Elsinore Castle.
    • At the very edge of the solar system you can find a human probe satellite.
  • Easy Logistics:
    • Easy Oxygen! You just need a living tree or two nearby and you can refill your air tank. The Hearthians actually have a packet of emergency tree seeds they give to their explorers just to make a livable space where they go.
    • Your suit needs to be refueled, but your ship never does.
  • Eldritch Location:
    • The Dark Bramble. A maze of strange portals, twisting branches and enormous angler fish, this hellish, foggy labyrinth is perhaps the most confusing planet to navigate in the whole solar system.
    • The Quantum Moon, a place that exists only when being observed and warps around the Solar System rapidly. Not only are there six different versions of the moon depending on where you are relative to it and what planet it's orbiting, but the entire thing is made of the same quantum rocks that are found on other planets, which themselves can have an effect on local wildlife. Solanum correctly theorizes that the reason the moon is like this is because it's actually the moon of the Eye of the Universe, which is itself an even bigger Eldritch Location. Among other things, time does not work as it should in the Moon's sixth location, as Solanum is still alive eons after the rest of her people, including her own versions in the other Quantum Moon locations, died.
    • The Eye of the Universe is, if possible, even weirder than its own moon. The symbol the Nomai used to represent it is actually a strange structure that surrounds the planet itself. Its northern hemisphere is trapped in endless night, while the southern hemisphere has a massive, stormy maelstrom that covers it in its entirety, each lightning that falls changing the locations of the rocks and trees that can be found there.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: As AV Club noted:
    Outer Wilds is a game about dying in space. And also exploring and archaeology and mysteries and time, but it’s the dying that’ll occupy a decent chunk of your early time with it. It’s a horror game where the most terrifying monsters are things like physics and poor planning. (There may also be some actual monsters; there’s an ocean planet I’m way too scared to dip below the surface of just yet.) Maybe you fly into the sun. Maybe you get blindsided by a moon, moving at spaceship-smooshing speeds. Maybe you just run out of time. Either way, you’re dead—until you’re not, as time rewinds, and you’re right back where you started, staring up at the stars in your idyllic, rustic village, and wondering just what the hell is going on.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Talk to Chert during End Times and he'll only ask you if you want to sit next to the campfire with him.
  • The Faceless: Chert, Riebeck and Gabbro are all wearing their spacesuits when you find them, so their actual faces are never seen. Similarly, Solanum is wearing a Nomai spacesuit.
  • Fast-Forward Mechanic: The 1.0.3 patch added the ability to fast-forward time by sleeping at campfires. It becomes available after a few loops.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Sidestepped a little in terms of gender as all Hearthians are nonbinary. Otherwise, no mention is made of the protagonist's name or age (aside from a couple of characters calling them "hatchling", the Hearthian equivalent of using "kid" as a quick nickname for a younger person). The most the player can see of themselves without some scout ingenuity is their hands, but placing a scout in the middle of your ship's cockpit does reveal a complete player model.
  • Floral Theme Naming: The Nomai tended to have plant-related names. Examples include Cassava, Cycad, and Root.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Whenever you wake up, you can clearly see something explode over Giant's Deep and shoot a bright purple object around the solar system. That's the Orbital Probe Cannon, and the probe it fires is crucial in figuring out how to get to the Eye of the Universe.
    • Foreshadowing the ending, Solanum mentions that her biggest question is what happens when a sentient observer enters the Eye of the Universe. You end up doing this in the ending.
    • Also foreshadowing the ending, if you fly out to the edge of the solar system and wait for the planets to line up just right, it's possible to hear all of the travelers' songs at once — the same song they all play together when the player finishes the game with the Golden Ending.
    • Talking to Chert reveals that they've been seeing a ton of supernovas out in space today, and looking around can show that they're right—there are an unusually high number of stars that are rapidly accelerating to their final stage before detonating. If you're familiar with some hard sci-fi stuff and theories about the Big Bang, this should set off some warning bells, as mass star detonations like this can only herald the heat death of the Universe.
    • A combination of this and Freeze-Frame Bonus can occur when shooting a scout into the Dark Bramble seed that lands on Timber Hearth. If one is paying close enough attention or has a pause button, it can be possible to see Feldspar's campfire in the Angler Fish skeleton.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • From the beginning of the game until the Nomai statue is activated, the time loop is 'paused', so players won't be killed by external forces before they've had the chance to leave the starting area.
    • Quantum objects always move in reaction to the player only. In the case of the Nomai they observed the Quantum Moon staying around their planets for much longer periods of time (because multiple people were looking at it over differing periods) but in-game the Moon always moves when the player's camera is no longer pointed in its direction.
  • Genius Loci: Some of the Nomai theorize that the mysterious "Eye of the Universe" could be one of these, calling out to sentient races for some unknown reason. While it doesn't show any overt signs of sentience in the ending, it definitely reacts to your presence, making it ambiguous.
  • Gimmick Level: Several locations in the game have unique gimmicks of their own.
    • The Hourglass Twins are a pair of double planets — Ember Twin and Ash Twin — that orbit each other. and revolve around the gimmick of sand. Ember Twin is a barren rock and Ash Twin is a barren sand pit. As the two orbit one another, Ash Twin's Sand is vacuumed up by Ember Twin at a steady rate. Ember Twin gradually fills up with sand as time passes, which can make many of its underground areas inaccessible after a while if you don't explore them quickly enough. The Ash Twin is the opposite, all of its areas buried in sand being revealed and accessible if you wait around long enough.
    • Brittle Hollow is a Hollow World with its surface composed of many brittle sections. As the surface gets bombarded by lava rocks spewed from its volcanic moon, Hollow's Lantern, pieces of the crust will collapse into the core, until most of the planet is gone save a few safe zones. At the center of the planet lies a black hole, which won't kill you if you fall in it, but instead, will warp you to a white hole on the outer edge of the solar system. Waiting out the collpase allows access to areas you might not be able to reach when they're still attached.
    • Giant's Deep is a storm-wracked ocean planet where small islands drift about its surface. They'll occasionally cross paths with the cyclones and be flung briefly into space, eventually crashing back down, prompting the player to find special gravity panels that keep them safe. It also has the strongest gravity of any planet, which hampers jumping and jet pack usage.
    • Dark Bramble is a maze of fog-covered, space-bending brambles where getting around is a case of finding the right path. It's also the only area in the game to host dangerous enemies; the Anglerfish, which will pursue you on the slightest instance of sound.
    • The Interloper is a comet with its interior sections only being accessible when it reaches perihelion (closest approach to the sun), and you only have two chances to explore it before it eventually crashes into the expanding sun. The ice caves inside are filled with the deadly, invisible ghost matter.
    • The Quantum Moon is an optional area that requires some optical trickery to get to, first to land on the moon itself, and then to navigate through it.
  • Golden Ending: The best ending is still bittersweet, but you get all of the Travelers to play their song together, and remake the Universe with a new Big Bang.
  • Gravity Screw: Obviously, getting close enough to planets or the sun while flying through space will pull you towards them. In addition, the Nomai have installed gravity crystals in various locations in the star system that allow you to walk on the surface they're attached to whatever its orientation, as well as entire wall panels with the same property. Gravity changes are particularly abrupt when the player is not in their ship, as they will reorientate rapidly so as to be falling "down" on crossing a gravitational boundary. Accidentally getting caught in the gravity well of the Sun and plunging in is common enough that the game will advise new players when their first death is that way.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: After 22 minutes have passed, the Hearthian is sent back in time to the beginning of the game and must relive the same 22-minute period again. Dying can reset the loop early.
  • Guide Dang It!: Arguably, since much of the game revolves around solving the puzzles the Nomai left behind (which require some basic understanding of quantum mechanics), there's a lot potential for players to run into this. However, some notable examples include:
    • The Quantum Moon. First, you have to find and lock down the moon so you can land on it, which is tedious because you either have to find it or force it to appear near you through random chance. Then, in order to move it to the mysterious sixth location, you have manipulate the Nomai quantum tower to appear on the Moon's north pole, which only works on one of the five iterations of the moon. Once you've got the tower in the right place, you have to just keep shifting it until it lands on the sixth location. Thankfully, finding the Quantum Moon is an optional objective, and only needed for achieving the Golden Ending.
    • The Ash Twins Project teleporter. Unlike the other teleporters, the roof to the Project teleporter is broken open, and it only activates when the Ember Twin passes directly over it. However, without the roof, there's nothing stopping the Ember Twin's gravity from pulling the player off of the teleporter pad before it can activate. The solution to this is that you have to wait in cover until the last possible second when the Ember Twin is directly oover the teleporter, then make a dash for the teleporter and using your suit's thrusters to keep you on the ground long enough for the teleporter to activate.
  • Heroic BSoD: Later in the time loop, if you talk to Chert about 16 minutes in, they'll come to a realization based on their observations of other stars going supernova that the universe is dying, and that the Sun will do the same. They'll immediately slump into depression and ask to be left alone for a while, and just as the Sun is about to go, they'll ask you to sit down beside the campfire with them and spend the last moments together, fully accepting their fate while lamenting how the Heartheans are unlucky to be born at the end of the universe.
  • Hope Spot: When you reach the Sun Station, Nomai writings there indicate that you may have found the cause of the supernova that creates the time loop, and possibly a way to stop it. Unfortunately, you quickly realize that not only did the Sun Station not trigger the Supernova, the sun is going to start expanding in a few minutes, incinerating the station with you on it.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. The two children you can play hide and seek with will be incinerated with the rest of the solar system, just like everyone else as the universe dies. For that matter, the skeletons of Nomai children can be found in their ruins.
  • Info Dump: Finding the Ash Twin Project is usually the culmination of hours investigation and following clues. It also contains Nomai writing detailing every major plot point along the way, in proper order, just in case you blunder on it by accident.
  • Just Before the End: You've got 22 minutes before your sun explodes and wipes out your entire solar system.And it isn't just your solar system that's Just Before the End, the entire universe has reached the Natural End of Time.
  • Loophole Abuse: Basically how the player has to manipulate the game's quantum physics to solve puzzles. An object will remain in place while observed, and will move when not observed, for generous definitions of "observe."
  • Kill 'Em All: On a universal scale. You cannot prevent the sun from going supernova; it is an inevitable part of the heat death of the universe. You and everyone you meet throughout the game will die in the resulting shockwaves - and because every other star is also going supernova, all life in the universe will likely face the same fate. Despite this, it is not a complete Downer Ending: by reaching the Eye of the Universe, you help kickstart the next Big Bang and allow a new universe to be created. The post-credits scene shows a group of sentient beings sitting around a campfire, proving that life goes on.
  • Mind Screw:
    • Quantum objects move between different locations whenever they're out of sight. The effect can really mess with your head.
    • The Quantum Moon is an entire stellar object with quantum properties that you must use as a vehicle to traverse the solar system. There is a Nomai you can meet at its sixth location, Solanum, who is fairly sure she's not completely alive any more since, in all other locations, she's dead.
    • The ending can really mess with your head. Everything after you enter the Eye of the Universe is either metaphorical in nature or else very symbolic.
  • Multiple Endings: Mainly dependent on what you do after removing the warp core from the Ash Twin Project. Any ending other than either of the Golden Endings or the Paradox ending results in a credits sequence that's entirely silent.
    • Golden Ending: Visit Solanum on the Quantum Moon, then relocate the warp core to the Nomai Vessel and travel to the Eye of the Universe.
    • Not-Quite Golden Ending: Same as above, only without meeting Solanum.
      • Both of these are known as the 'Eye of the Universe' Ending.
    • Early Death: See the first entry for Non-Standard Game Over below.
    • Late Death: Die after removing the warp core.
      • Both of these are known as the '"You Died"' Ending.
    • Lost in Space (Isolation Ending): Remove the warp core and leave the solar system, setting yourself adrift in space until your supplies run out.
    • 813:note  Remove the warp core and travel to the sixth location of the Quantum Moon, leaving yourself trapped for eternity like Solanum is.
    • Breaking Spacetime: See the second and third entries for Non-Standard Game Over below.
  • Natural End of Time: The setting turns out to be the Heat Death of the Universe, which is why you're in a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
  • Non-Standard Game Over:
    • If you somehow manage to die before ever making contact with the Nomai statue that's the source of your "Groundhog Day" Loop, you will die permanently, a black screen with "YOU ARE DEAD" written in yellow letters will appear, and the game will end, returning you to the start screen.
    • The game will end if you screw around with the time travel experiment in the High Energy Lab. By setting it up correctly you can observe what the Nomai did: that an object (in your case, your Scout) will emerge from a white hole before it enters its corresponding black hole. If you then remove the black hole warp core after the Scout has left the white hole, but before it's entered the black one, for a moment you have two Scouts... then black tentacles forming from the duplicate Scout which came out of the White Hole suddenly eat the world. "YOU DESTROYED THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME." Cut to credits, with the main theme being played on kazoos.
    • In Version 1.0.4, a second Breaking Spacetime Ending was added, known as the 'Self' Ending. For this ending, you have to jump into the black hole which forms in the Advanced Warp Core just after the supernova. This causes a time paradox to start, where there will be two copies of you in the world - one of which would remain in the Ash Twin. Once seeded, if the player doesn't manage to jump back into the black hole while it is open, or if they die, then like the above, black tentacles (this time from the copy of themselves) suddenly eat the world, as once again, "YOU DESTROYED THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME." This also makes the game technically unwinnable, requiring you to reload a save file (post-destruction) and not seed the paradox again, or start a new game in order to prevent this paradox from happening again.
    • Yet another has you disabling the Ash Twin Project then visiting the Quantum Moon to meet the last Nomai — without a way to get off. The game then announces: "HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HERE? MINUTES? YEARS? YOU ARE UNSURE BUT IT SEEMS YOUR JOURNEY HAS REACHED ITS END."
  • Noodle Incident: The history of Outer Wilds Ventures is full of these, mainly centered around its first official launch - or more specifically, its first intentional launch.
  • No OSHA Compliance: As the AV Club stated: "The Nomai have many innovations; guardrails weren’t one of them."
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Chert comes down with this towards the end of the loop when they finally put together that the universe is ending and that the system's sun is about to explode.
    • Pye and Poke, the Nomai whose bodies you find inside the core of the Interloper, who realized that the core was approaching the point of explosion far too late to warn anyone.
  • Outrun the Fireball: It is possible to leave the solar system in order to avoid being killed by the supernova. However, the 22-minute time loop will yank you back in time regardless of whether you're alive or dead. If you take Ash Twin's warp core with you, the supernova will dissipate before it can get to you. The game ends a bit over a minute after the supernova, with the words "NOW BEYOND THE REACH OF THE SUPERNOVA, YOU DRIFT THROUGH SPACE UNTIL YOUR SHIP'S RESOURCES ARE FINALLY DEPLETED".
  • Place Before Time: According to the signal the Nomai picked up, the Eye of the Universe predates the Universe itself.
  • The Plan: In order to find the Eye of the Universe, the Nomai conceived an elaborate plan to help find it. They constructed two massive projects: the Ash Twin Project, and the Orbital Probe Cannon. The Ash Twin Project is a Mental Time Travel hub of sorts, where the Nomai would store their memories, which would be sent back in time when its warp core is powered by the energy cultivated from the exploding sun. The Ash Twin Project also sends back the order to fire the Orbital Probe Cannon, as well as the probe data from the previous loop. Because the cannon fires in a different random direction each loop, it will eventually find the Eye of the Universe by chance. The Nomai would then end the Ash Twin Project, which stops the sun from exploding, and then find the Eye of the Universe by taking the warp core used to power the Project back to their Vessel in the Bramble, and using that to find the Eye. Unfortunately, the Nomai were never able to use the Sun Station to trigger the supernova required to power the project. The Interloper comet soon thereafter killed all of the Nomai, abruptly ending their civilization and their designs to pursue the Eye of the Universe. The protagonist getting scanned by the Nomai statue on Timber Hearth is implied to be because the Sun has begun its death cycle, inadvertently powering the latent Ash Twin project and discovering the Eye of the Universe many millennia after the Nomai intended.
  • Planetary Parasite: Strongly implied with the Dark Bramble. There's strong evidence found throughout the solar system to suggest that this mass of brambles can infect whole planets as hosts and tear them apart, and this was the fate of the unnamed fifth planet that used to be where Dark Bramble is now. Prior to the start of the game, a Dark Bramble seed impacted Timber Hearth and began to embed its roots into the planet, which became a concern for Tekite who says that they need to chop it up as soon as they can. If not for the Sun going supernova and the universe dying, Timber Hearth's future is already pretty grim and likely to become the bramble's next victim.
  • Portal Network: To help facilitate the Ash Twin Project, five towers that connect via warp cores to various planets and space stations were constructed along the equator of the Ash Twin.
  • Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: The game takes a bit of creative license to the nature of quantum physics.
  • Ramming Always Works: While for the most part high-velocity impacts with the player's ship can damage and sometimes even destroy it, there are two locations where intentionally smacking into things with the ship can be helpful to the player:
    • Brittle Hollow is made up of several fragments, which destabilize and fall into the black hole inside the planet when they've been hit by enough rocks from Hollow's Lantern. However the player's ship is substantial enough to cause small changes to the surface integrity as well, meaning that with enough solid impacts on a section that can fall, the player can intentionally cause a fragment to fall earlier than it would normally.
    • The other one is somewhat of a spoiler. Flying at top speed into Giant's Deep is enough to force the ship down through the planet's ocean current, circumventing the need to seek out the information from Brittle Hollow the player would need otherwise.
  • Red Herring: Several.
    • If the player pays attention to the star map at the end of the loop, they'll notice that the Interloper has gone missing; should they be watching at the right time, they'll see the meteor crash into the sun shortly before End Times starts, and it's easy to assume that it's the cause of the supernova. While it did cause a previous event, this time it's a symptom of the sun expanding into its orbit.
    • When using a projection pool to view into the Ash Twin Project, you can see three activated masks. And when you make it to the Probe Tracking Module within the core of Giant's Deep, there is a Nomai statue with open eyes. Given that one of them is you and the second is Gabbro, it seemingly reveals that there is a third person out there that's remembering things between time loops. But once you learn what the Ash Twin Project and Orbital Probe Cannon are designed to do, it becomes clear that the third pairing is the Probe Tracking Module sending its telemetry back to the Ash Twin Project, which stores the results out of millions of probe launches over millions of time loops.
    • The first Nomai communication board in the Sun Station reveals that they planned use it to make the sun go supernova. This is short lived though, since the only other communication board reveals that it didn't work.
  • Restart the World: Restart the universe, to be more precise, in the Golden Ending. And even though it means Cessation of Existence for the Hearthians, they're okay with that.
  • Rock Theme Naming: All Hearthians are named after some form of rock; Slate, Gneiss and Galena are a few of the more obvious ones.
  • Sequence Breaking: Because this is an open exploration game, it is entirely possible to accidentally stumble upon important plot points before finding the hints intended to get you there.
  • Shifting Sand Land: The Hourglass Twins planets are, like their namesake, full of sand, and as time progresses sand flies off of one and falls onto the other, revealing ruins on Ash and filling canyons on Ember. Coincidentally (or not) Ember is completely full shortly before the sun goes nova, giving you a very big visual indicator of how much time you have.
  • Shout-Out: Not in the game itself, but a few of the achievement names, to whit "Deep Impact", "It belongs in a museum" and "You've met with a terrible fate". "A Terrible Fate" is also the name of the kazoo main theme that plays over the broken reality silly credits.
  • Shrouded in Myth: When aboard the Nomai Vessel, it can be discovered that while its warp core is dead, it's still picking up communications from living Nomai elsewhere in the universe, who between coordinating escape from all the dying stars talk about the legend of Escall's Vessel, the one you are currently on board, which vanished one day without a trace. Another Nomai interrupts the conversation to inform them that the Vessel did actually exist.
  • Side Quest: Finding the Quantum Moon is not necessary for completing the game, and only exists as a cool optional undertaking. It is very rewarding, however, as completing it nets you a conversation with Solanum on how the universe may operate. Completing it will also allow her to show up in the ending sequence, and is just heartwarming.
  • Signature Instrument: This is the signature theme of the primary members of Outer Wilds Ventures, with each playing their own instrument that gives them an identity. Riebeck plays the banjo, Chert plays the drums, Gabbro plays the flute, Feldspar plays the harmonica, and, while Esker doesn't have an instrument of their own, they make up for it with their whistling. Solanum, the last Nomai you encounter on the Quantum Moon, is represented by the piano, which she plays on her scepter-like device. In the finale, all these characters play the iconic "Travelers" song to remake the universe.
  • Silent Credits: If you find a way of dying permanently or manage to escape the supernova with the warp core in your hands, the ending's credits will have no music whatsoever.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The interior of the Interloper is basically a three-dimensional maze of ice. To make matters worse most of its tunnels are filled with ghost matter, so the player has to be quick with their camera and nimble with their jetpack to navigate it without dying.
  • Squee!: Both the player character and Riebeck freak out appropriately when the player reports their meeting with Solanum on the Quantum Moon.
  • Stable Time Loop: Played with. While the Ash Twin Project itself is not an example of this trope, by the laws of time travel established in the game, intentionally averting one by not sending an object back in time that had already appeared in the past (be it your Scout or even yourself) causes a Reality-Breaking Paradox. The Nomai believed that they had found some way around this so that they could burn multiple timelines' worth of the sun and use it to send the location of the Eye of the Universe back in time to them, and then once they had it, not blow up the sun. However, due to the Sun Station not working as designed, they never actually got to test it out in their lifetimes, and it takes until the natural death of the star for the loops to commence.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Chert remarks that there have been an unusual number of supernovas sighted recently, and indeed, if you look up at the stars it won't be long before you spot a few of them, exploding and dissipating into nothing.
    • The symbolic Mind Screw world you find yourself in after going through the Eye of the Universe features a forest filled with tiny galaxies that wink out one by one until everything is dark, reflecting the death of the universe.
  • Swap Teleportation: The quantum rocks can do this with any sort of object under their influence like trees and monuments, but only when you look away from them. They can even take the place of another object temporarily, teleporting it to another location.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Optionally. By default, time progresses as normal while you're talking to characters, but there is the option to pause time while in dialogue scenes, and/or while you are reading Nomai text with the translater. However, once the "End Times" music track begins playing at the end of the loop, everything then progresses in real time.
  • Tele-Frag: You can do this to your own ship. If you land your ship in one of the gravity cannons on either Ember Twin or Brittle Hollow, and then use the recall function to call back the Nomai shuttles, the shuttle will teleport right into your ship and cause it to explode, leaving you with a wrecked vehicle and stranding you on the planet.
  • Third Eye: The Nomai have three eyes. Whether the third does anything special or not is ambiguous; the phrase "even to the third eye" is used once regarding some very small changes but is otherwise not brought up.
  • Timed Mission:
    • You have 22 minutes before the sun goes supernova. Since you're stuck in a time loop, this restarts the cycle, allowing you to try again. Since many locations are frequently changing, it also means that some places will become inaccessible after a certain amount of time, and others won't be reachable until a certain amount of time has passed.
    • Once you remove the warp core from the Ash Twin Project, the time loop shuts down, and you have however long left in the loop before you're incinerated by the supernova and die permanently. For the sake of the game, though, this only shows you the credits and boots you to the main menu; you can resume play from there as if you started the loop again.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Invoked by Riebeck during the finale.
    Riebeck: No rush! Take your time. It might not even exist here...
  • Too Dumb to Live: There are lots of ways to die in Outer Wilds. This trope kicks in for such deaths that are entirely avoidable, such as walking into a campfire and burning to death while looking up at the stars, walking off the launch platform and falling to death while looking up at the stars, or leaving the ship in space without your suit because you were too eager to look at the stars.
    • If the player takes the elevator up to their ship but then leaves the landing pad for any reason, the elevator will remain at the top until the player approaches the bottom. If the player fails to notice this, cue death by being squashed.
  • Touched by Vorlons: The protagonist doesn't become a part of the time loop til he encounters the Nomai bust in the museum. Everyone stuck in the loop can be considered this.
  • Underground City: The Nomai built two of them: The Sunless City deep beneath Ember Twin's surface, and the Hanging City beneath Brittle Hollow's north pole.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Gabbro spends the entirety of each loop playing their pipe while reclining in a hammock, even when the storms of Giant's Deep throw their island up into space. Even their reaction to being trapped in the time loop along with the player is akin to 'eh, it happens'.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: Zig-Zagged. The Black Hole in Brittle Hollow functions exactly as it does in real life, with light warping around it just as it does in observable space. Its gravitational pull is quite weak though, so escaping its pull can be done by timing one's jets properly. Falling into it doesn't take forever like it would in real life, however. Entering it shoots you out of the White Hole on the edge of the solar system, completely unharmed. Entering a black hole in real life would probably be an excruciatingly painful experience followed by instant death.
  • Video Game Time: Averted. Not only do the 22 minutes loops play out in real time, but Take Your Time is also averted, in that events pass whether you are aware of it or not.
    Polygon: If [the player] show[s] up to the planet that’s being destroyed late in the time loop, many of the platforms and features that [they] would have seen early in the loop are gone. Likewise, on the planet that’s filling with sand, any tardiness means that useful clues will be buried. These are facts that [the player can] learn and process as [they] play through dozens of time loops, accruing knowledge.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Several achievements require intentionally dying or sabotaging yourself in stupid ways. Among them is using the eject mechanism before taking off and putting your ship on a gravity cannon and then activating it.
  • Vortex Barrier: The Tower of Quantum Trials is located inside a perpetual polar vortex on the north pole of Giant's Deep, with its winds far too strong for even your ship to pass through. There are only two ways to get around the vortex; either from above the cloud layer or below the ocean current. Accessing the tower is critical to obtaining the knowledge needed to land on the Quantum Moon.
  • Walking Spoiler: This is a game about discovery, so naturally certain locations and characters are massive spoilers. The single biggest one of these, however, is Solanum, who is the last living Nomai in the solar system.
  • Wham Line:
    • While its effect can be muted somewhat if it's found after visiting the Ash Twin Project, reading the words "22 minutes" in the High Energy Lab is your first indication that the time loop isn't accidental after all.
    • The Sun Station could never cause a supernova. Up to this point, the game has been building up the Sun Station as The Very Definitely Final Dungeon. As you learn more of the processes surrounding the Ash Twin Project, it becomes more and more apparent that this Project is responsible for the supernova. The Sun Station detonates the sun, kicking off a complex system of processes and machines whose history is detailed across the solar system. But then you make it to the Sun Station, ready to solve whatever malfunction is destroying your solar system, only to find this news. The Sun Station doesn't work. It never worked. The supernova is not man-made at all.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: For the occupants of Escape Pod 3. Stuck in Dark Bramble and running out of breathable air, they decided to follow a signal back to the Vessel, only to find that the instance of it they followed was coming from a seed which they had no hope of passing through.

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