When Outer Wilds first came out, many praised it for its worldbuilding, puzzles, and its truthfulness as a physics-based simulator. Most notably, the riveting story that the game told felt complete and whole. It seemed like there was nothing more that could be told about the world once you completed the game and collected all the ship logs. There was some worry, then, that a DLC was putting a hat on a hat.
However, this was a great move on the part of Mobius Digital. Echoes of the Eye is not just an extension of the main game, it can be seen as a game in itself. Bringing in new mechanics, a new world to explore, and horror elements, it has surpassed many of the DLCs out there which merely add some cosmetics, characters, or just extra supplies and resources. Moreover, the story it adds to the main game does just enough to give us some more insight into the word of Outer Wilds without stepping on its toes.
Warning: this article may contain spoilers for Outer Wilds and Echoes of the Eye.
STORY – MYSTERIES OF THE STRANGER
The world of Outer Wilds seems very much the same. Timber Hearth still bustles with Hearthians, Brittle Hollow is still being peppered by molten rocks from its moon, and Dark Bramble remains as the largest, scariest place in the solar system. However, something new lurks in the shadows. Following the clues left behind by a new exhibit in the Timber Hearth Observatory, you discover an entirely new planet (or something planet-like) – The Stranger.
The Stranger is filled with new mysteries and new locations, guaranteed to keep you busy for hours on end. Follow the path of a civilsation that has also been studying the Eye of the Universe, and retrace their steps. While retracing the path of an ancient civilisation seems familiar, the echoes left behind by this civilisation shed a new light onto the story of Outer Wilds without overshadowing it.
GAMEPLAY – LIGHT, DARK, AND THE UNKNOWN
The overall gamplay in Echoes of the Eye remains fairly the same as that of the main game. Fly around in your ship or with your jetpack to discover new clues. Use these clues to solve puzzles that lead to new clues. Discover all the clues that you can. While you’re doing this, the world changes around you, which can either help or hinder your progress. The DLC takes this formula and gives us more of what players love about Outer Wilds. In addition to the time pressure of the impending supernova, the world of the Stranger is slowly falling apart due to the rushing river flowing through the world.
The use of light is ubiquitous within the stranger. Light operates the mechanisms for doors and elevators, allows use of slide reels, and can even reveal certain clues. These slide reels are a key part of unveiling the mysteries of the stranger. These recordings made by this past civilisation give a glance into their past, insights into their technologies, and why some of the slides have been burnt beyond recognition.
LOST IN THE DARKNESS
It’s no surprise, then, that darkness can play a key role in the Stranger. Certain doors only open in the darkness, and hiding becomes much easier in the dark. Echoes of the Eye makes its departure from the main game by utilising darkness much more, introducing elements of horror as key gameplay features in the DLC. There are several incredibly dark areas being prowled by enemies with lanterns. These lanterns can be focused to produce a brighter but narrower stream of light, but the light can be concealed to hide the bearer’s position.
There is a constant tension between wanting to focus the light to get your bearings to navigate through the darkness, while concealing yourself from the enemies. They can also conceal themselves too, so be sure not to aim your lantern haphazardly in the darkness.
While this is a nice addition that sets the DLC apart from the main game, it can get quite frustrating at times. Not only are the dark areas difficult to navigate and run the risk of falling and dying, enemies are everywhere in these areas and can catch you quite easily.
Thankfully, the developers included a “Reduced Frights” option to make these sections easier. Enemies will be slower and less observant. However, the developers state that this is not the intended way to go through the DLC.
BECOMING A SPEEDRUNNER
Coming from the main game, you might be used to things working the way they should. The scout’s photo mode will detect ghost matter, and Nomai technology will teleport you as intended. But what if the technology was not bug-free? Furthermore, what if you could use this glitch in the technology to get where you want to go?
Echoes of the Eye answers these questions with a resounding yes. This civilisation has not perfected their technology, and it can be exploited to get to your goal. The use of “glitches” enhance the gameplay, because you’re used to solving things the right way. Maybe, just this once, solving things the wrong way is the right way.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – GRIM AND ADVENTUROUS
The world inside the Stranger comes across dull. The vibrant green leaves of the trees and grass are replaced with a dim yellowish-brown. The wooden structures once stood tall have become moldy and dilapidated. Rooms which were once filled with life have become dark and desolate. This reflects the direction that the developers have taken with the DLC – a darker and more sinister direction. And yet, what’s left gives a sense of what it once was. The architecture of the structures in each location make this civilisation feel unique, using cliffsides, rivers, and verticality to their advantage.
Some areas, however, are submerged in darkness. This is where the horror aesthetic starts to work to the developers’ detriment. Your lantern barely lights up anything. External light sources are few and far apart. Outer Wilds is a beautiful game already, even in places where your vision is limited (Dark Bramble for example). But the complete darkness hinders your experience of that beauty.
The sound design for Echoes of the Eye is absolutely beautiful, and is essential for understanding the world being explored. Water rushing below you. The footsteps of a pursuer, the mechanical sounds of their lantern. The looming alarm bells. Each sound is perfectly tailored to the experience and narrative.
The Outer Wilds experience, of course, is only complete with a good soundtrack. The soundtrack now includes many eerie tunes, giving you that chilling feeling when viewing an ominous slide reel or approaching a building full of enemies. These complete the DLC’s horror aesthetic, while other parts of the new soundtrack keep many of the musical themes from the main game, maintaining that feeling of exploration and adventure.
Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye was reviewed on PC via the Epic Games Store.