Outer Wilds is a game about exploring space in 22-minute intervals. There are five planets to explore, a number of space stations, moons, and more to discover. Most of them suck in the best possible ways. I recently set out to see everything Outer Wilds has to offer and it’s a universe filled with dread, constantly leaving me to pause the game and work I up some courage, leaving me with my stomach and chest in knots. I’m also a space geek, however, and experienced this wonderful drive to see what’s going on in this solar system Mobius Digital has created. The balance between those two shifted pretty rapidly depending on which planet I was exploring. So I figured now, two years after release, is an excellent time to release the definitive ranking of every planet in the game.
I’ll be kind and point out that this article obviously contains spoilers for Outer Wilds. It’s been years at this point though and honestly if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already completed the game.
6. Dark Bramble
Fuck this place. Seriously. If the idea of a planet being exploded from the inside out by some kind of seed isn’t terrifying enough, you then have to make it so that the core is actually a series of portals. Each of these rooms is covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with a dense fog with little other than your scout launcher to help. Add giant anglerfish ready to eat you alive the second you make even the subtlest of sounds? Nah. I’m good.
As a whole, Dark Bramble was my least favorite location simply because it sucks not being able to see things and you actually have to return here multiple times. With the path I took through the solar system, I had long since past the cycles of dying by accident so it was extra frustrating trying to figure out the limitations of the anglerfish.
Nothing here inspires awe. Just dread the entire time.
5. Timber Hearth
As the starting planet, Timber Hearth is probably the most plain planet in the system. Most players likely went straight to The Attlerock instead of exploring first, but there are definitely some surprises when you do decide to check things out. For one, that bramble seed is the worst possible news. Thankfully I hadn’t been to Dark Bramble yet, so it was kind of this cool revelation that there was a portal to the other planet, even if I couldn’t fit through.
One thing I do want to talk about is those damn volcanos. I curse the moment when I was standing alongside them at the base of the mountain, suddenly realizing the game would probably let me jump inside. I didn’t really think about what I was doing before I did it and boy was that the correct move. I remember the feeling in my chest and stomach. Knowing that I’m falling faster and faster, rushing towards the center of the planet towards what is surely death. Somehow it was much, much worse.
All of these mountains are connected by tubes. But rather than lava, they contain some kind of liquid. There was a certain amount of relief in finding out that death wasn’t awaiting me down there. But it’s rapidly replaced by that same crushing feeling in my chest as the rapid flow starts dragging me through dark, cramped tunnels. They take me underneath the base of each volcano; multiple glowing craters of lava underneath each. Finally I come upon one that’s active, with bubbles skyrocketing upwards. It shoots me back up a separate hole in the ground, ejecting me into low Timber Hearth orbit.
Relief. Except not really. This is a game about discovery and there has to be something down there. Time to jump back in.
4. Brittle Hollow
Brittle Hollow was the first planet I visited and boy was that the wrong move. Out of every planet, Brittle Hollow was easily the most confusing. There’s walking on walls, multiple gravity lifts, a black hole trying to drag you to the center constantly, and the planet also degrades as the cycle goes on. Great.
Everything about it is interesting though. A volcanic moon that rains down giant pieces of rock, my first experience with an ancient civilization, the fact that there’s a black hole at the center of this planet for some reason.
As someone who is deeply into space, black holes are terrifying. Even in No Man’s Sky where they’re a known quantity and serve as teleporters to other parts of the galaxy.
When I finally missed a jump and started that long fall towards the black hole, knowing there was no saving myself, I knew death was on its way. Except the relief didn’t come. Instead I was plopped out somewhere towards the edge of the solar system, suddenly scrambling and trying to save myself.
This is when I realized that Outer Wilds was truly going to be buck wild.
3. Giant’s Deep
Though much simpler in concept than Brittle Hollow, Giant’s Deep is no less terrifying. The first time I broke through the atmosphere, I jolted inside, realizing I was lucky to not have come down in the middle of a tornado or the giant wall of storms to the north.
The first island I landed on was the one with Gabbro who thankfully warned me about the whole islands getting ejected into space thing. Nothing really prepares you for that, however. And the few seconds where you reach the top of your path, before you start falling back down, truly feels like an eternity.
Later on, there’s the realization that you actually have to seek out one of these tornadoes to eject you underneath the water and you know what? I’m good.
2. The Sixth Location
The Sixth Location is a combination of The Quantum Moon and the true Sixth Location. Gone is the dread, replaced by awe and a sense of grand power. Why do these quantum entities exist? How do they get around? What am I really seeing each time I step outside of that tower? There are lots of spoiler-filled answers to some of these questions later in the game.
One thing I will remember is the giant skyward vortex. It’s the same feeling I got from some of the stuff in Interstellar and one worth experiencing. The entire thing is honestly a super confusing experience that feels beyond our understanding. Maybe that’s the entire point.
1. The Hourglass Twins
They may not be the most exciting to look at individually, but come on. A binary planet system where one slowly drains all of the sand onto another before the process reverses in the other direction? Conceptually that’s wild enough. But when you’re actually standing on either and watch as a truly massive column of sand peaks over the horizon and cascades as the other planet orbits is literally one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Mobius Digital couldn’t just let that be it though. Of course, they had to make this planet’s whole thing a series of underground tunnels that slowly fill up with sand as time goes on. You rush from objective to objective before the tunnels get too full and you’re forced to make an escape, or worse, get trapped inside and suffocated.
If there’s anything Outer Wilds did well, it’s build an incredibly interesting series of planets. Each is awe inspiring and a new area ripe for exploration. But they’re also deadly and dreadful. Combine that with the story that is told as your head from location to location and Outer Wilds is one universe that’s going to stick with me for a while.