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An indie game finally brought me something that Halo never did

I’ve given up hope of getting what I want from the Halo franchise. Microsoft has put together over a dozen Halo games and spin-offs, a small pile of books, and an upcoming TV show, but it still hasn’t made a Halo game that would invite me to explore a grand, open one , complete ring world. You know: a halo game over a halo.

This year I finally got exactly what I wanted from the last place I expected it to be: a barely advertised addition to an indie game.

Attention readers! I’m about to spoil the first few hours of Outer Wilds: Echos of the Eye. If you care about Polygon’s Game of the Year 2019, I recommend keeping this post open in a tab until you’ve had the chance to witness the introduction for yourself. But if you’re just curious Outer wilderness and its extension, I promise this story will only whet your appetite and won’t spoil the food.

The key frame for Outer Wilds Echoes of the DLC, which shows an alien astronaut carrying a glowing lamp in an atmospheric swamp

Source image: Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive

Outer Wilds: Echos of the Eye takes place on an extraterrestrial ring world that is inside the Outer wilderness Universe. I don’t mean “universe” in the sense of “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. The original Outer wilderness puts players in a real clockwork universe (not a “canonical” universe), in which each planet has its own ecosystem with unique gravity and biomes. The player has 22 minutes to explore until the sun at the center of the game world turns into a supernova and resets the process. During each loop you will learn a little about the setting and how to navigate it, then apply those lessons to learn a little more and go a little deeper into space.

if Outer wilderness it’s about exploring the alien colonization of natural worlds Echoes of the eye it is about uncovering the natural degradation of an artificial world. Or in other words: Outer wilderness is about how an alien species constructed a world to survive in a dying universe, and Echoes of the eye is about how the universe inevitably deconstructs these creations anyway.

The game’s ring world, like the wider world it is in, contains a collection of unique settlements built on swamps, in caves, and deep in the river that runs the length of the building. Said river supplies the world via a dam and like the inevitable supernova of Outer wilderness right, this dam will break every cycle. Unlike the supernova, the destruction doesn’t kill the player instantly, but the flood unleashed by the dam breach will devastate the ring-shaped world, toppling towers, pulverizing houses, exposing some new paths in the process.

What I love about this ring world – what I always wanted from Halo – is the completeness, the recognizability, the interconnected machinery that keeps the world from collapsing. Science fiction ring worlds are self-sufficient and usually host a closed community where everything – the houses, the farms, the mines, the factories – can be seen from anywhere, with the entire structure constantly arching over them.

Even better, in Echoes of the eye, I can go down the river on a raft that runs the whole length of the ring to the starting point of the trip without missing anything. There is something so reassuring about this that, even though it’s confined to a ring, it’s the rare video game environment that feels real, like there aren’t any false boundaries preventing me from exploring all of physical space.

I know Halo is not about halos. It’s about a space marine, an intergalactic war and a fun-fun-bang-bang multiplayer. I’m sincerely looking forward to Halo Infinite and part of me is hoping it will be the Halo over Halo that I’ve always wanted. But I’m also glad that indie creators have come to deliver on the promise Halo: Combat Evolved‘s iconic boxing art that shows a world like I’ve never seen before.

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