it took me 3-ish weeks to collect my thoughts about this game. after meditating on it, here's what i got:
a lot of the criticism this game receives comes from a place of disliking the way it handles its story and exploration mechanics. whether you care to admire these qualities or otherwise, you cannot argue that they are absolutely vital to the way outer wilds wants to explore its core themes of the sublime, self-transcendence, and ontology. there are thousands of games that will spoon-feed you every piece of the puzzle without forcing you to put in any work to get there -- this game isn't one of them. it is up to you, the player, to discover the majority of what this game has to offer, which is why i think so many people treasure the experience.
at its core, outer wilds' goal is to foster a feeling of discovery and a sense of self-reflection in the player -- the latter happening much later in the game. there is a delicate balance at play between nudging the player toward specific story objectives and encouraging the player to explore at their own pace. outer wilds is able to achieve this by making its mechanics tangibly understandable but rewarding to master. finding every piece of the puzzle requires a full understanding of the game's mechanics, which can easily be accomplished by exploring each planet.
another point of contention levied against outer wilds is its seemly contradictory use of a 22 minute death timer that resets after every loop: how can any exploration be justified if i'm being rushed to do it? i don't have a response to this kind of criticism, as its heavily contingent on how the player is used to playing video games. for those concerned with this aspect of the game however, i can assure you that the game is very accessible in getting you back to where you were before you died.
speaking on the sublime, there is very fascinating research on the effects of space travel on an astronauts' psyche, in which an overwhelming sense of awe and fragility (generally) accompanies the experience of spaceflight. the sensation of observing something so vastly beyond human comprehension, that is traditionally only observed by the laymen at arms length with simplified examples (e.g. Kerbal Space Program), is baked into every piece of outer wilds' design. the launch flight is absolutely terrifying because it obfuscates the mind's ability to comprehend and reason with the vastness of the solar system, the cobbled-together spaceship being the only thing that separates you from the unknown. only when you start piecing together each part of the story does the solar system begin to feel just barely tangible. after you've explored every nook and cranny of the outer wilds, all that's left is to liberate yourself from its confines.
in short, outer wilds is a profound experience that shows the universe exactly for what it is: an unconquerable, unrelenting, beautiful, vast bleakness. outer wilds teaches us that there is far more satisfaction that comes from finding solace in its immeasurability rather than trying to overcome it.