Return of the Obra Dinn is a beautiful logic puzzle that will make you feel like an absolute genius when you finally crack it, and part of its brilliance is how little hand-holding there is. Aside from quick tooltips that introduce you to aspects of the book and the stopwatch, there are no detailed explanations about how the game should be played.
The great news is: There’s no way to play it wrong.
The greater news: This beginner’s guide will remind you of some helpful tips for managing Return of the Obra Dinn’s logbook interface, and what to look out for while you’re exploring the ship. We’ve kept it as intentionally spoiler-free as possible, like the video above.
All of these tips were derived from conversations with other Obra Dinn players, and all of them involved the words “you can what?”
If you’re early in the game and feel overwhelmed or like you’re missing something, keep the following in mind.
Don’t forget to zoom
If you’re playing on mouse and keyboard, holding E while looking at a corpse will let you zoom in on their face. It will also bring up the illustration in which that character appears. Pressing Tab will then pop that illustration full-screen so you can examine it more closely, or fill in any relevant info.
It’s the most efficient way to make sure you’re correctly recognizing all the pixely, agonized faces of the Obra Dinn’s crew.
Check the circled locations
Some of the locations in the logbook pages are circled, which indicates that there are bodies there to find. And not all of these clues are generic (“cargo deck”), either. Some of them are very specific, and will be extremely helpful if you feel like you’ve run out of corpses.
The deck maps show chronology
The deck maps may simply look aesthetically worn and useless at the beginning of the game. But they’ll be crucial to tracing the movements of unidentified crew members.
Each completed chapter will be represented on the deck maps, which are found at the front of the book. By the end of the game, you will be able to walk step by step through the proper order of events — enabling you to follow characters up to the moment of their disappearance.
Speaking of maps ...
Note cabin names and contents
Obra Dinn is stingy about having characters say each other’s names. But one thing you can always rely on is what they’re wearing.
Cabins are labeled on the map, and may contain clothing that will help you identify crew positions. Sometimes they’ll even contain the crew member, making identification easy. So even before the map is filled out with the timeline of events, you can use it to track down crew members’ belongings and match them to people in the illustrations.
Identifying unknown crew members
When you’re identifying a victim or a villain and you don’t know their name, you can still designate their rank. Within the somewhat eye-crossing list of names are options like “unknown midshipman” or “unknown passenger.” This is where your knowledge of uniforms will be useful — you can narrow down the character options from 60 to three in some cases, making guesswork a lot easier.
Don’t feel dumb if you didn’t notice this. After playing the game for three hours, it still took a friend pointing it out for me to notice. (I’m a better person now.)
You will have to make guesses
You don’t have to guess willy-nilly. Using the ship’s manifest at the beginning of the book, you can track how close you are to locking in three complete guesses (that’s three correct instances of a character’s name, how they died, and who or what killed them).
If you have two that you are absolutely certain about, get wild plugging in options for your maybe-third. With the certainty that you’re one good guess away from confirming three kills, guessing becomes a lot less nerve-wracking.
When you’ve got three right, the world’s most delightful jingle will play as the answers are etched in the book. Now it’s time to revisit the manifest again. Any remaining fates that you had completely filled out weren’t confirmed. That means one or more of the answers is wrong.
Triangles indicate easier or harder guesses
Once a character portrait is clear (i.e. you can make out their features), you will notice a set of triangles accompanying it. The tooltip about these triangles doesn’t pop up at a designated time, so if you haven’t gotten it yet, here’s the deal. If a character has three triangles above them, it’s going to be hard to guess who they are, and probably more worth your time to keep exploring the ship.
If a character is down to one, the game is telling you that you have seen enough to guess their identity. If you don’t agree, that’s a good cue to go back through the memories that the character appears in and try to find what you’re missing.
Use the bookmark tool
Oh boy, did I wave this off when it was first introduced, and oh boy, was I a fool.
At the beginning of the game, bookmarks are next to useless. By the end, bookmarking a character’s page will allow you to flip sequentially through their entire journey, revealing every memory they appear in — and it’s the only way to do so. If the character isn’t bookmarked, the book will tell you their first appearance and when they disappeared.
Bookmarks make solving the stragglers’ deaths a much less daunting task.
With these tips, hopefully you’re solving Return of the Obra Dinn like a pro!