Meow Wolf (Santa Fe) – The House of Eternal Return [Review]

It’s the cat’s howl.

Location:  Santa Fe, NM

Date Played: December 13, 2021

Group size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: We recommend at least 2 hours, possibly many more.

Price: $35-$40 per adult (less for children, seniors, and military)

Ticketing: Public

Accessibility Consideration: The first floor of the exhibit, which features the majority of the installation, meets ADA standards and is accessible. To experience the entire exhibit you’ll need to go up and down stairs.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The House of Eternal Return, the original Meow Wolf, was the most hyped up experience that I’ve ever set foot in. For years people have told us we need to go. We’ve watched the documentary, had conversations with some of the artists behind it, and heard tales of many of its wonders. When we landed in Santa Fe, got in our rental car, and drove to the famed immersive art installation, we all acknowledged that it might be overhyped. We might not enjoy it… it was possible that we’d leave early…

We ended up staying until we were too tired and hungry to continue.

A beautiful neon under water scene.

I’ve always appreciated Disney parks, but never felt the “magic” that some of my Disney-loving friends speak of. I felt that magic in The House of Eternal Return. From the moment I entered, I felt high on wonder. Around any given corner, anything could exist. The intrigue was intoxicating.

There were rooms where we stood, just taking in every single detail we could find. My biggest takeaway from The House of Eternal Return was that literally anything can be a good building or decorating material if you’re committed enough. The detailing and nuance were incredible. At any given moment you could zoom in on some minute thing that maybe one person notices per day… or zoom out and take in something broadly impressive. I cannot recall seeing anything like it at this scale.

Lisa in a massive and beautiful treehouse.

That’s not to say that The House of Eternal Return was perfect… it wasn’t. There were puzzles, gameplay, and story elements that felt clunky to engage with. At worst they became an agitation that drew too much attention away from the world, the vibe, and the wonder.

Similarly, there were interactions that felt janky or broken. I frequently felt like the puzzles and interactions weren’t designed or built for the kind of scale that The House of Eternal Return operates at. The best lesson that I took away from these frustrations was to dip my toe into any given interaction… and then decide if I want to wade in more deeply, or just move on. Ride the waves of wonder, swim with the current, and if something feels like it’s resisting too much, disregard it… There’s always something wondrous around the next corner anyway.

The House of Eternal Return feels like Meow Wolf’s incredible and soulful first album… the one they made without the pressures of expectations, the burden of profit margins, or the weight of having to “do it the right way.”

Go there and experience it for yourself (preferably on a weekday–Monday was a joy.) Meow Wolf will make many other experiences, and my guess is that plenty of other organizations will create their own versions of the concept, but I doubt that there will ever be another place like The House of Eternal Return.

The Meow Wolf bowling alley sign on a beautiful day.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s a big, beautiful, impossible world to explore
  • There’s nothing else like it

Story

The Selig family had disappeared from their home after experimenting with inter-dimensional travel. In their place formed “The Anomaly,” fractures in time and space. A secret government organization known as The Charter contained the situation and have disguised it as an art installation.

Lisa reading letters in the Pastore's mailbox.

Setting

Meow Wolf constructed The House of Eternal Return in a former bowling alley. The building was large. The two-story construction mixed with the maze-like layout made it feel even bigger on the inside.

The experience began in the Selig’s house and quickly took us to countless strange places.

Lisa sitting on a couch within the trunk of a tree.

Beyond the experience, there was a comfortable cafe (where we took a 45-minute snack break), as well as the obligatory gift shop… which had some legitimately fun things for sale. (We bought a pair of stickers and a postcard. Obviously.)

Gameplay

Meow Wolf’s The House of Eternal Return was an immersive art installation. It was not an escape room.

It had at least a few puzzles which we stumbled upon as we explored. Keen observation was key. The puzzles, while present, were not the point of the experience.

It also had a detailed backstory and lore, some of which we internalized by exploring the exhibit. To fully piece together all the details, however, required substantial reading.

Lisa and David in a strange room decorated beautifully by lots of tiny, random objects.

Analysis

➕ Meow Wolf was a world of discovery. We never knew what would be behind the next door. It could be truly anything.

➕ The art felt human. The intricate details were fascinating. The longer we lingered, the more we noticed and appreciated about any given installation. We could tell the artist had thought about the piece from every angle and imbued it with their skill and idiosyncrasy.

➕ The initial set and story provided the perfect backdrop for the discovery that would follow. We entered a two-story house that felt lived in. From within the house, there were multiple delightful ways to open up the world beyond. The narrative justified the discovery.

➕ The transitions between the house and the alternate dimension were silly and fun.

➕ The build quality was solid. Each space within The House of Eternal Return was designed to be explored, touched, and even prodded for deeper meaning. For the most part (with the exception of some wear), the builds held up.

➕ The musical interactions struck the right chord on multiple occasions.

➖ Interaction design was spotty. Throughout The House of Eternal Return interactions lacked feedback. Sometimes buttons didn’t yield… anything. We couldn’t tell if these were broken, or the interaction design lacked clarity.

➕ From a gameplay standpoint, one room excelled. We loved plotting our course through this puzzle.

➖ However, in many instances the puzzle aspect felt unfair. Solutions could be anywhere. Literally. Even after unlocking a lock with the correct code, we couldn’t understand why that code, from that place. And we were often unsure what was meant to be a puzzle.

➖ The token economy was confusing. They only seemed necessary for a few select areas (arcade and photo booth) so we just ignored them. We didn’t see the value in paying extra (and exchanging currency!) for these.

➕ Meow Wolf built a story into The House of Eternal Return. There was a mystery to uncover for those seeking it out. That said, story foraging was not essential to appreciating the art or enjoying the experience. We came to understand the main story beats by fully engaging with the space. We appreciated the opportunity to spend more time digging deeper.

A room decorated magnificently as a mosaic of assorted items like bottle caps, CDs, and cellphones.

➖ To follow the story, we had to pull our gaze away from the space and over to our phones. We found it cumbersome to scan QR codes repeatedly. The House of Eternal Return would benefit from a dedicated app. That said, an app would still compete with the physical space.

➖ /❓The story content was decadent. There was a lot to read. We would have liked to see more story delivery points with less intimidating content delivery. However, if you have the time and inclination to consume this way, it was well written.

➕ There was an underlying message in The House of Eternal Return, but like everything about Meow Wolf, it was there to be discovered. Meow Wolf didn’t hit us over the head with commentary and left us to pull our own meaning in the experience.

➕ Meow Wolf played with space, especially vertical space. We enjoyed experiencing the world from multiple vantage points.

➖ You can add 3D glasses to your ticket, but these were more cumbersome than illuminating. We wished the exhibits made it clear when to look through the glasses. Although we found a few that benefited from the 3D perspective, the payoff wasn’t worthwhile.

❓ We visited The House of Eternal Return on a Monday afternoon. It was pretty empty and we almost ever had to wait to enter a space or try an interaction. We also never felt pressure to move along, and leisurely strolled through spaces at our own pace. Your experience on a weekend might be quite different.

➕ Outside of the exhibit, we enjoyed the drinks and snacks at the Float Cafe & Bar. It had the right vibe too.

➕ We were allowed – and even encouraged – to take photos. These backdrops gave the amateur photographer in each of us a creative outlet.

➕ Aesthetically, The House of Eternal Return was remarkable. This was supported by outstanding use of music and sound effects. The craft was awe-inspiring.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is a parking lot.
  • Food: There is a cafe with an excellent selection of beverages (including alcoholic ones) and snack items.

Book your ticket to Meow Wolf’s The House of Eternal Return, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Visit Meow Wolf with REA

In June 2022, we’re bringing Escape Immerse Explore to New Mexico. This escape room tour will visit The House of Eternal Return. We’re so excited to react to this world of discovery together. Come join us!

Escape, Immerse, Explore, New Mexico 2022 banner, mirroring the aesthetic of the New Mexico state flag.

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