No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games | Publisher: Hello Games | Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed) | Release Date: August 9, 2016 (PS4); August 12, 2016 (PC)
No Man’s Sky has been out for just around a month now, and if you haven’t heard of it, I honestly would love to know what space rock you’ve been living under. Considering the hype surrounding the game pre-launch and the amount of controversy it has been seeped in since it came out, I think by now basically anyone who games knows about this game. However, I’m not here to talk hype or controversy. No, I’m here to review the game. That said, I want to go ahead and get any and all disclaimers out of the way. First, this has proven to be a divisive game, so it’s a pretty fair assessment that plenty of people will have an opinion differing from my own. I’m all about discussing all angles. My only stipulation is we do it like adults. Secondly, I started in the camp of not liking it and have since decided I really enjoy it, so this is going to be a slightly positively skewed review. Thirdly, I realize this isn’t the game for everyone, and that is perfectly fine and will be discussed. Finally, I’m not here to talk about any direction the game may take in the future, as I simply don’t know. As such, this review approaches the game for what it currently is, and not what it may potentially become.
Now that I’ve officially been boring and perhaps overly P.C., let’s talk No Man’s Sky! So if you’ve been living under aforementioned rock, No Man’s Sky promised a journey through the cosmos where you could encounter somewhere around eight quintillion procedurally generated planets. Was that the number? Either way, for those of you keeping track at home who can’t even begin to imagine that number, that converts to about five-to-seven metric fuck tons. That’s a wide margin, I know, but look, conversions were never my strong suit and it’s been a long time since I took a math class.
So what do you do with these planets? Well, I think the nitty-gritty of that part was largely up for debate, and I won’t claim to have been an avid follower of the game pre-release to verify, but the main goal was to find your way to the center of the galaxy. Now you’re up to speed on what I knew going in. I wasn’t super sure what to expect from this game before release, as I’m sure many weren’t, so I’m going to try and shed a little light on just what to expect from the game if you somehow haven’t already bought into the kool-aide.
Visuals & Gameplay
I want to say the game looks good. I mean, it doesn’t look bad, per say. Actually, once things are rendered, it does look very nice. Ya know, assuming you aren’t on a hideous planet. However, because the whole thing is procedurally generated, everything loads up super grainy, which is quite honestly nothing but a pain when you first come to a planet and are trying to decide just where to land. After all, you don’t want to land in the middle of nowhere where there is absolutely nothing around, because then you need to try and fly somewhere else, which then just becomes a waste of the fuel in your launch thrusters. Wasting your fuel means hunting down plutonium to refill them, which basically is what the gameplay experience boils down to – resource mining so that you can use those resources to mine more resources. That’s basically the main thing you’ll spend your time doing.
There are a few other gameplay aspects, things such as combat and sort-of socialization. The combat doesn’t feel great, however, whether you are on the surface of a planet or in space, and the “socialization” kind of feels really arbitrary? I mean, come on, I’ve learned way more Vy’Keen words than just “interloper,” yet somehow that’s all I ever seem to understand. Never mind the approval system which gives you know indication of just what any one standing means, especially when it’s different every time I talk to different aliens of the same race. In one space station I’ll have one Vy’Keen decide I’m a “special partner” while the other seems to think I’m something else. Though the Korvax at least all seem to be in agreeance that I’m simply a Traveler of the Atlus.
On the technical side of gameplay, the game gives almost no instructions. It will let you know how to fly your ship early on, but when it comes to everything else, it’s pretty much up to the player to figure it out. There were a lot of things I didn’t even know I could do for the first hour or two of the game. There is a control scheme you can reach through the menu, but even that didn’t seem super intuitive to get to.
Finally, the only “multi-player” concept I’ve come across is discovering systems and planets that have already been discovered by other players. It’s a neat concept, but one that I unfortunately find more annoying than enjoyable, if only because discovery is tied to monetary reward. If you’re the first to discover something, you can upload it and earn units (No Man’s Sky‘s currency). The couple of times I’ve come across something that someone else has already discovered, I’ve very much felt like what was the point and quickly flown off to the next system.
So everything I’ve said so far seems pretty sour grapes, but like I said at the beginning, I actually really like the game. The planets, once actually rendered, are fairly breath-taking, and I’m always excited to land on a a planet and see what I’ll get. There are so many times I’ve had what I can only describe as “tourist moments” where all I want to do is run around the planet and take pictures of the terraine. And while combat doesn’t feel great, especially at first (where it feels downright awful), there’s something the feels highly rewarding and addicting each time I win in a dog fight out in space or take down a sentinal. Now that I finally have some good multi-tool upgrades and understand how it all works, sometimes I get it in me to just go take something down for the fun of it. Also, even if I do spend like 98% of my time resource mining, I still get stupid excited each time I find a rare resource. All that is to say that while the things you can do are limited, that doesn’t necessarily make them any less fun if you can take the time to appreciate what the game currently is instead of what you wish it was.
Characters, Story, & Atmosphere
Basically what this section boils down to is that there are a couple of different ways to play the game. You can just freely explore, following no specific path, which is the way to get you absolutley no where except to maybe find cool stuff. You can follow the path of the Atlus, which gets you different tech (I think?), and is also how you learn more langauges and lore (sort of?). Or, you can just go straight to the center of the galaxy.
I’ve been following the path of the Atlus. I thought I wanted to go straight to the center, which is why I had some aliens point me in the diection of the nearest blackhole, but the more I’ve played, the more I don’t want it to be over.
Ultimately, the path you take depends largely on what you get enjoyment from. I’m a lore and story kind of girl, so following the path of the Atlus is what seems super interesting to me. But maybe you just want to know what’s at the center. Or maybe you want to just see as much as you can (to that, I wish you good luck!). No matter what, it seems to me that they have a path to appeal to anyone who has figured out how to play the game in a way that is entertaining to them.
Ultimately, as things stand, this is a hard game to recommend. After all, despite the fact that I have now said goodbye to my life in deference to exploring the stars, I started out really not liking it. While I have every intention now of continuing my journey through space, I think if you’re feeling uncertain about No Man’s Sky, wait it out, watch some gameplay footage, and see what they do or don’t add in the time to come.
While I would love to say buy it if you like lore or collecting or exploration, ultimately this game has had such a varied reception between each individual regardless of what they do or do not typically enjoy. It has things that I think can definitely be improved upon even without adding brand new features as Hello Games has already discussed. No matter what though, I urge you to remember that at the end of the day, this is a game with fantastical scale that despite Sony’s backing was in all actuality developed by a small indie team. Whether or not you feel the game in its current state is worth the $60 price tag falls to you. However, I do think it may be worth checking in periodically to see if that valuation changes at all based on what they add or change as time passes.
In the meantime, I shall continue to explore star systems of No Man’s Sky between other gameplay experiences.