Last month, Hello Games released their long-awaited space exploration game, No Man’s Sky. Following awe-inspiring teasers and stunning visuals at E3 and other gaming showcases, the world was thoroughly excited for this game. If you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years and have not heard of No Man’s Sky, the game’s website describes it as “… a game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy…” and the gameplay trailer looked a little bit like this back in 2014…
However, since its release to Playstation and PC back in August, it’s received quite a lot of hate and damning comments from pissed off gamers. Personally, I can see why this might have happened. I’ll say this now: this isn’t a game for everyone.
If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like open world-like RPGs, it’s not for you. If you like open world RPGs but you’re more likely to follow the main quest than roam about the map, it’s not for you. If, like me, you’re the sort of person who wanders around Skyrim getting distracted by trees, waterfalls, the appearance of a wild deer and are quite content with simply roaming the map for hours on end, this game is likely for you. I also recently read a Kotaku article on ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) games, and the way it describes No Man’s Sky makes it a near perfect candidate for ASMR. You can read that article here and let me know what you think.
My experiences described here are only relevant to the Playstation 4 version of the game, not the PC version. I have heard that the PC version has experienced a few more issues, so you may struggle with these too if you’re a PC player.
You start out on a planet, and this planet will most likely be completely undiscovered and completely different to any other planet any other player will start on. This was one of the game’s initial main appeals; the entire universe is built on an ever-expanding algorithm, which means that no two players should ever have the same experience when moving through the game, making each journey a unique and individual experience. There are allegedly over 18 quintillion different planets available to discover in the No Man’s Sky universe, most with with their own evolved plants and animals. You can scan plants and animals you encounter and upload your discoveries to the No Man’s Sky servers; other people will be able to see your names if they ever come across your planet so you have to be a bit creative with the names. The aim of the game is to get to the centre of the universe by building hyperdrives within each star system you encounter and moving on to the next. I still don’t know what happens when you reach the goal, but I’ve seen rumours that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I personally find the game to be quite beautiful and have spent a long time just wandering the landscapes. One planet I came across had very pretty colours and another had a lot of cacti that looked like they were having a little party, so I named the planet “Cactus Party” of course.
I found this aspect of the game like wandering through Skyrim and marvelling at a particularly stunning landscape view you happen across. I took a few vista videos of some of my planets which you can see below.
Not all planets are this beautiful, some are completely desolate and contain no plants or animals, just rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. I discovered a couple of these and exploring them definitely detracted from the experience. Beautiful planets definitely make searching for that last bit of Thanium to power your rocket ship a bit more exciting.
Space travel in your little spacecraft is also quite visually entertaining. I could just imagine this part of the game working amazingly in VR, I feel a little bit of G-force in my stomach when I’m playing it on a big TV, never mind when I feel like I’m actually strapped into a space ship.
The Story in No Man’s Sky
Hm. There isn’t really a story to No Man’s Sky. The snatches of story you get from the game will come from discovering alien ruins and interacting with them. Sometimes you will have to overcome a challenge set by the ruin, and other times it will give you a snippet of one of the alien race’s history. So far all I’ve managed to really find out is that the Gek are massive douchebags. I quite enjoyed discovering ruins to get a bit more of the story behind each race. It also makes me wonder who your character actually is, are you a member of one of these races or an outsider? You never actually get to see yourself as there’s no third person mode. Who are you?
The one thing I think No Man’s Sky is actual lacking is some sort of direction. The game comes across as almost TOO casual; before I discovered that I could use a scanner to find waypoints to actually have the purpose to go to, I felt a little lost and disappointed with the game. The real endgame is actually quite repetitive over time, a continuous loop of “gather resources, build hyperdrive, travel to new star system, gather resources, build hyperdrive…” you get the picture. I hasten to add that I’m only in the second or third star system of my game, I’m not sure if this changes the closer you get to the centre of the universe.
The released game actually looks quite a bit different to its beta counterpart shown at E3 2014. The HUD as you wander across planets looks quite a lot different, and the seemingly never-ending announcements telling you that you’re “running low” on life support when it’s at 75% can actually get quite annoying. This is especially true if you happen to be on a planet with a vicious ecosystem, such as a scorchingly hot one or one with violent acid rain. Your little on board computer will delight in announcing that “extreme night temperatures are coming” and that you might die at any moment. If you’re having a nice tranquil wander, this can be quite jarring, especially with the beautifully hypnotic soundtrack from 65daysofstatic soothing you as you walk. I see that the game is trying to introduce some survival metrics, but they’re just annoying. It’s the same reason I don’t play games on super extreme ridiculous hardcore mode, like when you have to eat, sleep and poop on Fallout. It detracts from the enjoyment of the game for me.
As I previously mentioned, the game is also lacking some direction. For me, it’s definitely a casual play, something to switch on when I need a game that requires no concentration or brainpower to enjoy. You can happily wander the whole planet and more, endlessly discovering outposts, ruins, crashed ships, distress signals and all sorts, but the what purpose? As a completionist, I traversed my starter planet to all ends, or so I thought. After about 4 hours on it, there seemed to be no end in sight. The game didn’t seem to be ticking off each discovery, like “this planet has 10 outposts, 2 ruins and 5 distress signals”. Nope, things just kept appearing. It doesn’t end. I found this quite demoralising. The only way to complete a planet is to scan all the animals that live on it. This can also be quite frustrating when your planet contains flying creatures, who don’t seem to sit still long enough the be scanned (the bastards).
The dog fights in space with other evil craft are also a little annoying. They seemingly come out of nowhere, attack you and usually kill you as the ship controls in your starter ship are flaky at best. If you can upgrade to a ship with a little better manoeuvrability, I would recommend it.
All in all, I have to say I think I am one of the few people to actually enjoy this game, despite its obvious flaws. With my UX head on, there are a few things that could do with refining and honing to make the game something I would want to come back to time and time again. With my gaming head on, it’s an enjoyable casual trip into space, lovingly crafted and amazingly created by a studio who have a great starting idea that’s just waiting to be built on and evolved. I can see why people hate it and think it’s been mis-sold and are angry, but it’s really not for everyone. It’s a bit like a less story-driven and directed Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. And if that’s not for you, it’s not for you.
Top image by CM-Arts