No Man’s Sky by Hello Games, has been on my watch list for the better part of two years when it was first announced. Watching the E3 Trailer created a sense of wonderment, excitement, and a little bit of adventurous reawakening. 2 Years was worth the wait for what the E3 Trailer presented, but sadly No Man’s Sky is not that game.
First off, No Man’s Sky is a fairly polarizing game. Either you like it or you don’t; and for those who are like me I’m not completely sure if I personally like it. I’ve sunk about 10 hours into the PC version of the game, and be warned the game is really buggy to the point of being unplayable. Usually I will avoid keeping technical issues out of reviews for games because sometimes it ends up being a PC issue, i.e. Updating drivers, etc. Sadly this is so bad that it has actually hindered my gameplay and caused more frustration than relief. FPS issues, coupled with texture pop-in, stuttering, freezing, Anti-Aliasing bugs, quality dips, if you can name it No Man’s Sky has it. I found myself for a better part of 3 hours just in the settings trying to see what would work and what wouldn’t. It is sad and disgraceful to the games industry that a game with a $60 price tag has such massive problems. Gone are the days of being able to play a fully functioning game the moment you get it, pop it into your console or PC and just game without an issue. No Man’s Sky really sets the industry back a decade with its poor day one release.
Dramatic statements aside, lets get into why the gameplay creates a very polarizing audience. Breaking down No Man’s Sky (NMS) into a genre; it is a Space Exploration Simulator.
How massive is No Man’s Sky?
Think of critically acclaimed game by Mojang, Minecraft. You have that picture in your head? Now blow it up 30-fold. At this point it seems pretty incomprehensible, right? No Man’s Sky allows you to travel what seems like full-scale planets and universes. Which if you didn’t already know is huge. It isn’t a joke. The worlds are huge. Hello Games did an incredible job with the world building aspect, and each world does feel either slightly or outright unique.
What can you do?
The three main things you are going to be doing though, is mining, crafting, and flying. Now again, be warned if you enjoy doing those things in tedious repetition this may be the game for you. There are other things such as trading, subtle storyline progression, and exploration of the world so count on those to break the cycle from time to time.
All that sounds incredible! Why does it fail?
Simple, other personality that I created to make a point, it all doesn’t gel together into one cohesive game. No Man’s Sky takes an incredible concept (mind you it isn’t an entirely new concept, i.e. Minecraft) and completely ruins it.
You start the game, unknown of how you got there. Dazed and confused, a robotic voice system checks your exosuit, multitool, scanner and coerces you to check your ship status. You quickly find out that your ship is damaged, and you must repair it in order to start your journey. You can choose to take Atlas, an unknown red icosidodecahedron with knowledge of who you are, or just simply journey without him. From there the game ramps up the pace, and you can quickly gather the isotopes and elements you need to repair you ship. It became surprisingly evident that Hello Games doesn’t want you to explore what it has to offer. It seems as if Sean Murray, Hello Games founder, wanted to put you into your spaceship and fly you into the unknown of space as quickly as possible. Unless you decide to take the beaten path to explore you won’t even know the little surprises such the ruins, outposts or random transmissions.
Here begins the biggest gripe I have with the game. It has no vision, there is not a single thing that this game really does perfectly, other than the ambiance (more on that later). Most games have a clear vision, throw you into a world and let you fend for yourself, or create a narrative and guide the player through your game until they can stand on their own. No Man’s Sky does both, and its a mess. After the first hour, it became apparent that I needed to speak to aliens by learning their language and being able to make decisions based off of that. The issue with this is that you can kind of already guess the answer because the character you play as has an inner monologue about what the alien is doing and how it is acting. The answer is almost given to you. It doesn’t really force the player the go out and find the ruins, cylindrical knowledge pods, or encyclopedias scattered across the planets, that are specifically presented to help you understand what an alien is saying.
Aside from that, animals indignant to each planet are simply lifeless. Some will aggro to you if you invade their space but seldom do they do anything other than adding a bit of immersion. They pose no threat whatsoever.
Sentinels are surprisingly lifelike for being automated robots.They roam around scanning things and first time encountering one scanning you is a frightful and relished moment. Sentinels almost give this feeling of constantly being watched, a sensation you don’t get from the randomly generated animals presented.
What soon becomes what seems to being a planet exploring adventure with mystery and wisdom, becomes a tedious grind to get your ship powered up sending you as quickly as possible to the next star system. Planet variations lose its value, and going down to one yields little to no rewards other than resources for the next warp out.
The biggest perpetrator to this games frustrating startup is inventory space. I have never personally played a game as bad as No Man’s Sky that does inventory management so poorly. The concept isn’t bad but the execution is, excuse the language is piss poor. Most of everything you mine in the game is required. Those isotopes and elements you mine quickly fill you inventory; and while you can send stuff to your ship, it only puts a bandaid on a stab wound. There are ways to upgrade the space on the exosuit, and getting a better ship with more space but for me personally, I haven’t had the ability or time to upgrade that much. So much so that it feels like I have room for the necessities, which is everything. To give you an example of why you need everything if you can’t really grasp it, you use 3 different elements to power your exosuit, multitool, and spaceship. You use about 4 different ones to keep your shields in check depending on the planet’s atmosphere. Crafting is a thing and requires 3 different pieces to make something. Then if you decide to explore the planet is littered with green colored items used to sell and make units. Before you know it, inventory is starting to looking very dire, and getting a new spaceship or upgrade to exosuits really becomes cumbersome.
Your main source of travel, your trusty spaceship does really well in outer space, and warping out of planets, but when faced with entering a planet it becomes cumbersome, and downright infuriating. Navigating your ship close to the planet has got to be one of the worse flight mechanics of gaming history. No Man’s Sky forces playersto autopilot when flying above terrain. It becomes difficult to see anything on the ground, even with the blatant pop-in (in early access fashion) let alone trying to land properly without having to walk to your destination for another 3 minutes. Dramatizations aside, Hello Games did poorly with one of the main strengths of the game and makes it difficult to fully immerse yourself into what flying a spaceship has to offer.
Sadly, almost everything about this game becomes tedious and grind-y. Fly to planet, look for specific isotope, constantly refuel exosuit/ multitool, craft, occasionally search for words or ships, then rinse and repeat. It truly becomes tedious to the point of absolute monotony. The issue is, is that No Man’s Sky takes away its biggest strength and makes itself this way, which is it’s immersion.
Atmosphere and immersion is where No Man’s Sky shines. Planets feel vast, ships fly above you, the sounds really suck you into the atmosphere that is created. And by god are the sounds magnificent, so props to Paul Weir their composer. Hello Games really did good work on making No Man’s Sky a very science fiction universe, with the robotic exosuit voice, the uniqueness of the aesthetics, planet size, warp drive, even movement of jetpacking around and the different effect of planet atmosphere such as toxic rain, radiation, and extreme cold. What No Man’s Sky gets right is it’s depiction of the vastness of the universe, but for No Man’s Sky that universe is ultimately empty and lifeless.
It is disappointing when a game with so much potential and so much effort put into it, came out to be so boring. Maybe with some updates things will get better, maybe if I play some more, I’ll find the theoretical light at the end of this warp drive. But for right now, No Man’s Sky is not worth the $60 price tag.