It’s been a while since I’ve put as much thought into a game as I have into No Man’s Sky. When I’m playing the game, I find myself engrossed in a sci-fi journey I’ve always wanted. But once I turn my Playstation off, I question if it really was what I wanted. It comes down to this: when you accept what the game is there is a lot to like. However, despite how much I’ve been enjoying the title I cannot deny blatant issues from both the technical and design sides.
Game Name: No Man’s Sky
Platform(s): PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Hello Games
Developer(s): Hello Games
Release Date: 8/9/2016 (PS4), 8/12/2016 (PC)
I suppose what keeps me so intrigued is the way in which the game so perfectly captures the aesthetic of classic sci-fi. Planets are beautiful and life forms can be truly bizarre, and you are totally alone more often than not. It’s what space should feel like, and can at times feel like a gaming version of Interstellar. The accompanying soundtrack is pitch perfect, with tracks that feel like they are torn from films like Blade Runner. Slow, the haunting synth will turn to beating guitar as you begin to enter a new atmosphere. It is here, though, that the above medley falls apart for a moment. Tearing, dithering, and fuzz fill the screen as the surface of the planet is rendered. Of course, the technical marvel of procedural generating a universe is impressive. But the fact that there is no charade going on to hide the clockwork is distracting.
All games involve a central loop, as does No Man’s Sky. However, like the visual feast mentioned above, the loop here doesn’t try to hide. It’s a marathon to the center of the universe, with each system acting as a stage where the player collects resources. Players use those resources to craft items which will propel you to the next system, where the process begins again. Along the way, players can also upgrade their suit/inventory, weapon, and ship. The problem is many will question why they should upgrade anything at all. Obviously, more inventory slots will make collection and crafting easier. However, one can largely go through the game without ever really fighting the omnipresent Sentries, nor engage in any space combat.
For a game that touts procedural generation as its crowning achievement, more scripted events might have been welcome. Perhaps put out bounties on tough creatures that need killing or battles between various factions. There is a lore that I have found very interesting to learn by visiting ancient alien monoliths, but many will ask what the point is. As of now, you can follow “The Atlas” on a loosely guided path. However, the objectives consist largely of “go here and pick up this recipe” or “repair this tech”. Obviously, Sean Murray and Hello Games wanted No Man’s Sky to be a game where players forged their own story. At the moment, though, things just seem a bit too procedural.
To avoid the possibility of players becoming stuck, resources are always plentiful. This removes any challenge destroys what could have been a cool story about survival on a hostile planet. There are cool text adventure-like interactions with the sparse aliens you will encounter, but unfortunately, they have no impact besides “increasing your standing” with that faction. As far as I know, all this does is allow you to ask for healing as opposed to a few pieces of carbon.
I want to front load all of this negativity, however, so that I could end this review by emphasizing that I still was able to have a lot of fun. No Man’s Sky, at this moment, feels like a great framework for what could become a great game. It’s stylistically a love letter to all things sci-fi. As I’ve played, I’ve very much enjoyed learning about the Vy’keen and their language and mannerisms. The lore, in general, has kept me very engaged while I built a terrifyingly powerful automatic blaster and have become a notorious space pirate. However, many will find this title to be lacking. While there is a vast galaxy to explore and the core mechanics are there (albeit a bit unbalanced), the vastness somewhat works against it. Players might very well find no point in anything the game has to offer, and it is a fair criticism.
Had I reviewed Destiny when it first came out, I would not have been too kind. However, I did review The Taken King when it came out, and very positively. The way I feel about No Man’s Sky is similar in that, if Hello Games continues with the support they’ve promised, it could become truly great. At the moment, it is simply a good core that is lacking the polish and depth to elevate it to greatness.
All That Meat and No Potatoes
Hello Games has established a universe to explore with an interesting lore and great aesthetic design. However, if you need more than that to motivate you, you probably won't dig this game (as of now).
- great visual design and soundtrack
- lore is interesting and alien interactions can be fun
- sheer scale and amount of freedom achieved is impressive
- core resource gathering and crafting system works well
- game can be a bit too procedural
- technical hiccups on full display
- balancing issues make the game a bit too easy
- focus on moving towards the center of the galaxy renders a lot of the game moot