Immense quantity for the sake of meaningful quality…
No Man’s Sky will undoubtedly serve as a stern lesson for the entire gaming community moving forward; it’s a clear cut example of excellent ideas wound together into an underwhelming package which unsurprisingly fails to live up to the insurmountable hype. My expectations were relatively shallow to begin with as I honestly could not understand the pure obsession pertaining to developer Hello Games’ latest project; yes, its technical prowess and sheer scope are noteworthy to say the least, but its moment to moment gameplay – what little of it that was brought to light – left much to be desired. Cosmic exploration and a personal sense of discovery is a rather enticing premise on paper, but the gargantuan scope of an expansive world – or universe in the case of No Man’s Sky – is absolutely meaningless if the core gameplay lacks intriguing purpose and doesn’t properly foster a rewarding sense of progression. No Man’s Sky is the literal embodiment of monotony and repetition; its quintillion procedurally generated planets are aesthetically gorgeous and while some planets vary in terms of visual diversity, perilous weather conditions, and collection of wild life and vegetation, each meticulous activity you partake in on one planet is a carbon copy of what you’ll do on the next. While Hello Games were so fixated on constructing a technical marvel that would surpass the scope of the modern competition, they simply forgot to make their game fun in the end. At its core, No Man’s Sky is a resource gathering experience, clearly taking inspiration from Minecraft’s addictive and accessible nature, but is clearly unable to grasp, let alone match, its profound social prominence and sense of ownership. While No Man’s Sky gives you the necessary tools to discover a vast array of different planets, star systems, and unidentified species, what’s the point of discovery if you can’t share that sense of glory with anyone else? For a procedurally generated galaxy with infinite possibility, I’m quite surprised by the empty, lifeless, and uninspired aura the collective package emits. While Hello Games should definitely be commended for the technical achievement that is No Man’s Sky – its sense of scale and technical performance is astounding and unprecedented – their bold new cosmic sandbox is the perfect reminder that bigger isn’t always better.
The first few hours into No Man’s Sky’s vast galaxies strike an excellent chord of explorative discovery and astonishment, great elements which open-world titles must strive to accomplish. Its opening moments, while not entirely riveting, provide the necessary fundamentals to understand the ins and outs of the experience that awaits. No Man’s Sky’s true sense of wonder and imagination shed light upon the departure of your first planet as your shuttle soars through its atmospheric skies towards the stars, entering the glistening beauty of outer space, all in real time and complimented with full player control. On paper this may sound trivial, as your simply moving from point A to point B in an extravagant manner, but experiencing this unparalleled sense of scale is extraordinarily satisfying. Soaring alongside the vast stars, as I hurdle towards an unidentified planet, piercing through its atmosphere as I prep for my imminent land onto this uncharted territory is an invigorating experience that very few experiences can seldom rival. As I previously mentioned, majority of planets are unique from a pure aesthetic standpoint, with each one containing their own idiosyncrasies. While certain planets bared similar elements and not nearly enough gameplay diversity, most managed to leave a lasting impression through their aesthetic variety and plethora of different wild life species. Given the game’s procedural nature, no two planets, in theory, are to be the same. Planets can be enraptured by luscious vegetation which emit beautiful shades of jade green, submerged beneath the depths of an underwater utopia, drizzled by the icy flakes of a frozen tundra, or enveloped by scorching flames that have been seared throughput the entire land; aside from the visual diversity these specific elements bring, they also create different types of weather conditions that you would have to adapt to, all complemented with a nice day/night cycle. However, this adapting element is rendered to nothing more than equipping a different piece of gear which temporarily postpones the hazardous effects of its corresponding weather condition. The music caters to the atmospheric nature of planet exploration, with some tracks consisting solely on sparse piano melodies while others implement great guitar riffs complemented with excellent synthesizers. On a technical standpoint, No Man’s Sky is absolutely brilliant, and given its scope, it’s arguably the best looking game on Sony’s home console. The visuals are beautifully crisp, with its vivacious colour pallet popping with no remorse, and despite some understandable pop-in, No Man’s Sky is a definite technical achievement. The aforementioned seamless and real-time transition of planet to outer space travel is an unparalleled technical element that No Man’s Sky nails so impeccably. Through this seamless sense of travel, No Man’s Sky avoids the traditional usage of loading screens, with its only existence is present during warps between different solar systems. While a traditional narrative is no where to be found in the vast skies of No Man’s Sky, there is an indirect drive for players to reach the center of the universe, which serves as the games’ rather underwhelming primary goal. Despite its technical prowess and excellent presentational value, No Man’s Sky still suffers from a few technical hiccups that range from the minute pop-in to the infuriating minutia of game crashes. However, these technical discrepancies are an understandable sacrifice when considering No Man’s Sky massive size and scope as it is arguably the biggest game ever created.
No Man’s Sky’s presentational elements are vastly superior to its gameplay counterpart, as its actual gameplay fails to match the explorative imagination of the vivacious world that Hello Games have created. The world is your oyster upon landing on an uncharted planet, but a good place to start would be to meticulously mine certain materials and elements, which are used as a mean for survival and transportation. The simplicity and monotony of mining resources never ascends beyond its banal foundation, never developing into anything more than a mindless chore. These resources are then used for practically everything that governs the structure of No Man’s Sky. Need to recharge your ship’s launch thrusters? Well you’ll need a handsome amount of plutonium to get the job done. Do you require a bypass chip in order to hack into a signal scanner? There’s no need to sweat, as you have the required plutonium and iron to spare! Is your life support technology constantly running low? Keep a ready supply of isotope elements for the worst case scenario. It’s all formulaic and gets old very fast. No Man’s Sky is also in desperate need of a more intricate resource tracking system as there’s no intuitive structure when determining which planets contain which resources, thus rendering crafting to a cumbersome chore. Whether if it’s pertaining to your Exosuit, ship, or multi-tool, all of your gear burn through resources at an exponential rate, so you’re constantly involved in this uninspired cycle of gathering and usage. Gratuitously mining resources will also attract the attention of sentinels who will then deem you as a threat and try to eliminate you, resulting in some rather mediocre combat encounters. Through looting, rewards, and discovery, you can also attain upgrades for certain gear and technology, which require the same resources you’ve gathered throughout your journey. You will also encounter a finite amount of civilized aliens who provide you with certain rewards if you understand their tongue – luckily there are a healthy amount of artifacts and monuments spread throughout the planet’s masses which aid you on your language studies. Your improved knowledge on the corresponding species’ foreign language will prove useful when handling foreign technology. Throughout the vast landscapes of these procedurally generated planets, you’ll encounter a wild species or two that are exclusive and independent to that specific planet. The list of interactions with these wild beasts are simply pathetic: you can either kill them for more ubiquitous resources (the recommended option for predatory wild life) or you can feed them their preferable resource and they’ll lead you to some sort of new discovery. It’s arbitrary, uninspired, and ultimately leaves more to be desired. But just like planets, star systems, and waypoints, you can rename the species and upload your discovery to the server in exchange for the games currency, units. Luckily the game rewards for you every time you make a new discovery and when you achieve a journey milestone. Uploading your discovery, however, isn’t has glorious as one would think as the chances of anyone seeing your discovery is extremely unlikely due to the game’s massive size. After all is said and done, you simply depart from your newly found planet and soar out to the vast realm of space and head toward the next planet, where you will literally do the exact same thing. You will mine more resources, you will discover and upload more species and vegetation, you will find more upgrade blueprints – most of which are blatant repeats -, you will banally fend off more sentinels, and you will mindlessly repeat this formulaic structure until you reach the center of the universe. Every game has its fair share of repetition – it is a ubiquitous element in game design – however, fun and engaging titles take these certain elements of repetition and polish them to a pristine shine, developing them into something that ascends its initial counterpart. No Man’s Sky’s monotonous gameplay never transcends into something more, it’s a simple matter of “what you see is what you get”.
No Man’s Sky’s sense of exploration and discovery, while impressive, feels rather weightless as there is no true incentive for the journey you partake in. There is no real quest system or structured sense of progression/reward, you ultimately do things at your own leisure and for your own gratification, and while this implementation is rather foreign and even innovative, it essentially boils down to an experience with no real purpose. The experience of trekking through the gorgeous plains of No Man’s Sky’s beautiful planets is rather black and white as traversal is either rendered to a sluggish or sporadic pace. Travelling by foot is absurdly tedious, with the only alternative being planet travel via spaceship which controls awkwardly, ultimately feeling rushed, and doing so will cause you to miss the sheer detail and beauty the planet has to offer. It’d be rather nice and convenient if there was a faster method of travel while on land, such as a jet bike or some other sort of vehicle. The whole traversal experience would benefit greatly if it incorporated some sort of fast travelling system. Upon gathering an abundance of resources and crafting useful technology, you’ll eventually run out of inventory space, an unavoidable annoyance. Your Exosuit, spaceship, and multi-tool can have their inventory size upgraded, each done in a different manner. Your Exosuit’s inventory can be upgraded upon finding drop pods which are scattered throughout the vast planets. Your spaceship inventory cannot be upgraded; you simply have to purchase or find another ship with more inventory slots. It’s a shame that you cannot add parts to your ship, increase its inventory size, or slowly customize it into something of your own. Similar to your spaceship, you can’t increase the inventory size of your multi-tool, you have to find one with more slots. Aside from their appearance and the number of slots they have, each multi-tool and spaceship is virtually the same. Lastly, a considerable chunk of the game is appropriately set in space, and as I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, the gameplay transition between planet traversal and space exploration is seamless. However, the moment to moment space gameplay is nothing to ride off about as space combat is absolutely awful and controls terribly, and space exploration only serves as a gateway between planets and star systems, a replacement for what would normally be a loading screen.
One cannot mention No Man’s Sky without weighing in on its false sense of promise. If you do a little digging online, you’ll find a plethora of vocal individuals who believe the game that Hello Games promised and the game that players received are not one and the same as many intriguing elements were omitted from the final product. Sean Murray explicitly said that players will be able to name ship types, and everyone who’d have that type of ship would have that name. This is incorrect. He said that we’d be able to take sides in the warring battles between factions This is no where to be found in game. He also said that, even though it’d be extremely unlikely, players could be able to see each other. Two players traveled to same point in the universe in an attempt to meet, but were unable to see or interact with one another. This grey line between honest game promotion and blatant fabrications has understandably stemmed heated discussions amongst the gaming community and it’s rather difficult to sympathize with Hello Games. While No Man’s Sky is by no means a bad game, it is far from a pristine example of a good one. It’s exceptionally gorgeous – a breathtaking example of virtual sightseeing – it’s arguably a technical masterpiece, and its colossal sense of size and scope is unrivalled. But it’s also incredibly empty and downright tedious. For such an immense experience, it’s surprisingly shallow, never developing the necessary deep end that it so desperately requires. No Man’s Sky has an extremely solid foundation as its procedurally generated universe and gorgeous planets are just enough to reel you in, but what’s left there after its initial flare has worn off is nothing but an empty shell. Perhaps throughout the game’s post-launch support, Hello Games will finally craft the game that No Man’s Sky should have been, incorporating a proper story with meaningful characters and encounters, and meaningful gameplay with an engaging structure, but as it stands at this very moment, No Man’s Sky is one of the most disappointing video games in recent memory.