No Man’s Sky Thoughts and Provisional Review

No Man’s Sky released this week after more than three years of development and several metric shit-loads of hype about its massive procedurally generated universe (containing upwards of 18 quintillion planets with countless types of plants and animals to discover on them).

So now that it has been out for most a week (on PS4, as of this writing its only been on PC for a little over a day) the question remains, does it live up to the hype?

Unfortunately the answer to that lies entirely in who you talk to.

Looking at various articles from “respectable” outlets, a number of Twitter posts and sub-reddits about the game and my own experiences with the game (about 10 hours of play time myself and almost as much spent watching Chelcie play) has painted a wildly varying and oft divisive view of the game on levels I’ve not seen since Batman vs Superman.

Many people apparently looked at the advertising and set their expectations incredibly high (or are insanely nit-picky) which has led to a astounding amount of disdain, hatred or disappointment with the game.  I’ve seen long, multi-post Twitter rants tearing the game apart for everything from not being 60FPS and the opinion that it has other graphical performance issues to Reddit threads that all but act like the game’s “failures” are a “literal” apocalypse.

As I said I’ve played about ten hours of the game and at this point I feel the above feelings are not only hyperbolic as hell but in many cases are not only wrong but are flat out absurd.

Admittedly the game is far from perfect and I can even understand the opinions of those who expected something other than what they received here (I’m of the opinion that not knowing what you’re buying is your fault and yours alone) but this is another crystal clear example of how ridiculously over-the-top and cynical our opinions have become as a whole.

The average negative post about the game may as well read like this: “The game isn’t 100% what I thought it should be so it is an absolute garbage fire and might just be worse than Hitler and EA (or Activision) combined!”

I can’t help but be filled with a mixture of befuddlement and sadness when I see such opinions expressed because at this point I absolutely love the game for what it is.

Based on my experience both playing and viewing the game I’ve found a handful of problems (ranging from “I wish they had _____ in the game” to “Man, ______ could have been better.”) and yet I have absolutely loved my time in NMS’s universe.

The game starts you on a randomly generated planet, next to a crashed ship that needs various repairs and with a mining laser to help you gather the resources to make the repairs and get off the planet.  This can range from fairly easy (my first starting planet was completely habitable and had plenty of resources nearby) to difficult (Chelcie’s first planet was both highly radioactive and lacked atmosphere and my second was extremely cold at all hours of the day).  From what I’ve seen this opening opening sequence is where many people have bounced off the game.  I’m not sure exactly what they were expecting but apparently a Minecraft-like resource gathering sequence with inventory management and survival elements must have been it.

I admit these elements are also my least favorite part of the game so far, especially early on when inventory space is minimal and it feels like your equipment is constantly in need of recharging.  Later on, after some selective mining, exploration and trading you can purchase upgrades to your storage capacity and also improve your equipment so these factors become less of an issue.  You will always find yourself managing your life-support, fuel and such but unlike most games in the survival genre these things have not yet become more work than play (the recent demo of We Happy Few comes to mind in regards to meter management sucking the fun out of an experience).

Aside from the core loop of “mine, craft, fly” the game has what appears to be a bare bones story playing out and some interesting lore that can be uncovered if you care to explore the worlds in a manner deeper than the aforementioned loop.  In my second system of planets I found a moon that I was absolutely fascinated by.  The environment was stable during the day and while the temperatures dropped to extreme levels at night they were still high enough to let me explore without need of shelter more than once or so a night.  I spent several hours wandering the surface of this moon, renaming it Polynerdia Prime despite the fact that it was a celestial body orbiting a much larger planet (one that had toxic Alkaline rain falling continuously).  The only adverse issue on the entire moon were two species of predatory animals that were always easily dispatched allowing me to continually mine the rich resource deposits.

As I fell in love with this location I also found what I love most about No Man’s Sky in general.  For the most part the game is a very chill experience.  Other games I love often vex me on a high level.  Earlier tonight I spent an hour playing Overwatch and due to the game’s reliance on random matchmaking I found myself playing my butt off aligned with less than on-point teammates and after a half-dozen brutal beatings had to walk away.  I’ve also been whittling my way through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin and even the mere mention of a game in that series should call to mind hours of frustration.

No Man’s Sky has been the anthesis of those kinds of experiences.

Had a bad shift at work?

Fire up NMS, walk around exploring new worlds, cataloging new species of plant and animal life, learning new words in various alien languages and mine some valuable resources knowing that they’ll be used towards buying the next awesome starship you come across.

As much as I hate this continued comparison, No Man’s Sky scratches the itch that Minecraft always has for me.  Obviously it is lacking in all the crafting and building aspects of the latter game but as for a purely relaxing experience NMS does it right.  So far the worlds have all been uniquely beautiful (even if it happens to be an horrific sort of beauty) and the experience of exploring them has been exactly what I needed this week.

No Man’s Sky plays like almost like interactive art and for that I love it.  Yes there are elements I would love to see expanded on and improved.  More story and better combat are two early changes I would like to see and I have my fingers crossed that we will also see capital ships and freighters become controllable (they exist in game but only as NPCs) as well as some quality base or settlement building in the future.  I know quite a few people feel that the lack of multiplayer is something else that needs fixed but I feel that would kill the overall vibe of the game.

In my opinion one of the best parts of the game is the feeling of solitude the game leaves you with.  You are a lone individual in what is plainly a foreign galaxy.  As mentioned earlier, you start out stranded on a potentially hostile planet that you have no choice but to explore.  While wandering you might see another ship or two flying by overhead but when you finally make contact with other sentient life you immediately find that no one is the same species as you and you can’t speak a word of their language.  Through exploration you learn more about them and the worlds you are on by finding ancient ruins and stones that teach you their languages.   There are also events at the ruins or with the aliens that give you the opportunity for various rewards by either reading the situation correctly or making the right choice.  Through it all there is the pervasive feeling of “alone” that really makes the game what it is.  Having another person there would take away from that.

No Man’s Sky as it is right now is equal parts interactive art and foundation for a potentially great video game to come, provided it is treated as the “video game as a service” model the experts feel it will be.   As more things are patched in and the core experience improves (fingers crossed) NMS can easily become a 9 or 10 level game but only if the developers follow through.  In many ways the game reminds me of how Destiny was at launch vs how it is now.

No Man’s Sky is a rewarding and fun experience for those willing to keep an open mind or who like the exploration based loop of it.

I happen to love what I’ve been given and look forward to the potential future of this game.

(Not Yet) Final Verdict: 8 out of 10

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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