A weekend with no men in the sky

No Man's Sky Logo

Just under 21/2 years ago I watched the first gameplay trailer for No Man’s Sky and then immediately boarded the hype train. The game looked incredible and the promise of limitless gameplay and near-infinite exploration was extra coal for the hype train’s engine. Since then the game has been completely soaked in mystery leading up its release. Very little was known about it other than the incredible scale and diversity of the in-game universe. But now that No Man’s Sky is finally here, does it actually live up to the hype or is it a massive disappointment? Truth is I can’t answer that question, at least not on a global scale. The thing is with us humans is that we all have different tastes. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another and No Man’s Sky is the perfect example of gaming marmite – you really will either love it or hate.

No Man’s Sky hasn’t had the easiest of times leading up to its release. The first blow was a nearly two-month delay. Then an early copy was released which was immediately streamed online. Once the game was finally released to the public there were claims of miss-selling, particularly surrounding the multiplayer portion of the game. Sticker-gate then reared its head, lending more evidence to the major feature-culling conspiracy. All of this was shortly followed by the PC release which left many a PC gamer with a sour taste in their mouths, with even high-end rigs unable to play the game without massive performance problems. Amongst all of the negativity and hate directed toward the game, there has been a large number of satisfied players. Ultimately, though, opinions tend to only be voiced when something is bad or goes wrong, resulting in a somewhat skewed perspective. The rest of us are too busy bumbling around space without a care in the world.

Negative technicalities and features, or lack thereof, aside, the biggest bugbear of gamers is that the game isn’t actually that fun to play. Many are claiming that it’s simply boring and has little to no gameplay. Whilst I can certainly see their side of the argument I for one sit on the positive side of the spectrum. I’m bloody loving it so far. Perfect game? No. Excellent experience? Yes.

No Man's Sky Screenshot

The problem with a game like No Man’s Sky is that it’s a technological masterpiece. Contained within it are:

  • 18-quintillion (18,446,744,073,709,551,616) unique planets. 
  • Complete languages for the races met throughout the game.
  • Millions of different flora and fauna species that can be named by its players (and seen by other players)

And all of this resides on one disc. There is literally an entire universe sitting on a disc. Where’s the problem with all of that then? The problem is that a game of this magnitude has never existed before and that’s truly exciting. Therefore, rightfully so, a lot of published media prior to the release of the game was focused solely on the technology behind the game. Very rarely would you read, or see, anything mentioning No Man’s Sky’s gameplay. If there were mentions of gameplay it would usually consist of “free to do what you want” which could also be translated to “there’s no structure in place”. This appears to be the main problem with most gamers who are against the idea of No Man’s Sky.

I’m okay with this. It’s the first game I’ve played that boasts the whole “play how you like” feature whilst actually sticking to it. There’s no hand-holding. There’s no narrative. It’s you, a ship and a hell of a lot of universes to explore. The problem, of course, is that you need to come up with your own gameplay to find enjoyment. There are things you can do in the game; mining, shooting, exploring, documenting species, etc. but it’s up to you to choose how you spend your time. Some players will find no joy in this whatsoever whilst others, like me, treasure the concept. No Man’s Sky isn’t completely devoid of any structure, though. There are waypoints and locations that aid your exploration, should you wish to follow them. Sitting alongside these are journey paths which can also be followed. I’ve found two so far but there could well be more. That is it, though. Just two endpoints tethered to your system by a single line which can be optionally traversed to reach the “end-game”. The in-between bits are solely what you make them.

Exploration never gets boring for me with each planet’s vistas leaving me completely awestruck. There’s nothing more impressive than seeing a planet or two on the horizon and knowing that you can jump in your ship, fly to and land on them, all without the interruption of any loading screens. Diversity is another issue that keeps arising with many claiming that things look too similar. Just a quick reminder that there are 18-quintillion planets in the game. Mathematically there is going to be some overlap. All I can say for certain is that I still get a buzz from landing on an unexplored planet. If, however, exploration isn’t your thing you will soon be left twiddling your thumbs and that’s where the game would greatly benefit with something else to do.

No Man's Sky screenshot

There have already been murmurs of Freighters and bases coming in a future update which should hopefully mean we can begin colonising the planets we find. That would certainly be a welcomed addition but there is still a stunted section in the game and that’s the interaction with the alien residents you meet. Often, on initial interaction, you’ll be presented with a situation and you need to choose how best to resolve it. The risk is that if you don’t know their language you’re essentially going in blind and can negatively affect your standing with that race and in some cases cause offence. This task becomes a lot easier when you learn more of the language of the race. But that’s all there is to it. The subsequent interactions allow you to learn extra words, gain extra materials or recharge your various Exosuit ‘bits’ but nothing quite as interesting as that initial conversation. Missions to increase race standing certainly wouldn’t go amiss here. Hell, I’d even settle for a “Collect ‘x’ pieces of ‘x'” type of mission. Something similar to the random events that are accustomed to open-world games would fit in well with the game.

I know what you’re thinking, probably – “You say you like the game but you’ve only been pointing out its flaws“. I really do like the game and weirdly it’s because there isn’t much to do. And the stuff you can do can be completed entirely at your own pace. Back in the day when I was a wee kid, I’d spend countless hours sitting in front of the TV playing games. Nowadays it’s a bit different. I’m all growed up and have to do boring things such as working for a living. Because of this, my free time is often cut short so I need a game that I can pick up and play for an hour or two. No Man’s Sky is that game. Yes, the game is astronomically huge but you’re never going to explore it entirely in your life anyway so it’s kind of moot. No Man’s Sky lends itself to the pick-up-and-play ideal with the ease of being able to simply walk around, exploring your surroundings, all with no time constraints. Not only that but after a somewhat stressful day/week the last thing you want to do is go online and get repeatedly shot in the head by 12-year-olds offering sexual favours to your Mum. No Man’s Sky has none of that. It’s the perfect game for relaxing and escaping and what are games at the end of the day if not a tool for escapism?

At its heart, No Man’s Sky truly is a beautiful game. Never has a game with so little stuff to do grabbed my attention for so long. The visuals are stunning and the craftsmanship behind the game is born of genius. The size of the damn thing ain’t even worth thinking about unless you want your brain turning into meat soup. Sure, it has its flaws but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on playing this game. I’m almost certain there will be more to come in the future which can only be a good thing because, in its current state, No Man’s Sky is the perfect building blocks for something truly incredible. I really can’t wait to see what Hello Games has in store for us.

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