No Man’s Sky is more or less considered the modern telling of Icarus. Promises were made, expectations were set, hearts were broken and refunds were given. I took a much-needed week off from work where I spent a copious amount of time playing No Man’s Sky. Instead of just describing my thoughts on this game, I decided to directly address the “promises” made in the PS4 launch trailer.
No Man’s Sky is primarily an exploration game. You explore procedurally generated planets in procedurally generated solar systems containing procedurally generated creatures, plants and houses (some containing intelligent alien life).
In that, the game is pretty good. The wacky colour schemes and designs are definitely interesting and the constant need for space credits means there’s always a drive to explore the unknown. As to be expected, you stumble across desolate, sulphurous rocks just as much as you find lush garden worlds. Although sometimes a trip into a cave system or ocean reveals an ecosystem just as intricate as what you would find on the surface.
So why have so many people complained about this game? The only thing to do is explore. All other aspects of the game exist solely to fuel further exploration. I might spend an hour on a planet gathering the resources to construct the green ball so I can construct the purple ball so I can construct the warp cell so I can hyperdrive jump to the next system. Once I jump to the next system, there is absolutely no reason to return as I have no invested interest in the worlds I have explored. Aliens you meet are stationary objects with a thousand clones. Anything interesting (such as ancient alien buildings) are easily found in the next system by the dozen.
“Fighting”, which includes space dog fights, defending from aggressive creatures and killing the Sentinels, a group of machines found on almost every world, is easily the most poorly executed aspect of the game. I suspect this could be because of my choice of using the PS4 system. The control system for your multi-tool and the guns on your ship is clunky, bordering on useless. So many times I’ve died from being attacked by three of four shitty insectoids because they move faster than my gun can move.
I also get the impression that there only seems to be eight points of direction on the joysticks. It becomes incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to shoot down an airborne creature for the purpose of examining. This simple action requires nuanced movements that are almost impossible with the control set.
So a big part of the game is trading for new ships, multi-tools and blueprints to upgrade your ship, multi-tool and exosuit. A lot of this is driven by the obtaining of credits which is done by exploring and uploading to the network, mining special materials and finding alien artefacts and objects.
Unfortunately, the sole purpose of trading is just to aid your exploration through faster ships and more efficient mining drills. At one point I saved up a million credits (many hours of gameplay) just to purchase a new badass ship. The moment I did, I came across a ship worth seven million. It turned my hours of gameplay saving for a new ship into a completely futile task.
Trading is made even more frustrating by the incredibly limited about of inventory slots, having to constantly balance upgrades with resources (who use the same inventory slots). Some items which are probably no bigger than my fist take up an entire inventory slot in my ship or suit. It doesn’t make sense that eight slots in my exosuit can carry exactly the same as eight slots in my interstellar spaceship.
Survival is another key aspect to this game. It’s probably the one true challenge in the game, finding the resources day-to-day to keep travelling, fuel your ship and life support systems.
But the ability to survive is impeded by some of the previous unnecessarily annoying aspects I’ve described, including a limited inventory and poor combat mechanics. Survival never gets easier or harder, asides from upgrading your ship, suit and tool. You can’t build or even occupy a house, you can’t store necessary items for later and aliens either attack you or are completely stationary, not even real things.
The trailer shows ships flying around planet surfaces or out in space, but there is almost no interaction with them, nor with other players who definitely exist out there (there someone named “Doctorgeezer” in the same part of the universe as me). For a highly populated universe, there doesn’t seem to be anything to happening that impacts your survival chances.
I’ve looked at four key aspects of the game, but I could keep listing issues with the that seems to have come about from poor design choices, or perhaps a lack of play testing. I am still going to play it as I enjoy it and could do with a low-intensity hour here and there, but if you’re after a rollicking space adventure, probably give No Man’s Sky a miss.
No Man’s Sky is certainly something new and different. I also enjoyed the thirty or forty hours I played of it, but there was nothing much more to do beyond that.
No Man’s Sky is attempting something new and unique, and has struggled to execute. With some arbitrary and annoying design choices and a poor combat system (something that was probably meant to be a fun part of the game), No Man’s Sky is in need some significant patching.
I generally don’t enjoy these types of survival, crafting, directionless games. I generally find them boring. Despite No Man’s Sky issues, I enjoyed it. It’s a cathartic, explorative experience that I can pick and put down after half an hour or five hours. Unfortunately, there’s no motivation to keep playing aides from simple curiosity. There’s no actual adventure where the end points, none of which I have reached, are so vague and pointless that I couldn’t care less about finishing the game.
The next review in approximately one month will be on Undertale