Shoot for the moon, land among the stars?
If one word can perfectly describe No Man’s Sky, it would be ambitious. 18 quintillion planets to explore, thousands of alien words to uncover, and a million different unique experiences. Some of those experiences led to great disappointments, while others spent hours and hours in front of their screens. But no matter your opinion, we all seem to agree that No Man’s Sky is a game we’ve never seen before.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The game opens with you stranded on a strange alien planet, unknown to any other player in the universe, without any explanation sans needing to fix your ship. This can be easily frustrating since nothing is told to you, not even the gameplay controls (including the crafting system,) but if you have a bit of patience, the controls and systems are a little easier to decipher. The controls for your spaceship are a bit more challenging (and frustrating.) It took me a few tries before I was able to soar over planet surfaces in the upright position. But even then the game doesn’t allow you to closely fly over the landscape, but instead keeps an invisible barrier between you and the ground. The landings are completely autopiloted, which is disappointing since you don’t get to control the starship yourself. Only clicking one button and having everything done for you. The same can be said for the crafting system, which is far more simple than what was originally said. The player finds a formula, presses a button, and boom has a bypass chip. Having the ability to mash elements together and discovering an object from them would be more interesting and complex (and true to the idea of the developers.)
Once you get the hang of the controls you have an entire planet to discover. The first planet will most likely be your most memorable experience in the game. I was lucky enough to begin on a tropical planet without any environmental hazards or predatory animals. I spent about an entire day or two just exploring this seemingly never-ending landscape. Discovering so much that I 100% completed that planet actually. I don’t feel that I am alone in saying that the first few hours playing No Man’s Sky are among the very best. Players get to discover amazing new animals, activate ancient alien obelisks, and maybe even interact with the strange and interesting aliens themselves. Personally, the most interesting (and addicting) feature in No Man’s Sky is the alien language. You begin the game without a shred of knowledge on other races, but you slowly learn other languages through alien obelisks scattered throughout the universe or interactions with aliens at trading hubs. Activating the obelisks can be far more interesting than just speaking with other aliens. You’re confronted with a problem that not only requires you to decipher the text with the little knowledge you have on alien languages, but to make a moral choice, in whatever way you see fit. While the alien language system is a bit simple, like all the systems in No Man’s Sky, its depth is pretty stunning.
The interactions and language are not the only stunning things in No Man’s Sky, though. The visuals themselves are pretty damn breathtaking; jagged mountain edges lined with trees, blue and pink moons so close to the surface you feel like you could touch them, oceans with other worlds just lying beneath the crystal-clear surface, and luscious plains that look eerily similar to the colorful Dothraki Sea (and those are only the places I’ve seen.) Though many fans have been disappointed by the landscapes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interesting and beautiful planets I’ve visited. Not only are the landscapes beautiful, but the accompanying music adds another layer of beauty to the game. The music is performed by none other than Sean Murray’s favorite band, 65daysofstatic. That’s not even the most interesting part, though. 65daysofstatic created an infinite album specially for No Man’s Sky. An infinite soundtrack for an infinite game.
After bleeding your first planet dry of alien words, resources, and nameable animals, it’s time to venture to the next planet in your system. The first take-off, much like your first planet, is the most memorable. Your newly fixed ship blasts through the atmosphere and thrusts you through the stars. From there, you can choose whichever direction you want to go in next. The beauty in No Man’s Sky is the ability to make those decisions and create your own unique experience. Theoretically, you can stay in your own solar system forever and continuously harvest resources and trade them. Though there is no real reason to stay behind on the planet without the ability to build cities, or even bases for that matter. So, through the stars you travel until you land in your next destination, whether that’s the planet right next door, a whole different galaxy light years away.
There are a fair number of things to do in No Man’s Sky, but I can absolutely understand how one can get easily bored with the game as a whole. Running around different planets mining for resources in order to just trade them in order to purchase a seemingly-better space can be tedious (though I find it oddly relaxing, especially after work.) The game does grow stale, especially considering many of the features originally stated to be in the game are not present. What doesn’t help is the lack of communication from the game itself. While it can be a nice challenge to figure out how to excel at the game, it’s a bit of a problem when you’re not even sure how far you’ve progressed. It only makes sense people have given up on the universe in No Man’s Sky if they feel they’ve done everything that can be done.
The Really, Really Ugly
Recently, fans have felt that Sean Murray, Hello Games, and Sony marketed a completely different game than what they released. The game itself had been hyped-up by developers, media, and rabid fans for a solid two years. The 2014 E3 preview, which featured a gorgeous landscape and humongous, strange creatures, really lit the coals for this ensuing hype-train. To be honest, we’re all a little bit to blame here. We had hoped that No Man’s Sky would be the game to end all games. We had come to expect insane things from this game, both because of rumors and what we heard from the developers. How could a game that spanned the literal size of our universe fall so flat in our eyes?
Most of the outrage from fans boils down to the “lies” Sean Murray (and Hello Games, and Sony, to an extent) told about No Man’s Sky. A shockingly large list appeared on Reddit detailing all the features that were supposed to be in the game, at least according to Murray and co. I’m not going to list out all the gripes (because if I did I’d get carpal tunnel), but there are a few things that stood out.
The first is the interaction with NPC’s. In a game spanning the universe, you would think the universe would be filled with cities, governments, allegiances, and factions. While true that you can change your status with different factions, it adds no real value to the game other than opening a few extra dialogue lines. The second being the planets themselves. While the planets are stunning in the beginning, offering beautiful variances and interesting landscapes, it quickly gets old once the player realizes the planets don’t really differ that much in reality. To me, this is one of the more disappointing aspects of the game. The third is the mechanics of the universe. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of actual physics in the massive universe of No Man’s Sky. Planets and moons are just haphazardly thrown onto the sky (though the moons do look pretty dope on planet surfaces.) And the fourth, there’s no complexity to the crafting and trading systems. The most complex aspect of these systems is figuring out where to get the resources to make these items. I could go on further, but reading the post is just easier for the both of us.
What it all comes down is the fans were expecting more out No Man’s Sky because Murray and Hello Games and Sony had said there was going to be so much more. They felt “lied to” about what the game and entailed and were rightfully upset when the final product was nothing like how it was shown in so many interviews and previews. Personally, I enjoyed No Man’s Sky in the first few hours. The game is magnificent when you step onto those first planets, when you first take flight into the universe, when you first discover an alien obelisk, when you first interact with aliens. Each experience is first is unique to the player in some way and impacts them in a different way. But the hype surrounding the game for two years was what really killed it. There was no way this game was going to come away unscathed when developers and fans alike built it up into so much more. No Man’s Sky is a game that is good for what it is. And for those that disagree, it’s at least a step in a new and exciting direction. Who knows what other games we’ll see in the future thanks to the ambitious little team over at Hello Games. No Man’s Sky has its problems, and may have disappointed people beyond reconciliation, but overall it’s an enjoyable game, for at least a little while anyway.