[typing] Man… Rarely do I feel as conflicted about a game as I do No Man’s Sky, which is a game for PlayStation 4 and PC that procedurally generates entire galaxies of space stuff to explore. On paper, it seems like all I ever wanted in a modern open-ended space sim, with a mishmash of components from Frontier: Elite II, The Precursors, Captain Blood, the X series, Starflight and Spore. And I loved the origin story behind its developer, Hello Games. They’re a self-funded indie studio in Gilford, England, that, before now, only had Joe Danger as their claim to fame. A polished, but ultimately unambitious, side-scrolling motorcycle racer. They’re a David that purposely created their own Goliath, and then did their best to slay him, no matter the odds. And make no mistake, the odds were never in their favor, with everything from the flooding of their studio at the end of 2013 to the very hype around their game piling up to unforeseeable and unmanageable levels. To be fair, some of the latter can be attributed to Sony, who didn’t fund the game’s development but did handle the distribution and marketing. And so we’ve got one of the most ambitious games ever made created by 15 people in Gilford selling for the price of $60.
And which ultimately has a list of problems that would doom any other game to obscurity. But we’ll get to that momentarily. For now, let’s just go over the gameplay. I’ll mostly be showing the PlayStation 4 version, captured using its built-in capture app, so quality isn’t as high as I’d like and it’s a bit low-res, but since the PC port is a god-awful mess right now, PS4 is what I ended up playing on the most because…
It’s the only one I could play at all. No Man’s Sky begins with an intro featuring lots of sky, or I suppose technically it’s space, but either way, there are no men in sight for which to claim ownership of it. You then wake up on a random planet in a random part of the galaxy, with a decidedly non-random computerized voice telling you that you’re alive… barely. Turns out some of your stuff is broken and needs repairs and from here it’s up to you to figure out how to do so. It’s a pretty major hurdle to overcome right off the bat, with very little in the way of instructions to guide you and plenty in the way of things trying to figuratively kick you in the junk.
No Man’s Sky may be a lot of things, but first and foremost, it is a survival sim. So expect to make a lot of stupid mistakes at first just trying to stay alive. You’re just tossed into this alien world and you have no idea what anything is, what it does or how to properly use it. And depending on the random planet you receive, it’s possible you’ll have a much easier or harder experience due to the blend of stuff it contains. So keep in mind that everyone’s start to the game will be somewhat unique. You’re really at the whims of the planet and the exosuit at the beginning, and the whole time its hazard protection and life support systems are draining.
So, armed with a handheld multitool and a back-mounted jetpack, you’ll want to mine for resources and stave off enemies as quickly as possible, as well as keep enough fuel on hand to make a quick getaway, if the need arises. Once you’ve got the resources to get your ship running again, and still have some left over to maintain it, you’ll be able to wander and explore the planet more freely. And, man, these planets are absolutely massive. I’ve read that many of them are on a scale that matches up with the actual size of Earth and… I believe it. Each star system usually contains multiple planets, too, in addition to moons and asteroid fields, all of which can be explored due to the wonders of procedural generation. Once you’ve learned the blueprint for building a hyperdrive, you’ll unlock interstellar travel, which let’s you access the galactic map and travel to distance star systems.
And the galaxy you’re in is huge, with trillions of stars and over 18 quintillion planets to explore. And not only that, but it’s persistent and synced up to a server, so everyone playing is contained within the same galaxy. Although, it’s exclusive to the platform being used. The game is still totally playable offline, but if you’re connected, you do have access to this extra layer of community-driven awesomeness. Still, though, it’s worth noting this is really a single-player experience. It’s not meant to be multiplayer, so you’re not going to be joining up with your friends and wandering around with them or anything. From here on out, it’s really up to you to do whatever you’d like, but there’s a general overall goal to reach the center of the galaxy for ambiguous reasons. Which I’d recommend you do, at least for a little while. Even though at first, this seems overwhelmingly daunting, even impossible. For one thing, until you unlock the necessary blueprints, fueling your hyperdrive is a rare thing indeed. So you’ll be sticking around where you started for quite a while.
Heck, I didn’t even leave my first star system until six hours into the game. And for that matter, I didn’t really start LIKING No Man’s Sky until about 20 hours in, and… Well, yeah, that’s a problem! After the wow factor wears off and you dive into the meat of the gameplay, it becomes apparent that this is one seriously flawed game right now. Let’s just begin with the handling of resources and upgrades, shall we? Because if there’s one game that needed a complete overhaul of its inventory system, this is it. To begin with, it’s just way too small when you start.
Even when you’re finally able to upgrade your suit and ship, you’ll still fill up both inventories in record time, especially because it’s slot-based and not weight-based. Which means that 500 units of heavy alloy takes up the exact same amount of space as a single tiny upgrade chip. Now you might think, “Big deal, just don’t hoard so much stuff.” And I might agree, if you didn’t absolutely need free inventory spots to perform several basic tasks.
For instance, any equipment upgrades will take up one whole inventory spot, no matter how major or minor. And if you want to craft something and use up some of those raw materials you have, well, unless you have free inventory space in the particular inventory where the item goes, it won’t let you. It won’t even let you open the crafting menu to check out what materials you need to complete your current task. Or, hey, do you have a full inventory, but want to talk to this alien really quick? Better have at least one free inventory slot in your exosuit, otherwise it won’t even let you open your mouth. Oh, but what if you just drop an item onto the ground really quick so you can talk to them? Nope! There’s no way to simply drop items. In fact, there’s not even a way to swap items from one slot to another unless you have a free spot to drop it in first before moving that initial item again. It’s… AAGGHH! And this unbelievably annoying inventory system only makes the collecting of vital resources even more irksome than it would be on its own. As mentioned earlier, this is a survival game, so prepare for a crapload of grinding and busy work for even the most basic resources.
And I really don’t have a huge problem with this type of gameplay. I’ve played a ton of games where I enjoy this stuff quite a lot, like Minecraft, ARK: Survival Evolved and whatnot. But this chore of a gameplay loop is only made more noticeable and aggravating when you’ve got an inventory the size of a barf bag. Unless you have the money for it, you’ll have to go and seek out every individual material you need, whether it’s from mining, discovering item drops, exploring derelict alien structures or whatever.
And that’s fine. It’s just that there’s little in the way of variety here. And the slog is real. Still, there are other versions to check out in between cursing the inventory system. Like tracking down other crashed ships, exploring alien monoliths, perusing strange facilities, and disregarding the local constabulary. You can also make a point of observing and cataloging all the bizarre plants and animals you see. And it’s worth doing this too, because then you’re able to upload these to the server and exchange for credits. You can also rename these before uploading, but you’ll run into so many that before long even going the immature route gets old. There’s also the ability to feed certain creatures and make them your pet. And although this is pretty awesome, since they seek out rare materials for you and they’re just kind of cute, it ends up bumming me out since you can’t take them with you and you have to abandon them whenever you leave the area.
And the next thing that kind of bums me out is just how… artificial everything seems? I mean, sure it’s a game world largely created by algorithms, so of course it’s artificial. But to me, there’s a difference between BEING faked and FEELING faked. The first signs of this arose when I landed on the fifth or sixth planet with the same exact biome and the same exact plants with the same kind of deer-like quadruped animals that happen to have a funny headpiece. Like, I don’t know about you, but this plant sure looks an awful lot like this completely different plant from another star system entirely. And I know the technical reasons for this, since the procedural generation system is referring to a bucket of parts to construct everything like a really big LEGO set. And yeah, maybe you could even dismiss all this with a theory like Star Trek’s where most alien life looks so similar because everything had an ancient cosmic originator that seeded all the stuff in the early years of the universe and whatnot.
Either way, I don’t care, because it severely takes away from my desire to explore each planet when everything starts to look the same. Speaking of samey-ness, the same goes for outposts, sentient aliens and spaceports you run across. The spaceports, especially, are a pretty big disappointment to me. There’s just nothing interesting going on inside them and the alien NPCs here and elsewhere are just static. Predictable item dispensers. That’s not to say the aliens are totally useless.
There’s some interesting choices you’ll have to make when talking to some of them through this text adventure kind of prompt. And the whole language aspect is pretty fascinating to me. See, when you start off, you won’t be able to communicate with anyone at all, with your languages being totally incompatible. But word by word, you’ll be able to piece these languages together by finding translation objects, or by performing tasks that increase your standing with their culture. So they’ll want to teach you their language as thanks. I do wish there was more to these alien relationships, though.
Like, it’d be awesome to go on more distinct missions for them, or establish trade agreements, or have one or two of them tag along as wingmen or co-pilots. I mean, holy crap, the possibilities here are endless. And yet it doesn’t explore very much of these possibilities at all, and as such, it failed to keep me engaged. At least, it failed for the first 20 hours or so, because after a certain point, which I won’t spoil, you run across a few things that make the game way more enjoyable. And I know this is pretty excessive to have to wait that long to get to this stuff, but it really made a big difference. Through a combination of substantially increased inventory space, fantastic new technological abilities to play with, being able to navigate through black holes, and even an actual story line to follow, this went from being a grind fest to being something I could sit back and really enjoy for hours.
I mean it. Once that critical point was reached, a light bulb just went off and No Man’s Sky really opened up into something pretty special. The closer I got to the galactic core and the more easily I was able to acquire and store resources, the better it got. I had a clear goal to pursue if I wanted now. The planets got more interesting, my equipment was powerful enough to let me explore underwater and fight mechs and stuff. Random space battles would occur and I was outrunning space pirates and actually winning, instead of just cowering in fear, and overall, I was just having a blast. It felt like what I wanted from the space stage in Spore. With the Galactic Adventures Pack, just… all crammed together into something that actually worked how I thought that would back in the day. I mean, it’s just me and my ship and some cool abilities, and a huge galaxy of opportunity. I mean, much of it ends up wasted, still, but opportunity nonetheless. And now I’m conflicted about it again. [sigh] That brings me back to my overall issue with No Man’s Sky.
It’s not that it’s a bad game by any means, but it’s that it only treads water with its own ideas without actually diving into the deep end. I genuinely hope Hello Games takes that dive in the future because the skeleton of a great game is here. But it’s lacking muscle for the time being, especially in the first part of the game. Again, I can’t stress enough how aggravating the first twenty-something hours were for me and, man, that just sucks. The honeymoon period of a game should be full of smiles and wonder, not grimaces and swearing. Instead, that joy and fulfillment with what I was doing in the game didn’t arrive until much later into my experience, and… Well, come to think of it, maybe that’s the whole point? I mean, in real life, you also start out with nothing, you have no idea what’s going on, and things are just unmanageable for a long time. You may even want to quit because the promise of better things in the future just seems too far off. But if you stick to it and work through the crap, there’s a chance you’ll find a purpose and a routine that works for you.
You might even find some version of happiness you can agree with. You reach a point where finally you can sit back, admire what you’ve earned, and just go exploring the weirdness of reality, free of the shackles of having to find your place in life. Ehh… I don’t know if it’s just the sleep deprivation talking here or what, but once I got to the good parts of No Man’s Sky, I really felt that.
Maybe you will, too. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, I would understand. I understand why people love this game and I understand why people hate it, too. I also understand if you think it’s squarely in the middle, an overpriced bunch of forgettable nonsense. No Man’s Sky is a big enough game with enough varying experiences to be all these things simultaneously. And despite its numerous problems and baffling design choices, I’ve developed this genuine respect for it because of that. It’s still difficult for me to whole-heartedly recommend it, especially at $60, but it’s certainly something that’s gotten me thinking. And that’s more than I can say for most games in 2016. [moody orchestral music] And if you enjoyed this video on No Man’s Sky, perhaps you’d like to check out my video on their first games, the Joe Danger series, and some other stuff that’s on here… you know? It’s just there. And you can click and watch those if you’d like, go to my channel or come back every Monday and Friday for new videos here on LGR.
And as always, thank you very much for watching..
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