I could get lost in the scenic beauty of Kitten Paradise, my alpha planet at the heart of the Meow Meow Sector. The neon greens and purples that make up the colors and tones found in the grass and plant life is just intoxicating. Everywhere I turn is some new cave to explore, some new little critter to analyze, rename and feed. I’ll visit the various outposts ran by the Gek, a small reptilian bird race whose language I am slowly learning via our brief interactions or upon various discoveries of the language stones I uncover upon my travels. No Man’s Sky is a true wonder of innovation, a game of delight and discovery, a game that at times, can be unbearably boring.
While the procedural system offered in No Man’s Sky is incredibly impressive, it’s not without its faults. What was pitched as a game that would infinitely offer something new and exciting to gamers, often comes off as being shallow and a bit bland, combined with game mechanics that don’t always suit the game it is trying to be. No Man’s Sky is first and foremost a survival game. You’ll start on a planet only to rebuild your ship and continue to upgrade the tools you have at your disposal if you are to survive the journey to the center of the universe.
The procedural systems in place here allow for a variety of planets to explore. Some have acid rain showers, radioactive winds or environments that will freeze you to your core. You can fashion various upgrades to your exosuit that will allow you to thrive in these conditions, or you can hide in a cave, seek shelter, or hollow out a resource to survive most storms. The main problems with the procedural system is that after a while you start to see the cracks in the magic that is its variety. Sure, the first few hours are incredible, exciting even, but after the repetition starts, it’s hard to unsee it. Where games like Skyrim or The Witcher 3 are hand crafted by artists over the course of several years, the lands featured in those games are more densely packed and just feel far more lived in that the barren planets you’ll discover here.
Each and every planet mostly offers the same experience regardless of what galactic system you are exploring. Each location is privy to the same types of discoveries, albeit with slightly different results. You’ll always find minerals to harvest, wildlife and vegetation to analyze, and planetary outposts to explore. The outposts vary in design, but their overall purpose is always the same regardless of where you are. You can access pods next to most stations with Bypass Chips to trigger a variety of search options. You can search for Monoliths, Colonial Outposts, Transmissions or seek Shelter. These parameters will offer a variety of things like seeking out crashed ships, pieces of alien lore, beacons to discover and more. Each of these types of locations are present on each and every planet, making every location you visit just different in scenery and not function.
I did find a few flaws in the use of Bypass Chips. While these items are incredibly easy to find the resources to craft them, I often wasted many of them due to a few technical problems. Using the Bypass Chip at the pod, like I’ve mentioned, allows you to trigger a search for a variety of different destinations. Often my search would result in either a location I have already discovered or attempt to discover the very base I was standing in. More often than not it would work as intended, but I’ve wasted more than a dozen Bypass Chips on this particular issue.
As you trek across the vast openness of each of the planet’s you discover, you’ll not only name the system you are in, the planet you currently inhabit, but the trees, plants, rock formations and wildlife that surround you. I found it rather odd that you claim responsibility for these discoveries as there clearly is other intelligent life on these planets that have existed here long before you even entered the system. While I know the naming is meant to claim ownership away from other players, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense that you are making discoveries in an already discovered and inhabited world. It’s like I walked into someone house and started labeling them and their stuff, passing it off as my discovery. You also earn small amounts of currency when you upload your recent discoveries. I have also read recently that some players are finding that some of their discoveries have reverted back to their default names, a bug perhaps?
Despite the somewhat shallow discovery system, it is still neat to rename things in case other players come across your planet, which we have been told can be fairly rare, but possible. I can’t imagine what would be going through someone’s head when they come across my planet named Litter Box and see some of the various creatures I’ve renamed to just ridiculous things like Finn Fist, Fancy Dancer, String Hedd and Derp Dog. After my third planet I stopped scanning the plants and vegetation all together, concentrating solely on the wildlife. There is only so many times I can scan a weird-looking tree or rock before it becomes superfluous. During many showings of the game we were told we would be able to rename our ships, sadly this is not the case yet. I found this large red and yellow chicken shaped ship that I really wanted to call The Iron Chicken, but sadly I was unable to.
The overall goal to No Man’s Sky is reaching the center of the galaxy. An achievement we were told would be absolutely incredible, and while I won’t spoil what is actually there, be rest assured this; take your time, enjoy the game at a comfortable pace and don’t be in a rush to get to the center of the galaxy. This is a game that is about the journey itself and not the destination. During many of the interviews game creator Sean Murray did with the game, it was actually really funny to hear one interviewer joke about what the ending could actually be, and not only did he pretty much nail it, Sean Murray actually joked along with him about it, laughing it off as if he would never do something like that. He did.
There isn’t any structural story here in No Man’s Sky, no real purpose other than to discover, survive and learn about the history of what has come before you. Sure, there is the mysterious Atlas, but to call that a story, well, that’s reaching a bit. Usually in survival sandbox games like this, like Minecraft, you often craft your own narrative.
The main form of gameplay you will encounter in No Man’s Sky is harvesting minerals and collecting blueprints. These blueprints serve as a way to upgrade your exosuit, ship and your mining laser; the multi-tool. Some blueprints require minerals that your current planet may not be privy too, forcing you to either fly to a new planet or see if one of the many traders you come into contact with carries that resource. Your exosuit can be enhanced via upgrades found at drop pods. Each consecutive upgrade will add one additional slot to your storage while also increasing in price for each new upgrade you come across. You can also find and craft upgrades that boost your survival capability and sprinting. Your ship and multi-tool will need to be replaced should you find one with better storage. There is a trick to finding better ships:
Finding ships with more storage is simple. At each pod where you can use a Bypass Chip, search for Transmissions. Should Transmission Tower pop up as a destination, head there. At the Tower go to the panel and solve the riddle. Use the panel to locate a crashed ship and keep using the same panel to find more and more ships. After you have discovered around 10 or so ships, head out to find one. Each ship has the chance to offer at least one more additional slot to what your current ship has. Should it have that additional slot, transfer your items to it and rebuild just the engines and fly to the next crashed ship. Repeat this process as often as you like as it will save you millions from buying ships at outposts or at the galactic space station orbiting the planet. I went from having a 15 slot ship to one with 32 slots in around three hours or so, and that was taking my time.
You can get around the planet one of three ways; walking, jet pack or your ship. The jet pack can be upgraded for more boost and it’s one of the more satisfying jet packs in recent games. As long as you hug any vertical surface you can have infinite boost and should you accidentally fall of a cliff, it is easy enough to glide down to safety. Overall, the jet pack really handles well and makes the game far more enjoyable because of it.
I’m not a huge fan of the ships. While blasting around the planet can be fairly fun, as is entering the atmosphere or reaching warp capability, it is the controls, landing, and space battles that leave a lot to be desired. Each time you take off from the surface, it uses resources, which can be eliminated should you take off near a landing pad, or landing terminal. The problem with landing is aside from the auto-landing approach that the larger pads offer, it can be a bit awkward to see what is directly below you without having to do a wide pass to see if what you passed was a rock or a drop pod.
Space battles are also really lacking in solid controls to make them enjoyable at all. With so many other space sims out there offering a near perfect blueprint on how to make these effective and enjoyable, it’s just painful to see how basic and how not fun these interactions are. Having to re-fill your shields via a menu that doesn’t pause during the action, makes it even more lacking in almost every single way.
I’ve talked briefly about No Man’s Sky being a survival game and this type of gameplay also ties into the audio components of the game as well. As you collect resources and upgrades to better your chances to survive the hostile weather and living conditions each planet offers you, your exosuit’s female AI will consistently chatter in your ear about the draining of those system’s resources. It just becomes a bit too much when she’s announcing that your exosuit is at low life support when it is at 75%, I mean.. really? 75% is low? As you use your mining laser and run out, because that will totally happen a billion times, she will remind you that it is empty, every single time. The first few times it happens is alright, but considering the better part of what you do in No Man’s Sky revolves around consuming those resources, it just become incredibly annoying to keep hearing it. Aside from your exosuit’s AI, the sound design here is phenomenal. Music and sound effects are well put together and environmental sounds really complement the game and can be quite impressive.
The structure of how the menu’s work in the game is basic and not that user-friendly. You are able to move certain items around to sort and organize, but for some reason the upgrades you have existing in your ship, exosuit and multi-tool are unable to be moved. I’ve had to dismantle and rebuild so many upgrades to have them organized by type that I’ve wasted a ton of resources. Items like minerals and other resources can easily be moved around and organized any way you like. There also isn’t any sort of map system or any ability to drop waypoints to revisit areas of interest that you don’t have time for at that moment. As for revisiting systems that you have previously discovered? I haven’t been able to figure that out and I am not alone.
The game can at times be remarkably beautiful with the right combination of environment and color choices. The texturing isn’t really impressive and the gritty pop-in that occurs when approaching parts of the environment can be really distracting. This is even more apparent when flying, the pop in is so bad it is hard to figure out what is actually there unless you get really close to the ground. It is like the game is trying as fast as it can to build the terrain before you can see it. The game also has an issue where it will still think that some resources are still active and not mined. I’ve had hollowed out resource boulders show up far away and when approaching them, they will disappear. It can be pretty frustrating when this occurs especially if you’ve made a solid trek towards one. This was apparent on my experience on the PS4 and have seen that it also occurs on high end PC’s as well.
Another aspect of the resource gathering that can become a bit of a time sink is small tiny slivers of the resource that stick around after larger segments of it is blasted away. For those like me that want to leave no part of it remaining, well it can get a bit frustrating to have to spend so much more laser resource to clean up the tiny slivers of resource left floating around in the air.
Much discussion has been made online regarding the cut content shown in nearly every interview, trailer or other promotional material that showcases footage of the game. Even the current trailers for the game showcase at least a few features not present in the game. This has led to a massive fan backlash that has created a huge divide in the community. The last time there was such a vast difference with what was shown to what was released was probably Aliens: Colonial Marines, and that ended in a huge class action lawsuit. The most unfortunate thing about this cut content was that creator Sean Murray was showing off and talking about these features less than six months ago.
I won’t go into what was cut or removed from the game because there just isn’t enough space here to talk about everything, because trust me, it is a lot. It’s best to search for this information on Reddit or the various videos on Youtube. Currently, players are fighting with both Sony and Steam about getting refunded due to the game not being what was shown and sold to gamers during various conventions and numerous interviews with creator Sean Murray.
At Launch, No Man’s Sky is a game that had so much of its potential removed. While the game at times can be thrilling and wondrous; discovering a whole new planet and the discoveries within, the cracks in the randomly generated procedural system just start to show far too soon and way too often. I did enjoy much of what I had played but that enjoyment sadly turned to boredom way too quickly. I’m sure that when more content is added to the game that I’ll load it up again and head out exploring, but until that time comes, It’s just not a game I plan on sticking with.
No Man’s Sky is a game sold off delivering us a world as unique as the player exploring it. What is here is a simple and shallow experience that comes to rely on just too much imagination to really push you forward. Each planet is designed in such a way that variety is merely an illusion and that exploring strange new worlds borders on an insane amount of repetition. Despite this, the cut content and broken promises, No Man’s Sky can be addictive to play as you attempt to find a bigger and better ship, a more capable multi-tool or more slots for your exosuit. Your time here can be incredibly boring, but at the same time, extremely fun and rewarding, even if you have no real direct purpose other than to rename some weird purple space cow.
One Last thing…
While No Man’s Sky is missing a large amount of the content and features that were either shown or promised to us, I have chosen not to penalize the score of the game because of it. I feel that a game needs to be reviewed on the content that is available at launch. While it is possible that the game could have had a better score with that content included, it is possible that the score would have remained the same if that content wasn’t used to its full potential. As it stands, this is my final score on the launch ready No Man’s Sky.