“Who among us has never looked up into the heavens on a starlit night, lost in wonder at the vastness of space and the beauty of the stars?” -Jeb Bush
Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky is one of the most ambitious indie titles released in recent history, and players who have seen any gameplay know exactly why. The game utilizes a little something called “Procedural Generation” – this is where data is created through an algorithm that is executed automatically, as opposed to manually. Of course, this data I’m referring to is used to create things like animals, structures, and landscapes. This concept is extremely prevalent in modern video games because many times it becomes unrealistic to build everything by hand. Tetris, Diablo I, and Rogue are all early examples of procedural generation.
However, Mojang’s Minecraft set the bar even higher for this system, using PG for 3D models on a larger scale. Back in 2009, this was its greatest attraction, as it offered practically limitless possibilities. The selling point for No Man’s Sky? Multiplying Minecraft’s capabilities by 18,446,744,073,709,551,616. Yes, that’s more than eighteen quintillion planets, all of which being roughly Minecraft’s entire size. Obviously, this means that there is a LOT to see in this game – let’s take a look at the visuals (pun intended).
First of all, I just wanted to say this game is absolutely beautiful. Right as the game begins, you pan down from the sky and gaze out at the landscape of the planet. I would go into the details of exactly what you see, but everyone has a different starting planet. Matter of fact, yours will most likely be on the opposite side of the galaxy!
As a new traveller, you find yourself stranded on a foreign planet in a foreign galaxy, and you are tasked with repairing your damaged ship. During this first thirty minutes, the player gets the chance to take their time and really absorb the detailed flora and fauna around them. This new-comer experience was exceptional in a visual respect, but I will discuss that period again later on.
After finally fixing up your ship and leaving the planet’s atmosphere, there won’t be much you can say – except, maybe, “WOW”. Upon entering the solar system, you will be greeted by hundreds of asteroids hurtling towards your ship as well as the seemingly infinite vacuum of space. Daunting? Yes. Incredible? Uh, yep.
From this point, you will enter your first space station, trade with some cool alien dudes, and be on your way.
Okay, so this is where things get a little dicey. It makes sense to quickly lose interest during normal travel through space. However, once you get your boots back on the ground, things can get underwhelming fast.
Here lies the problem with procedural generation. Since there are so many variables involved in the algorithms used, it’s awfully easy for the game to leave only a few disparities between any two planets. Later in the game, you get to build a hyperdrive in order to reach the center of the galaxy – one time, three or four planets in a system were so similar to those of another that I thought I hadn’t warped at all. This is a common side effect of games like these, but one that mustn’t be ignored.
GAMEPLAY, WRITING, and COMMENTS
This subcategory is fairly large, as I’m combining a couple groups. Bear with me.
So gameplay… yeah. Remember when I was talking about the first 30 minutes, and how stunning the graphics were? There’s a flip side to that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so confused and amazed when starting a game before. I know what you’re thinking – “why would you expect a massive free roam game like this to hold your hand”? That’s not what I mean at all.
I mean that the game throws so much at you in the beginning that it barely gives you any time to get the basics down. It feels like the game is pushing you along instead of guiding you. It gets difficult trying to repair a pulse drive while an annoying AI is screaming in your ear “LIFE SUPPORT LOW” – at that point, I didn’t even know I needed to charge Life Support. Things like that aggravated me, but then again it may very well just be me.
Now after that “tutorial” period, I got to farming – a lot of farming. In order to save up to gain materials necessary for the rest of the game, the player needs to gain wealth in any way they can; farming being the best option. This is another area of concern for players (like myself) who don’t wish to farm for hours on end just to gain slight progress.
~NOTE: At this critical stage in the game, No Man’s Sky fails to “enlighten” you with the fact that you can upgrade your exo-suit to hold more materials. Or, even that you can repair crashed ships you find and exchange for your previous one. Not cool…~
*Anyway* You shoot, collect, then shoot again. There is absolutely nothing special about mining, and this is a HUGE downside. Sure, building a personal cave for yourself is kinda awesome, but rarely necessary. Despite this, though, cashing in to finally buy that new ship is always a great feeling.
Transporting yourself around the map is also fairly cumbersome. The most effective way of travelling quickly on a planet is using your ship – of course. But, the game limits you by creating a “Launch Thruster” that needs to be charged. At first glance, it seems like it wouldn’t be too big of a problem – until you see that a single takeoff uses up 25% of the fuel. That leaves you with only FOUR launches (total) before you have to go and find more Plutonium to mine.
Okay, next up – combat. If you do something to upset the Sentinels (robots that guard planets), they will start shooting at you. They are fairly weak, but if you give them time to alert other task forces (giant dinosaur robot included), then it’ll take a bit longer.
There are two other sides of combat in No Man’s Sky, but to be fair, all forms of it are quite average. First I’ll talk about Pirate battles.
These little space skirmishes are extremely frustrating – especially at the beginning of the game. I had just mined a bunch of valuable Emeril from this planet, and I needed to bring it back to my local Space Station to sell. Of course, the second I left, a legion of pirates decided to “say hello”. Due to my low-level ship, I was crushed…
The game doesn’t give you any leeway here, and it is very disappointing. It’s as if they expect you to defend yourself against a group of 4 attackers with your very first ship. Once you begin to progress and purchase new ships, these enemies become much easier.
The final form of combat – random animals attacking you for no reason. You could’ve been walking innocently or even just gotten out of your ship – some creatures are still salty. However, the way you fight them is kind of weird. They circle around you, and you are forced to awkwardly chase them in order to secure their death. It really is a pointless interaction.
The writing in this game is similar in placement to other games, so that isn’t completely new. By “placement”, I mean that instead of certain verbal interactions or hiring a voice actor, No Man’s Sky utilizes text to display what your character is thinking or feeling.
While this has been done before, No Man’s Sky takes this to the absolute next level with Atlas.
Atlas is a god-like entity that guides your character (should you choose to accept it). It’s one of the three main paths, the two others being your journey to the center of the galaxy, and free roam. You are greeted by the first manifestation of Atlas in the beginning of the game – however, the text that appears on the screen is brilliantly written.
“Reality seems to fold in on itself. One moment I can see debris, in another a vast red orb, almost too large and too bright to behold. It knows me, inside and out, more than I ever could myself. Could this be the face of creation itself? Or, in my hazy, freshly-awakened state, am I being manipulated?
A name burns itself into my mind: Atlas. And a request, made without words, that I should follow the path this being, this Atlas, has set for me.”
I know this isn’t English class, but this is why I have been hooked on this game from the start. Elegantly written passages like this one appear throughout No Man’s Sky, in encounters with other life-forms, monoliths, ruins, as well as the other fragments of Atlas.
Most meetings with lifeforms will be at shelters where you can find weapons and mod blueprints. Here, you will be presented with an often unique prompt, in regard to the alien standing in front of you. Your character’s experience will be described extensively with the same effortless style and structure as before. You can help them by giving supplies and increase your standing with their race, or ignore them completely. While it may not seem like much, you’d be surprised to see how much it affects the mood.
(or the rest of my thoughts that I didn’t really think fit into a specific category)
- The UI of this game feels familiar, and resembles those of other games like Destiny and Call of Duty. It’s very natural and doesn’t distract the player from the task at hand. Other than this, I don’t really have anything else to say about it
- There aren’t enough safe points in this game. Sure, you can sort of pause the game (OPTIONS on PS4, ESC on PC), but a space station/atlas interface is, pretty much, the only place where you can safely interact with your gear without having to worry about Life Support. It doesn’t make any sense that my thermal and radiation equipment can stabilize in shelters (makeshift or NPC) and Life Support can’t.
- In a note, I mentioned that No Man’s Sky doesn’t care to tell you that you can get 20+ slots in your exo-suit. Again, the fact that I needed to discover that for myself is a little off-putting.
Overall, I think that if you fed into all the hype leading up to the game’s release, you will most likely be disappointed. I can’t be the first person to tell you that. However, if you respected the fact that No Man’s Sky was created by an independent developer, and that it’s budget was nowhere near that of the run-of-the-mill triple-A game… you will be pleasantly surprised.
It’s clear that many aspects of the game are flawed; some inevitable with this genre – others more simply buffed out by Hello Games. I’m going to give No Man’s Sky a 6.8 for its stellar writing and visuals that will surely inspire developers in the future – but, retains a repetitive and tiresome gameplay experience.