A whole new world.
It feels like a lifetime ago that developer Hello Games first showcased No Man’s Sky. Rarely does a game garner so much attention, especially one from a team so small. The same folks that brought us Joe Danger are crafting this ambitious title; a game so large, no one could ever see all of it. Endless worlds to explore, things to discover, it sounds like a fantasy. There is zero chance this game can live up to the hype. It is an impossible task.
Now that the game is finally out, I have spent countless hours exploring this galaxy – naming star systems ridiculous things, messing with the wildlife, and trying to survive harsh environments, all in the name of galactic exploration. The number one question on everyone’s mind is “what exactly is No Man’s Sky?” Well, that answer is not as simple as I had hoped. It is an ambitious game, it is an important game, and most of all, it is an impressive experience.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $39.99
No Man’s Sky starts off by dropping players onto a random planet. Their ship is busted, and the first goal is to find resources to repair it, in order to continuing exploring the galaxy, and thus reach the center. The mysteries are abound, and those that choose to follow the narrative path will uncover plenty along the way. The game never forces that path though. Players are free to simply explore, granted they are willing to mine the resources required to do so.
Everything in NMS requires resources. My life support, my health, my mining gun, and of course my ship, all need something to make them work. Every planet is filled with these things. From plutonium to carbon, every planet I visited had these things, and it was my job to harvest them to keep pushing along throughout the stars. This is the game play loop.
There are essentially three facets to maintain. The exosuit, the ship, and the gun. Each one can be upgraded over time, and each one is essential to progression. The ship requires fuel to take off, to fly, and of course to power its hyperdrive, which lets players move to new systems. The exosuit keeps players alive, and safe from environmental hazards. Finally the gun mines resources and takes down hostiles. No Man’s Sky is a survival game, first and foremost.
Exploration of planets is as relaxing and enjoyable as I had hoped. These alien worlds are sometimes gorgeous, sometimes harsh, and always massive. There is a lot to see, sadly a lot of it is familiar thanks to the fact that the entire game is built on procedural generation. Everything in the world is created using an algorithm, nothing is hand-designed. What this means is that creatures and terrain are oftentimes similar, with a few minor tweaks. I spent hours on planets that felt like the last orange rock I was on. With so many to visit, it was bound to happen, but when I did find that rare varying one, it felt special.
This game walks a narrow path between being too big for its own good, and simply awe-inspiring. There is a lot here, and on a technical level the team at Hello Games have accomplished something no one expected them to pull off. This game is a milestone, something that should be discussed, and will likely be a blueprint for future titles of its type. There is a lot of game here, but there is also a ton of useless and boring content. The price one pays for having a nearly limitless world.
The game play loop is pretty standard fare for this type of game. The upgrades are useful, and uncovering alien languages is a neat touch. The biggest issue I had came from the lack of inventory slots. For a game that is asking me to mine several resources and explore and discover, it certainly limits me on what I can carry around. I get it, it is a design choice, but when I think about how much more interested I would be in exploring these generated worlds without having to micromanage how much iron I was carrying, it makes me sad. I wanted to be free of these shackles, I wanted to explore.
Visually the game can be stunning. Breaking the atmosphere of a planet, seeing its surface for the first time, can be amazing every time it happens. Hello Games nailed the sense of scale and scope. Blasting through the stars, barreling towards a new world always feels good. While a lot of the worlds I hit felt extremely similar, they all looked great. Especially for a game with as much to see and do as NMS has. The PS4 version definitely has some technical limitations such as terrible draw distance when entering a planet’s atmosphere, but as a whole, it is really a beautiful game.
The audio doesn’t fare as well. While the soundtrack can be beautiful, it also has moments of weakness. Tired riffs and anthems drag down the exploration, while sound effects and general atmospheric audio do not sound great. Almost as if they were sometimes recorded in a tin can. It can be jarring.
No Man’s Sky is an important game. I hate to sound cliché, but truly this is a game that is not for everyone. Some will love it, others will hate it, but at the end of the day it is impossible to ignore its importance. Hello Games achieved what they set out to do. They have crafted a massive galaxy of planets for players to explore. That feat is nothing short of extraordinary, and I think everyone who enjoys games should experience that. Whether you come out of it with a smile or a frown, it is entirely dependent on how much you are willing to put up with to explore a nearly endless galaxy.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.