Waking up on Saturday morning to find my copy of No Man’s Sky in the mail put me in a rather tough predicament indeed. You see I like many others have been cautiously optimistic about this game for what feels like years and so being given the chance to begin my adventure into the unknown days early was a proposition that I found too hard to turn down.
So yeah, my impatience got the best of me despite having been forewarned by the dev team that the unpatched version wasn’t reflective of the final day 1 version.
By day 1 version I of course mean version 1.03 which as you’ve probably heard altered just about every aspect of the game. There are many other places where you can see a rundown of the changes but suffice to say the patch improved upon the vanilla game vastly and 1.03 is the version that I have based what I say here on.
I don’t really want this to be another “So what do you do on No Man’s Sky” article and so I’ll try to sum the game up as quickly as I can. You explore planets to gather resources to sometimes but not all of the time sell them to make money on the galactic market. Otherwise you can use them in the process of powering up and or upgrading your suit, gun and ship. There are traders to trade with, languages to learn, animals to feed, radioactive hellholes to avoid and the occasional pirate to blow up.
There are traders to trade with, languages to learn, animals to feed, radioactive hellholes to avoid and the occasional pirate to blow up.
I should’ve probably started by saying that for me No Man’s Sky has so far presented itself as a good value proposition. You may think that’s an obvious statement given the 18 quintillion planets that the game offers budding explorers…… (feel a but coming?). However, I remain unconvinced that the relatively simple gameplay loop that you’ll settle into quickly will be able to sustain the average players interest beyond a couple dozen hours.
Now obviously, time spent on a game is not the same thing as time you’ve enjoyed playing said game. It’s the old quality over quantity argument and for a couple hours of slack-jawed wonderment followed by few dozen more of some standard but enjoyable exploration, trading and survival gameplay No Man’s Sky delivers. I feel as though it all adds up to what will be one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ll have this year.
Notice how I said “experience” as that’s what the game really sets out to be. You see, no one aspect of No Man’s Sky’s gameplay stands out as being great by itself. The dogfighting is simple as can be, survival is a case of keeping an eye on a few meters whilst staying out of storms and on foot combat is functional at best. You have to take the package as a whole as it’s more of a jack of all trades where the end result is a game that will overwhelm you one moment with its unimaginable scale before letting you down slowly as the magic wears off and you begin to realise that the 18 quintillion planets appear to offer little by way of gameplay variation.
I think I would have perhaps been harsher on the game if I hadn’t been expecting this but it appeared clear to me from the trailers that this is the game they’ve always been selling. Those who would repeatedly ask prior to release what you actually do in No Man’s Sky where the reply would always be some crafting, exploration and survival were and probably still will be unwilling to accept that maybe that is all you do – over and over again.
I don’t want to go into spoiler territory with what plot of the game has but there does seem to be a fair amount more than I was expecting. Bumping into aliens on planet outposts usually throws up a small puzzle where you have to work out what the alien is asking you for which is made harder by the fact that you have to learn each word of their language to not just make it a guessing game. There are a few other types of mission such as abandoned buildings that again throw up some very light, almost text-adventure feeling puzzles. My personal favourite were the broken down ships that you can find, repair then use for yourself. The reason I liked those missions is because they offered a reward that I could actually make good use of unlike all the duplicate Omni-tool upgrades that the game swamps you with all too often.
In terms of the multiplayer portion, you’ll likely be unsurprised to hear that it’s minimal. This was always going to be the case what with players all being spread across such an unfathomably huge space. Also, I did say that there was more story than I was expecting but that doesn’t mean that you should be picking this up for it as it’s still very much in the background of everything else the game is trying to do. Please bear in mind that I have not technically finished the game and if I wanted to I’m sure there would be plenty more hidden story bits for me to uncover and put together.
Perhaps one of the game’s biggest draws is weirdly enough how it allows you to name most of what you discover. Having let my younger brother loose on the game I know that you can get away with some rather off-colour names whilst others it appears to be somewhat fussy over. There is a strange thrill though to naming every animal you come across after your favourite pet or just being a bit evil and dooming a planet or system to be called something mind-numbingly stupid.
In terms of technical performance, I can’t say I’ve experienced too many issues whilst playing on PlayStation 4 post patch. There is still a noticeable amount of pop in when travelling at a speed and the transition from space to planets is occasionally a tad rough looking which does detract somewhat from player immersion and the powerful kick of the moment. Visually the game shifts in quality between planets. Some by their nature are a bit bland and brown whilst others are packed with colourful fauna and interesting, unique feeling sights. Sadly for every one cool planet I would find there would be three that felt overly familiar and dull. Perhaps this was just bad luck but it nevertheless made me question how many of those 18 quintillion planets are worth exploring.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever reach the centre of the universe, I can’t say that I feel compelled to but despite how unspectacular the gameplay may be I still came away feeling like I’d experienced something special. However, if what you’re looking for from No Man’s Sky is hundreds of hours of enjoyable gameplay then I can’t promise that you’ll get that. I know I’ll have had my fill long before then; perhaps until the next big patch rolls around or in the unlikely event that the profanity filter is abandoned.
Hello Games is clearly a very talented team and they’ve laid some solid foundations that I feel need to be added to urgently if they want to retain player interest. The addition of base building and freighter ships however does sound like a promising start towards making this a more fully realised offering.
So would I recommend it to everyone? No. Would I recommend it to those who are aware of and feel they could be accepting of the caveats? Yes. And that’s all there really is to it.