No Man’s Sky, one of the most anticipated games of this current console generation, has finally arrived. Described as a “…game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy”, the early trailers teased us with living out our Han Solo fantasies, but the question remains – does it live up to all the hype?
Prior to release, No Man’s Sky was the text book example in how to build hype and expectation – trailers displayed beautiful alien vistas, with planets and moons hovering in the sky, each one only a simple flight away in your humble space ship. Each world was teaming with life that was yours to discover and name, every plant and creature having evolved based upon the conditions on it’s home planet, displaying a wide variety of flora and fauna that added to the whole space faring explorer aesthetic. Talk of exploring and trading, of fending off pirates as you travel between planets, all while you quest to the centre of the universe had gamers frothing at the mouth at the sheer potential of what this game could be, but all the while a large and rather significant question remained – what is it you actually do?
The game introduces you slowly to the founding principles of what No Man’s Sky is all about. You awake on your own “home” planet, a unique and virgin terrain hitherto untouched or unseen by anyone but you upto that point. With the game having well over 18 Quintillion planets (that’s 18 followed by 18 zeroes) to explore, it is plausible for everyone on Earth to have hundreds of planets that they could call home. Right off the bat you are given a choice – do you wish to explore the universe yourself, with no goal besides the ambiguous “get to the centre of the Universe”, or follow the Path of the Atlas. Fundamentally the differences here are minor, the core goal being the same, but essentially the Path of the Atlas serves as the games story driven mode, but even calling it that is being a tad generous. One of the resounding issues with No Man’s Sky is the lack of story, and this can take a little getting used to. I have said before how as gaming evolves as a medium we as gamers are becoming far to accustomed to hand holding and direction, however subtle, when playing games. No Man’s Sky has a slight veneer of a story/purpose, but the vast majority of the story in No Man’s Sky is what you bring to it yourself, and I think this has played a major factor in what has turned a lot of people off to the game and what it is all about. Personally I must admit it did take a little bit of getting used to, but as soon as I did my enjoyment of the game increased significantly – and there is a lot to enjoy.
During the first opening beats of the game, and whether you choose to follow the Path of the Atlas or not, the heart of No Man’s Sky is exploration. Each planet or moon has a certain amount of resources to be mined, and this is the crux of the gameplay – mining resources to craft and create new materials or upgrades. These resources vary from planet to planet, and the resources you mine are monitored by Sentinels, small machines that inhabit each planet and protect the resources found there – mine too much or kill too many creatures and the Sentinels might just decide they don’t like the look of you and come in to attack. How you deal with Sentinels is up to you, but it quickly becomes apparent that resources gathering is crucial and so deal with them you must. Do you choose to shoot them down? Run away and hide? On some planets the Sentinels might attack on sight, while on others they are few and far between, but it plays to have a strategy in how to deal with them should and when they pop up, as resource gathering is a key element in No Man’s Sky, and it is the Sentinels job to mix it up a little bit and stop you having an easy ride.
The initial hour or so of the game deals with collecting resources found on your home planet in order to repair your ship, which lays damaged and smouldering when you first boot up the game. Whether this be from a crash or a previous attack the game never explores nor does it need to, as this is merely a narrative device in which to introduce you to the crafting component of No Man’s Sky. Alongside your ship you are pre-equipped with an exosuit and a multitool, and each can be upgraded depending on the resources and blueprints available to you, with both your ship and exosuit serving to also allow you to carry any mined resources alongside the upgrades you have equipped. With any upgrades you craft and apply taking up an inventory slot it quickly becomes apparent that the inventory slots available are stingy to say the least, and so I spent a great deal of time in improving my inventory slots in order to further upgrade my equipment. This can be done in a number of ways, from finding crashed ships and repairing them, or buying a new ship from a trader providing you have enough units to pay for it, but my preferred method was upgrading my exosuit using drop pods scattered around the planets I visited. All of these methods require either resources that are gathered through mining, or units which can be gathered in a number of different ways such as the aforementioned trading with aliens or robot spheres with a link to the ominous sounding Galactic Trade Network. A good chunk of my early hours in-game was spent in doing this, mining resources to fuel my ship and multitool, hunting for drop pods and paying the required amount to upgrade the inventory slots in my suit. Later when these upgrades hit the hundreds of thousands the process expanded a little to include looking for rare resources (designated with a golden star in the trade menu) to sell and increase my wealth to the point that I could afford to hunt down another drop pod and upgrade my suit further. Writing it down in this way makes the process of doing so look quick and simple, but it really wasn’t, and one of the perils of No Man’s Sky is that it is far to easy to get sidetracked by something else.
This cycle is critical to what hooked me in to No Man’s Sky, and it is easy to overlook how quickly the gameplay elements trickle down until suddenly you have gone from mining a few resources to walking deep in a cave hunting down the last creature in your discovery log in order to cash in the 300 000 unit bonus you are awarded cataloguing every animal on the planet in order to use the units to go and buy a new ship. It is in the way these elements come together that Hello Games have crafted a wonderful game that is easy to get lost in, and exploring freely is a critical part to how and why this aspect of the game is successful. Want to trade rare resources? Go gather as many as you can carry and find the best trade price, mining on the planet then selling to a trader found off world. Want to explore and catalogue every animal? Craft an analysis visor for your multitool and off you go. Even if you are less altruistic and simply want to be the biggest baddest explorer in the galaxy, upgrades cost resources, and resources must be mined, and mining drains your multitool of plutonium and it is this trade-off that plays out in so many different ways as you play.
Other aspects of the game include hunting down Knowledge stones and Monoliths, great big ruins that can be found on all the planets you encounter that educate you in the language of one of the three main species found within the universe. Your initial encounters with aliens and certain other NPC’s has what they say sprawled in indecipherable gobbledegook, requiring you to take a guess as to what it is they want. Give them your multitool or not? Report the trader currently committing a crime or help them in doing so? These and many other choices are presented as dialogue options that you initially have to guess as to what the correct answer could be, but as you progress through the game and encounter more Knowledge Stones, your understanding of that particular language improves and is thus translated accordingly, making it easier to receive resources or blueprints and equipment from the traders you encounter that ultimately helps you on your way.
I am now at a stage in my session where I am happy with my upgrades – my multitool has 24 slots and is upgraded sufficiently that I can mine resources quickly, and destroy any attacking Sentinels easily, my ship is upgraded so that I can jump to a star system many light years away or fend off any pirates who make the mistake of attacking me, and my exosuit is fully upgraded to the max number of slots and has enough upgrades so that I can explore each planet freely and gather a wealth of resources, and it is only now that I am starting to feel the game is a bit repetitive. All of the blueprints I receive as reward or recompense I already own, and it is this that is my biggest gripe with the game as this aspect does feel a little unfinished – I am regularly receiving blueprints that I already know yet some of the tabs under the crafting menu are still empty and there is a wealth of items that I still do not know how to craft. Hello Games have already said that base building among other things is still to be added in and it does feel that many blueprints are also missing, to be added in a later patch, and this is a little frustrating during the later stages of the game. However, on that note I must confess, this is after I have completed the Path of the Atlas and fired whole days worth of playtime into No Man’s Sky (I am a teacher on summer holidays, go figure) and I am well aware I have been in a position in which I could do this, but alongside my regular job, with my usual commitments outside of gaming? I would be nowhere near where I am now. With that in mind, No Man’s Sky does offer hours of exploration and resource gathering gameplay, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
If you have been living in a cave for the last week or so you have maybe managed to avoid the vitriol and cries of foul that have been echoing around the internet in the days since the games release, with many claiming the game that we have in our hands is not the game that was promised in the early trailers. Having fired a good few days into No Man’s Sky, I must admit I am happy with how the game plays, and all of the activities I mentioned earlier you can do at your leisure. Do I feel lied to about what the game was? No. Am I disappointed that there is no multiplayer aspect to the game? No. Am I impressed with the sheer scale of the game, the fact that every planet is familiar enough that I can harvest the resources needed to craft, but different enough that I am constantly finding new things to see? Yes. Even today, this very morning while stocking up on a new planet and trying to achieve the last trophy for my Platinum, I encountered a brand new resource that I haven’t found out in the wild before, Calium, found in a spherical stone lying on the ground that I smashed up using my multitool. The game is huge in its scale, and this is more impressive by the sheer size of the studio that produced it. A lot of what has been written on the internet in the week since No Man’s Sky’s release I have found to be rather petty to the point that it is almost ungrateful – No Man’s Sky is an amazing game worth the price of entry. Yes it has aspects that could be improved, but some of these do feel like they are the foundation for something more rather than the finished product. Yes this is a little disappointing, but post-release patching is something that is quickly becoming a standard for the industry, and I am quite excited as to what might come next a few patches down the line. No Man’s Sky is currently a great game, and it has the potential to be a truly amazing one.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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