We’ll have a review of No Man’s Sky for you soon enough, but before then I’ve spent a good 10 or so hours with Hello Games’ spacefaring game and wanted to share with you my early thoughts.
In a nutshell, No Man’s Sky is an inconceivably large game, but with the absolute minimum to actually do. I’m trying so desperately hard to like it, but ultimately it feels like a shell of an experience.
The basic tenets are much the same as just about any survival game. You begin No Man’s Sky stranded on a strange planet. Serving as a tutorial of sorts, you must gather resources to fix your scanner, your multitool and your spaceship.
While you’re doing this you have all sorts of meters to manage. Atmospheric effects such as cold, heat or radiation prove a constant drain on your shield, while a separate life energy must be similarly topped up. Grabbing some zinc seems to do fine for the former, while the latter is topped up with carbon. Running out? Just punch a plant and get some more.
On top of this you must keep your multi tool supplied and your jet fuelled with no less than three different types of energy. The early stages at least are one giant juggling act. Exploration is made genuinely difficult through a combination of tiny inventory and dwindling life bars. It’s spinning plates: the game.
Take this same basic concept and you can extrapolate it out to my entire experience so far. While you’re exploring planets you’ll come across schematics. Each of these requires a combination of resources such as plutonium, platinum, thaumium-9 etc. So you head out with your mining tool, try to find the resources and then craft the object.
Your ultimate aim is to head to the centre of the galaxy. So first of all you’re looking for the right parts to make a jet propulsion engine powerful enough to leave a planet’s surface. From here you can then land on any planet within that solar system. Then you’ll be looking for supplies for a warp drive so you can leap to the next galaxy over. Rinse and repeat. While I’m not that far in, I’m presuming to get any real distance going I’m going to need some sort of ultra warp drive capable of leaping many, many light years.
Aside from mining on a planet, the only other activities are exploring and cataloging plants and animals. A select few of the 20 or so planets I’ve landed on have been mildly interesting to wander around for a bit, but the very nature of its procedural generation has dictated nothing has been truly enthralling. What really hurts No Man’s Sky is that each planet is a single biome. They seemingly stretch on for hundreds of miles, but in reality you can see or do everything this planet has to offer within a mile of any given spot you land your ship. I haven’t been fortunate enough to see anything remotely like the trailers yet. Perhaps my opinion will change when I stumble on one of these paradises.
Dotted about these planets you’ll spot some life, which for the most part seems to be varying combinations of animal parts stuck together in different sizes. I’ve seen chicken-legged dinosaurs and giant floating brains but the majority tend towards being reptile sheep things. You can scan every unique creature and tag it with your own custom name in the database. Same too for planets and entire solar systems. I did this for the first few each, before the earth-shattering pointlessness of it finally dawned on me. This universe is so big odds are no one will ever come here and again, and how will I even know?
My expectations for No Man’s Sky since it was first shown have always trended towards low. It looked like a solid 6 or 7 long before the wave of hype had turned into a tsunami of puffery, but I hoped against that it could actually turned into the game many people were dreaming of. For years we asked ‘what do you actually do in No Man’s Sky?’. The reason we all had to ask that was because, in truth, you don’t actually do anything of note. Those very first words from Hello Games that it’s a game about exploration and a journey to the centre of the universe are precisely what No Man’s Sky is. And, for a certain segment of audience I’m sure it does this extremely well. No other game has ever attempted scale on anything like this. It’s a genuine universe on a disc. That alone makes it a fascinating curio, and I’d say it’s at least worth trying at some point just to grapple with its gigantism. But aside from its size and the brief sense of wonder, there’s precious little going for it for me, at least at this point.
If I were to pin a score on No Man’s Sky at this early stage, well, it wouldn’t be great. I’m actually not looking forward to starting it up again. Fingers crossed it gives more back to me over the next 10 hours but I haven’t got high hopes. For now it strikes me as a classic case of building the game around the technology rather than the technology around the game.