As some or many of you may be aware, No Man’s Sky launched for the PS4 this week. The game marketed on the premise that there are literally a QUINTILLION STAR SYSTEMS TO EXPLORE (in the actual dictionary definition of the world “literal”), the fact that you can go around naming planets, plants, and animals as you discover them so long as you’re the first to do so, and that it is technically possible for a person to play the game for the entire length of their life (again, literally eighty years in the actual definition of that word) and never run into another player, is finally available for purchase and play.
If you’re hearing about this for the first time, yes, it is as amazing as it sounds. If you’ve known about it for a while but aren’t playing it for any reason other than total disinterest or the $60 price tag, get on this. The game ALREADY WORKS, which I know in this era of modern game launches might seem like an impossibility, but it is the truth.
Because this game is so utterly vast, it would be irresponsible to try to give you just one person’s experience and call that representative. So we have… TWOOOOOO!! For each, we’ll have a split of top three joys, and top three gripes.
1) Galactic Trade Simulator 2016
Mine ALL the things, then sell most of them, then mine ALL the things, then sell most of them, repeat until rich or you run out of things to mine. Then buy a bigger spaceship, so you can mine more of the things before having to sell them. Repeat until rich again. Spend money to expand inventory slots and improve your multi-tool, so you can slap better enhancements on your mining laser, turn it into a pistol/shotgun, or a grenade launcher. ALTERNATIVELY, get all the weapon mods possible, rig out your ship with boost, shield, and cannon enhancements and proceed to be a pirate the likes of which the universe has seldom seen, shooting down vagrant trade vessels without mercy. I’ve only done the first thing so far, and it’s been remarkably rewarding.
2) Space flight is Buddha-level forgiving
Usual space flight comes in three (technically four if you count “reverse”, or five if you count hyperspace jumps) modes- accelerated, boosted acceleration, and Pulse Jump. The first two are just variations on a theme, with you still having to steer around obstacles like approaching asteroids in order to avoid taking damage. In these modes you can fire your lazors to clear away said obstructions, usually gaining useful materials for your trouble. The Pulse Jump is a different beast, causing you to hurtle through space towards a distant point until you’re basically right on top of it. Guess what? THE GAME DOESN’T TELL YOU HOW TO STOP! For the most part, as long as you are aimed at a planet of a space station, your ship will pull out of the jump within close range of it, and ignore any and all asteroids between you and your target destination while in flight. That said, you come out of the jump at your boosted speed. I hit my first space station going top speed and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to stop or turn around to avoid it. I smacked right into it and my ship proceeded to spin around and around, arse over teakettle over and over, -without taking damage-, until I figured my shit out and got things under control. I was then able to work my way around to the docking entrance, where I was on-rail pilotted to the actual docking platform. Contrasting this with the horror stories I’ve heard about Elite Dangerous, this is much more my speed. I was quite happy not to have crashed, died, and lost all my stuff, or to have been nuked out of the sky for not figuring out where the dock was fast enough. No Man’s Sky does a really good job of making it difficult, if not impossible, to crash your ship.
3) The joy of discovery is very real
I know now of at least two groups of aliens in No Man’s Sky by name (the Gek and the Vy’keen), and I know another exists because its unfamiliar name appeared one time when I was investigating a crashed ship. There are bits of alien architecture scattered all over, abandoned science camps and colonist facilities, small trading posts, shrines to old forgotten gods, and on and on and on. It’s never hard to find something new, something you haven’t seen before, either that you can profit from or that’s just plain cool to look at. Also the critters, rocks, and plants are fun to look at and name. For example, in the Georgia system, on planet Valkharest, there is a species of blue skinned turtle-like creatures of approximately medium dog size. I named them Squirtle. AND THAT’S PERMANENT, FOREVER. There were a surprising number of tiny cacti on that planet. I named them Lil Timmy. AND THAT’S PERMANENT, FOREVER. Also I swear my girlfriend found miniature owlbears on one of the planets, no joke. Also, headcrabs. That part was less cool.
1) Minecraftian tutorials
If there’s something extremely basic you need to know in order to be able to progress, you can find out what you need from either digging around in menus or Googling it, because this game is really good at hiding the basics from you. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll look down at the little tooltips in the bottom right just in time to see what you need to, but more than likely, like me, you’ll get to caught up in exploring and looking at the amazing alien world you’ve landed in for the first time that you’ll completely miss it and find yourself cursing your lack of inventory space and instruction as to how to even progress.
2) You can almost see the RNG sometimes
Late last night, I docked at a space station, determined to sell some things in order to finally buy a new, larger spaceship. The exact same guy with the exact same ship proceeded to dock ALL AT THE SAME TIME. He docked with his ship, and I approached to do business, and then when I approached the next ship, it was not only identical, but had the same person in it. Then the first one leaves as a THIRD ONE pulls in to land. I bought one of their ships just to break up the band. Okay that’s not true, but it amuses me. Still, things like that kinda harm the immersion, not to mention seeing some of the randomly generated creatures with tails that don’t make sense for their bodies or for the climates or biomes they inhabit. Like a T-rex like creature with a huge, powerful paddle tail you’d see on an aquatic predator… living in a mountainous desert.
3) Difficulty depends largely on what planet(s) are accessible early on
I was lucky. I spawned in on a planet with plentiful flora, fauna, and rare, valuable minerals. All the animals were skittish herbivores, and the only hazard I had to worry about (beyond my inventory running out of space) were the cold nights. Assuming players are allocated to planets 100% randomly, I could just as easily have spawned in on a planet with no flora, copious carnivorous fauna, and semi-sparse materials. I could have had a LOT more trouble getting off my initial planet. I could have spent my first hour of the game running from EVERYTHING.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s Joe Hadsall:
YAY No. 1: Yo dawg, herd u like grind.
“No Man’s Sky” is all about the grind. Those who love a game because its general low-level experience is satisfying will find so much joy in this game. If you like running patrols in “Destiny,” this game is your new spirit animal. If you told Shadowmere to go walk his own damn self in “Skyrim,” and you never fast traveled because you enjoyed hiking and discovering things, this game is your new bae.
What, you hope no one heard you say “bae?” No worries! There’s no one else around to hear you say it! Sure, there’s other players floating around the ‘verse, but they are never in your grill, stealing your kills or beeping their sparrow horns as they zoom by.
YAY No 2. There’s so much atmosphere in all these atmospheres.
I’m at about a dozen hours in, and I’ve explored maybe that many planets, and already I’ve seen a lot of diversity. I’ve found alien trading posts and outposts. I’ve found ruins and relics. I’ve searched oceans and mountains. I’ve even spleunked through existing caves, then blew my way through rock walls when I couldn’t find the exit.
It’s all in pursuit of the next green question mark. Finding new spots provides a unique thrill, and seeing something mysterious is just a couple minutes of walking away keeps me on each planet longer than expected. “No Man’s Sky” is basically more than 18 quintillion different Skyrims.
The look and feel of each world adds to the sense of immersion. The band 65daysofstatic developed an incredible ambient soundtrack, but there are also mysterious noises — one planet had a sound like the big face structure on “Mission to Mars.” So creepy.
This game has mysteries as we move to the center of the galaxy (I’m on the verge of finding out something about Atlas — d’oh I’ve said too much!) but the grind and process make them slow to evolve.
YAY No. 3: You can’t take this name from me.
I agree with everything said above. Naming things is awesome. I named a system and all of its planets after my “Destiny” raid crew. But as awesome as the naming is, it would be even more awesome without one of my biggest gripes…
BOO No. 1: What’s the point of naming if no one can visit?
I haven’t found a way for friends to intentionally visit the planets I discover. No one in my raid crew can fly right now to Rush B Scrubsville in the Rush B Scrubistan system. And based on coverage of the game, I couldn’t see them in the same system anyway. So the only way I can get anyone to see the huge Dickbutt mural I carved into a cliff on Rush B Scrubsburgh is wait for another random to find it. Eventually.
Trust me, I appreciate the solitude. Sometimes “Destiny” and other games are a little too social. But there are awesome things to be found in “No Man’s Sky,” and I’d like to be able to give my friends a grand tour.
BOO No. 2: Not much learning curve.
Tutorials? Nah. Demonstrations? Forget it. You don’t even get to play around with your character’s look. You go straight from the Start button to the shipwreck. Granted, the game puts you on a very safe starting planet, and walks you through what you have to do to find the materials needed for crucial repairs. But things go from Alegbra 1 to Calculus 505 very quickly.
The lack of learning is most obvious on the star map. For a game about traveling between systems and trying to get to the center of the galaxy, it’s difficult to figure out how to get the cursor on the first step of that journey.
BOO No. 3: Not much variety
Remember when I said this is like 18 quintillion Skyrims? That would be more accurate if you found challenging missions or cities filled with characters. Right now, everything you do deals with finding materials, new technologies or creatures. And all those in the first few systems look pretty much the same. About the most interesting animal I’ve found so far is a huge cow with toes as long as its legs. It looks like it’s walking around on Romper Stompers. Remember those? God, I’m old.
Granted, I’m a dozen hours in. I haven’t even figured out how to find an Atlas Card. So I’m hoping that the variety increases the deeper I go in the galaxy.
And that’s exactly why I’m playing the game. Discovery awaits.