The wait for No Man’s Sky has been a long one. First revealed in December 2013, developer Hello Games has had to delay the game a few times as well as having their studio flooded. We first published our early impressions of the game when it launched, and understanding the nature of the game, have taken time to play it through in depth before offering a conclusive review. The game has been out for a few weeks and has been one of the more divisive topics in recent gaming history. Some gamers seem bored to tears while others have lost themselves wandering through galaxies for dozens of hours. Acknowledging this variance in gamer orientations and perspectives, in this review we will try and see what the core of this game really is and whether or not it’s a victim of its own hype.
Developed by: Hello Games
Published by: Hello Games
Release date: August 12th, 2016
Platforms: PS4, PC (Reviewed on PS4)
Launch Price: 59.99 USD
No Man’s Sky Features
Embark on an epic voyage: At the centre of the galaxy lies a irresistible pulse which draws you on a journey towards it to learn the true nature of the cosmos. But, facing hostile creatures and fierce pirates, you’ll know that death comes at a cost, and survival will be down to the choices you make over how you upgrade your ship, your weapon and suit.
Find your own destiny: Your voyage through No Man’s Sky is up to you. Will you be a fighter, preying on the weak and taking their riches, or taking out pirates for their bounties? Or a trader? Find rich resources on forgotten worlds and exploit them for the highest prices. Or perhaps an explorer? Go beyond the known frontier and discover places and things that no one has ever seen before.
Share your journey: The galaxy is a living, breathing place. Trade convoys travel between stars, factions vie for territory, pirates hunt the unwary, and the police are ever watching. Every other player lives in the same galaxy, and you can choose to share your discoveries with them on a map that spans known space.
Story and Setting
The story is fairly basic: your ship is in disrepair and you are towards the edge of the universe with an ultimate goal of getting to the center. There are some vague plots of tension but overall the premise is very straightforward. Right as you start you can also choose to take the Atlas path which has you going to a series of different waypoints through the universe.
The setting is an entire universe sandbox. You have free reign to explore the universe at your leisure. Don’t want to go towards the center? Switch to free-form routes and pick a destination within warp range. There are a dizzying amount of planets you can travel to in between, all with their own unique landscapes, flora and fauna and everything in the game is procedurally generated, adding a heavy element of of the random and unexpected.
The game is beautiful, both in space and on land. Planets are quite varied in their construction and scope. Some are dark and gloomy, others are bright and sunny. Some are filled with life; others are more barren. Planets also have some other identifying features like sentinel prescience which can go from passive/minimal to aggressive/high-security. The weather can also make each planet just a bit different with some planets featuring unpredictable weather like storms while others may have extreme heat or cold.
Likewise, animal wildlife does tend to vary quite a bit. From aggressive small spider like creatures to gentle giant animals more than twice as tall as your character to even flying squirrel like creatures. The cool thing about these is despite being procedurally generated (like everything in the game), they all move around in very believable ways. They did not glitch at all during my playthrough.
Unfortunately, the game does have some bugs and glitches that do seem to plague it. There have been several times my ship clipped through a space station. Flying the ship back out did the trick, but it was odd when it happened so randomly. The PS4 version has also had some crashing issues (it seems PC version may as well) but they seem to be improving with every patch.
Some will compare this game to Minecraft and while there is a similarity, it’s not as close as some would expect. The survival elements are a commonality, but as is there is some crafting but no building. Take the survival/resource gathering of Minecraft and expand that over a practically infinite universe and add in procedural generation for animals, plants, etc. and you would arrive at a much more accurate overview of what No Man’s Sky is.
The game is also very minimal on explaining certain things and really pushes you to explore and figure things out on your own. This can be a positive and negative thing. The thrill of discovery is part of the appeal of the game, but sometimes it’s just not obvious how certain things work, or how you are supposed to proceed. Frustration can set in during those moments.
On a planet, you can find anything from aliens to caves to a downed ship to an abandoned building, and several other events. Planets mimic the size of an actual planet, so a point of interest may be more than 20 minutes away when traveling through the atmosphere of the planet in your ship. Going into outer space and hitting your pulse engines will shorten these times considerably, giving the game a feeling rooted in real physics and geography.
The gameplay in No Man’s Sky is where most of the division on the game happens. At first the systems may seem a deep, but they never really go beyond that point and prove a bit shallow as you progress. Your exosuit needs energy for hazard protection and life support, your ship needs energy for its liftoff thrusters (requires Plutonium), pulse engine (requires Thamium), mining lasers, shield (needs an ore of some type) and hyperdrive (warp cells). Your multi-tool also needs energy for its mining beam, blaster and grenades. These needs compel you to seek new worlds, where you will explore and harvest the resources your gear requires.
As you go you’ll also collect technology blueprints that can make your gear more effective like an apparatus that allows you to stay underwater longer or out in extreme cold or heat longer, or makes you’re your blaster be more powerful. Some of these are very helpful and at times essential, and this upgrade system adds the second layer of meaningful activity to the game. Unfortunately that’s also where the meaningful gameplay tends to stop.
One of the big negatives early on is that your inventory on both your ship and exosuit is so small that it’s hard to really figure out what you should be keeping. These new technologies generally take up a slot in your inventory, so you’ll need several more inventory slots before even beginning to care about using them. Once you find the drop pods to start getting more exosuit inventory slots or find/buy a new ship this becomes a much easier process, but getting there can be tricky at times because so many resources get thrown your way from the get go.
Your ship and exosuit can both have up to 48 slots for inventory. Inventory management can be cumbersome at times and this is made worse by being unable to stack certain items despite having more than one of them. There is no item storage beyond your ship inventory and your exosuit so once those slots are full, you’re full. In a game that is built on gathering and improving, it seems counterproductive to have such restrictions on what you can actually gather.
Ultimately the game boils down to exploration and survival while trying to reach the center of the universe or the path you are currently on. There are aliens to meet, languages to learn, units to gather, distances to travel, etc. but it all comes back to exploration and survival. You can scan new objects you find and upload to the database as a resource to anyone else who stumbles across the planets you discover. This formula of seek, explore, gather, improve can be very rewarding if you happen upon a world that has been laid out in a captivating way.
There does not appear to be any actual multiplayer. There were definitely times this was suggested, however as time went on the developers stressed that players should approach this as a single player game. The single player experience with a shared universe concept was not entirely clear in the marketing but as this was not an expectation, it’s difficult to mark any score deduction.
Unfortunately, it really does seem like there could have been more to keep players busy. Players will likely tend to develop their own goals like, “I want X slots for my ship or exosuit” or, “I want to make it to the end of the Atlas path” or even simply, “Let’s get to the center of the universe.” Once that goal is fulfilled it can be difficult for a player to stay motivated to continue on. The game does tend to get repetitive after a while, so once these main goals are accomplished it’s not entirely clear that there is enough compelling content to keep it in regular rotation. Instead it is more of an experience you can return to every few weeks to take a load off and see what there is to see.
Overall, No Man’s Sky will be a very difficult game to get a consensus on. There are moments of discovery that are exhilarating and yet there are definitely points where the game starts to feel repetitive. Procedurally generated games can be both a blessing and a curse in this sense. The lack of defined structure can allow for some beautiful and amazing things, but it can also make it a bit more difficult to get attached to the game as you are mostly dependent on the luck of good RNG to make up for what can be shallow gameplay elements. There is a lot of content here, nearly infinite, but it’s not necessarily going to be infinitely entertaining.