After three years, a ton of hype, and a bunch of anger, No Man’s Sky is here, finally, in our hands. And with it, comes controversy. The recent hubbub over the apparent lack of multiplayer in the game is just a starting point of contention, and a legitimate one as Hello Games director Sean Murray has been cagey regarding an actual answer to that question. Whatever the truth is about the multiplayer, or lack thereof is still unknown. What is finally known is what type of game No Man's Sky is, as well as the effect it has had on the gaming community at large.
For many, it has been a positive experience, with millions of creatures, planets, systems and locations being discovered, uploaded, and named within a day of release. Others are having a negative experience, feeling the pull of monotonous play as you go through the motions of the game and are forced to find a new purpose, a direction in a directionless universe.
No Man’s Sky is what they promised it would be, and that may not be a good thing for the majority of players out there. Everything in the game is busywork. Like any space simulator, the busywork is finding the right tools, resources, and items for the job, charting the right course of action or planning your next move carefully. You can buy, sell, trade, steal, mine, fight, or simply explore in No Man’s Sky, but it is all you do ultimately. There is no goal, outside of the nebulous end goal of finding the center of the galaxy or uncovering the secrets of the “Atlas,” a sort of proto-alien race that has left behind thousands of ruins across each planet.
Even these goals are a bit amorphous, as they are not rigorously enforced. In the end, the player is their own taskmaster- you set out to create your journey, whatever it may be. The lack of quests or any form of direction already makes No Man’s Sky more akin to a survival game than most space simulators. Throwing in a crafting system and resource gathering just guarantees a niche product being pigeon-holed for the general consumer.
The biggest selling point is still its size. It is the sheer scope of what the game is offering the player that is simply staggering; a universe so large, you as a player can feel lost and insignificant to the galaxy around you. With that, the number of tasks a player can go through, all of which is in a single sliver of this universe, is nothing but astounding. Like it or hate it, No Man’s Sky has just pushed the boundaries of what can be possible in a game, all thanks to math and algorithms.
In that respect, No Man’s Sky is already a technical winner and a personal game of the year contender. As a game, it is able to take those same algorithms to make rather simple and mundane tasks incredibly complex in execution, letting players play in the sandbox their way. This all occurs, despite the lack of direction the game actually gives you.
One quick story to show what I mean. After landing near a small outpost on a radiation-filled planet, I come across a message machine. After solving a short logic puzzle, I unlocked a new location to look for, a ruin, far in the distance but worth investigating. Several minutes later I find the ruins, submerged underneath a radioactive lake. Jumping in was a death sentence – my exosuit couldn’t handle such radiation.
Luckily, some time later on another planet in this system, I found a technology upgrade to give me radiation protection; an upgrade I couldn’t craft without buying resources on the intergalactic market. So, after fighting off space pirates with poor shooting controls mixed with my general lack of skill, I was able to reach the space station in the system and traded up a ton of my resources for the right components to craft and install the upgrade.
I finally headed back to the original planet, and after dealing with oxygen levels and being as quick as possible, I was able to not only locate the ruins under the water but find out more lore about the alien race the Korvax, along with a new word to understand their language.
In any other game, such a task would be a quest chain that the player, fully guided to completion for points, experience or loot. For No Man’s Sky, this entire adventure, taking over two hours to do, is a quest I chose to do, a problem I chose to solve.
In that time, I did pretty much what the game has to offer you- mined resources, located ruins, learned alien languages and traded for units, the currency of the universe. I defend against hostiles with mediocre FPS controls and finally, flew around a planet until I landed near the location I was searching for. On their own, these elements become weaker and more monotonous, but strung together by creating a goal, they become an adventure for a player like me to experience.
In that way, No Man’s Sky will be a tough sell still, because not everyone wants to set their own goals or participate in a journey in the making. Yet for all the faults or monotonous gameplay, there may be, the journey itself becomes the glue that holds it together making user-created quests worthwhile.
Barely twelve hours in, I feel like a veteran of this universe already and we know it’s impossible to see everything the game has to offer. Is No Man’s Sky a good game? My first impressions are quite positive, but it really will depend on how players choose to play it. Those looking for goals or camaraderie in-game will be disappointed, and the repetition of the sheer number of tasks you can do can lead to tedium if you are not careful.
For me, enjoying the majesty of something nearly infinite, which is possibly beyond comprehension, makes the game an exhilarating experience. In that way, No Man’s Sky might be a better fit for players if they are willing to let go and just see what happens.
No Man’s Sky is not a game that can be easily described, and even this piece had me scratching my head as to what to really say. If there is one mantra that fully fits No Man’s Sky, it is a constant, ongoing journey in the making for everyone who plays it. And no one can take that sky from me.
No Man's Sky was played on PlayStation 4 with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It will be available on PC via Steam later this week. A full scored review of No Man's Sky is still forthcoming.