by Joe Aliberti
First off, let me say that I love exploring. Morrowind was one of my favorite games because there was a cave over there, or some shrine over here, or some house way out there. I couldn’t just go from point A to point B. I couldn’t take the silt strider to get to a different town – no, I had to walk. And I couldn’t just take the path. I’d look off to the side, get distracted, and find this thing or that thing and completely forget where I was going. Over the course of 3-4 years, I put close to 300 hours into the game when I beat it, and that was while I was also playing other games and stuff. One of the first mods I installed was no more cliffracers because SERIOUSLY…they should know better by now.
I love exploring so much that I broke Oblivion. The way it was designed, it matched combat difficulties to your level – but not equipment. By the time I hit the first Oblivion gate, I was level 11 or 12 or something, trying to fight Daedra with rusty equipment, and I could only do two things – Jack and Squat. There was a mod that fixed the encounter scaling, but Oblivion never had the same draw as Morrowind for me since it was so much smaller. Skyrim was good, but compared to the sheer scale of Morrowind with cities like Vivec, it was still missing something.
There’s something else to the humbling experience of feeling small. Insignificant. Alone. And then surviving despite that, maybe growing to be something powerful.
Enter No Man’s Sky to up the ante on that feeling.
Looking at the sheer NUMBER of stars and planets, I feel small and insignificant. Looking at the stars and learning about our galaxy, and nearby galaxies, and further away the thousands upon millions of other galaxies, I feel small and insignificant. Learning that we’ve found evidence of planets orbiting those stars – at least evidence of those planets from millions of years ago – is overwhelming. I can’t describe how choked up I get in learning how much is OUT THERE. How much we don’t know and won’t know in my lifetime, or how many generations it might take to learn more. There’s a certain lonely hope that goes with those experiences for me. I dreamed of being an astronaut – what kid didn’t? One or two kids in my class went to space camp. I only dreamed of that. I subscribed to Odyssey Magazine as a kid and imagined exploring space. I watched Star Trek and imagined a future where mankind was united and engaged in exploring strange new worlds, boldly going where no man had gone before. I wanted to scan things with a tricorder, catalog findings, and be part of that team. I wanted to see sunrises on a binary star system, see multiple moons in the sky, wait out strange storms, and be one of those pioneers.
After about 30 hours of gaming, I can say that No Man’s Sky scratches that explorer itch I have on a very visceral level. I can lose myself and believe that I crash landed on a strange planet that NOBODY has ever seen before. I can scan flora and fauna NOBODY has ever seen before. And I can fix my ship, stock up on whatever I can carry, and explore that planet. I can see moons and other planets from the cratered surface. I can capture pictures of those moments that I’d never want to forget. Without any major transition, I can fly into space and go to those moons and other planets. I can meet aliens and slowly learn their language as they help me and I help them. I can find other crashed ships with pilots who did not survive, repair their ships, and explore in their better space faring vessel.
There’s a mystery about the sentinels – what they are, why they’re here. The aliens have some interactions and questions about them as well. What is ‘Atlas’ and what’s at the center of the galaxy? I’ve spent too much time visiting maybe a dozen planets and moons to find out much, because I just love exploring that much. I can lose myself in that fantasy. No other game has done that for me, and I love No Man’s Sky for what it IS. Not what was promised or demoed. If you want to just explore and see what’s on the other side of the mountain, then this is the game for you.
But then, the game might crash.
I just have to remember when I go into the Discovery menu instead of the inventory menus, I should wait a second or two for it to start loading information before backing out, because that causes a crash. And then I’m out of that fantasy. But maybe that crash occurred when loading a save, or accepting a gift from an alien. I’ve probably reported 4-5 unique crashes, but crashed a least a dozen times.
Or when I’m flying through the atmosphere, and the ground starts re-forming as it gets more detailed, and the fantasy falls away.
Or when I take off and suddenly get jettisoned through the atmosphere into space, or get out of my ship and am somehow shot out a 4 minute walk away. Apparently that is specific to one type of ship so far, but I don’t know that for sure.
Or when I’m reminded that my life support is low, but it just dropped to 75% which isn’t low in my book.
Or when my inventory is full of minerals and I’ve got to swap stuff around or destroy stuff to carry what I need to and make it to a trading post. Or quickly go into the inventory menu to recharge my ship shields in the middle of a battle with pirates raiding freighter ships – which you never see anywhere else but in space, not on a planet or on a space station, so where are they landing exactly?
I’m glad I got into JUST enough of the hype to want the bare minimum that the game promised – space exploration – without getting into the details that were promised and apparently not delivered. There’s a big thread on Reddit covering everything from faction wars, different types of ships, more unique element names, and so on. A few things I could see getting axed due to focus groups or pressure that things would be too confusing for the general public. Overall the quality is such that it probably needed another two or three months before release, but it already got delayed.
And this is for the PS4 release. Apparently there are bigger problems with PC release. From frame rate issues on more than capable cards (970/980) or using SSE4.1 instructions which fail on Phenom II X6 CPUs, to OpenGL issues and so forth…well, it was bungled, to say the least.
Subjectively, I love the hell out of No Man’s Sky. Objectively, it has a few serious design flaws that take away from the immersion, and the finished product isn’t quite what is shown at the E3 videos and what was shown with Stephen Colbert.
Graphics – The graphics lend themselves EXTREMELY well to screenshots. But, there’s graphical pop-in as, I assume, the procedural generation gets more detailed as the player gets closer. With some of the smaller, more common flora, there’s some obvious palette swapping. Caves basically look the same on most planets I’ve seen so far unless the planet is devoid of life. In that case, the feeling of isolation and loneliness is palpable. There’s a lot of texture/layout reuse for alien buildings, except for doors and a few accouterments in those shelters.
Music – I freaking love ambient space music, ever since discovering Robert Rich and Steve Roach about 20 years ago. 65Daysofstatic is fantastic here, and the music lends itself very well to the starscapes and alien horizons you explore. It is perfect for me, and I can’t imagine listening to anything else while playing the game. If you find that you love this type of music, let’s chat and I’ll introduce you to some neat stuff as well as some concerts in Philly that you could attend.
Sound FX – The sounds of of the game is OK. Ship sounds are ‘futuristic’ and almost sound like distorted Jetson’s cars. The computerized voice gets annoying, I like that the three aliens have unique sound effects. There’s an annoying distortion bug if you share a screenshot from PS4 while a ship is flying by – when you come back the ship SFX is garbled but that clears up in 2-3 seconds.
UI – Stylish, but some design decisions that are ‘neat’ in the first hour or two get annoying after a dozen hours or so. You hold down a button to activate menus and it fills in a circle, taking about a second. It’s not much, and visually better than a confirmation prompt, but if you know what you want to do it can get annoying. Oh, and this wasn’t changed for PC, which doesn’t make much sense.
Mechanics – I’m going to nitpick here about a few things. Certain things are powered by elements you harvest with a mining laser. Plutonium powers weapons, life support, takeoff thrusters, and lasers. Isotopes maintain shields on person and ship. Thanium9 maintains power thrusters. Warp Cores maintain warp engine. To recharge any of these, you have to go into the appropriate inventory, press X on the item, select the fuel, and then go back to playing. The problem is there are several things to maintain, and on extreme condition planets you’ll have to refuel this or that much more often. Or, to build a warp core, you have to build one thing, then a second thing (which consumes the first), then antimatter, then build the warp core. Why can’t I just skip the middleman when building a warp core?
I already touched on having to recharge shields in a dogfight earlier. A better mechanic would be to have you make a quick swipe on the touch pad to replenish shields in a dogfight. Map different elements to a different direction to keep the choice, just make it quick. Or, a radial menu. Something that makes it quicker so that mechanic is pushed out of the way. In addition, elements can be stacked in the inventory at 250 units, or in a ship at 500 units. But some items cannot be stacked. Like a Vy’Keen dagger. 500 units of plutonium, but only one dagger in the ship’s hold.
Finally, procedural generation is great for ‘repeatable randomness’ in creating things. However, there aren’t big extremes that I’ve seen yet. I haven’t seen large stretches of plains, or impossibly high mountains, or giant oceans. I haven’t seen caves that rival those in MineCraft. But I’ve seen creatures that look crazy, and 3 meter sea monsters, and weird pineapple looking eyeball covered things with beaks. But it’s cool, they’re grazing vegetarians. If you see something that looks like a spider with praying mantis claws, it’s probably aggressive.
Gameplay – Looking at No Man’s Sky as a GAME, this will probably get repetitive. Puzzles from interactions (that I’ve seen at least) are simplistic and only come in three ‘varieties’. One’s pattern based, one is math based, and the other is solved based upon how well you know an alien’s language. There’s an awful lot of resource harvesting and building. Looking at it from an exploration perspective, PURELY a let’s see what’s there, is where I see the longevity. I get it. I’ll probably play for a long time before hitting the center of the galaxy, just to explore what’s out there.
Someone on Reddit suggested a photo mechanic would have been great. I agree – doing something like Dead Rising, where Frank West’s photos were scored, would have been amazing. Let that grant the player units for discoveries instead of uploading them.
Should you get the game? Well, it depends. If you’re absolutely in awe by the idea of exploring space, or seeing what’s out there, and willing to spend $60 on something just for that, knowing that it should hopefully improve as time goes on, then go for it. Otherwise, wait for a price drop ($30 is probably your price point) and definitely wait to see what else gets added or fixed.