No Man’s Sky Review
From its first reveal at E3 2013, No Man’s Sky has been a hugely anticipated title. Based on the premise of being a lone explorer in a massive and entire procedurally generated universe that is just screaming to be discovered (even if no one can hear you scream in space) it sounds like a solid concept on paper. The question is, how does the concept translate into game form? Well, you are just going to have to read on to find out.
No Man’s Sky is an exploration game supplemented by a range of crafting and survival elements that plays into the same vein as titles such as Minecraft, Don’t Starve or Terraria but on a much larger scale. Players begin the game marooned on a planet and need to repair and upgrade their crashed spacecraft before they are able to leave. With very little hand holding players are forced to explore whilst learning the basics of resource gathering, staying alive and crafting before they can leave the starting world. After which, the universe becomes their playground.
The core of the game continues in a similar fashion with gameplay revolving primarily around exploration of new planets. This is done in the hope of acquiring blueprints to improve your Spaceship, Exosuit and Multi-tool and either trading for or harvesting the required materials to purchase said upgrades. The ultimate goal is to reach the centre of the universe and to do so, you’ll constantly need to explore planets to fuel or upgrade your hyperdrive in order to make the jump to the next star system. This sets in motion a necessity to farm resources in order to progress and whilst this is good for the first few start systems, after beginning to see similar planets pop it begins to feel less of an adventure and more of a grind.
Survival elements also come into play as players will need to manage several attributes including their life support system which will need to be refuelled frequently and a hazard protection shield (hot, cold, acid, radioactive etc.) which will drain constantly, and more quickly under certain conditions. Players will also need to manage their health and shield meters when they contend with hostile wildlife or get on the wrong side of the Sentinels, a galactic robotic police presence which will attack you if you get a little greedy with resources or kill too many animals. Space can also turn hostile, with space battles occurring with regularity that range from being ambushed by small groups of space pirates to defending giant space freighters from bandit attacks.
Fortunately, there is other content on offer to break up the monotony of resource gathering, crafting and survival elements. As players explore the various planets, they can also scan and catalogue each planets various animals and plants. The first player on each planet to do this will be able to name not only the plants and animals but also the planets and the star system itself. This data can be uploaded to a central data point and you’ll be rewarded with Units (the galactic currency) for your troubles. It’s a cool idea and one that someday someone else may be able to encounter and be appalled or impressed by your naming skills.
Whilst exploring buildings and space stations players often run into intelligent lifeforms from one of three distinct alien species (or at least I only ever bumped into three) and talking to them often presents you with a choice that when picked correctly will earn you a reward. Unfortunately, the language will all come up as illegible garbled text which will start to make more sense after exploring alien ruins and monoliths which will teach players specific vocabulary from each of the three languages.
The universe itself is procedurally generated, which means the planets contained within it (all 18 quintillion of them) are procedurally generated as well, right down to structures you encounter, the weather and the planet’s flora and the fauna. Initially you’ll be amazed by the size of the planets, the various biome styles and the assortment of wildlife, but after exploring a few planets you’ll start to see a lot of repetition coming in. The game plays with a lot of recycled assets – you’ll see the same 4-5 outpost structures over and over again, many of the plants and animals look very similar no matter the climate – they simply swap out various features and virtually every cave in the game looks exactly the same. Despite the sense of sameness between locations, you have to hand it to the developers – No Man’s Sky is a technical marvel and only when you reach the star map is it possible to fathom the ridiculous scope of the game’s universe.
Visually the game looks especially impressive piloting a ship through space with coloured gas clouds, large freighter ships, asteroids and behemoth planets filling your view. On the ground the visuals are also quite nice, with each of the various biomes (tundra, jungle, dead, paradise etc.) having its own unique look. Unfortunately though, the game’s procedural generation can’t quite keep up with players moving at high speed in their starships at low altitude and there is a significant amount of texture pop-in which can be a little jarring but never lasts long enough for it to be a serious problem. The game’s soundtrack is sublime, with a selection of tracks that do an amazing job of promoting a sense of isolation and with the gameplay that sees players by themselves (unless they are fortunate enough to bump into another player) it creates a wonderful melancholic atmosphere.
Unfortunately, whilst Hello Games have created an amazing universe to explore, there are quite a few negative attributes that are going to put off some gamers. First and foremost the game’s core gameplay and objectives are incredibly repetitive – go to planet, mine resources craft upgrade/fuel, travel to new star system, go to a new planet, rinse and repeat. Perhaps the most baffling of issues is the inventory system in which a game that revolves around harvesting reagents has far too few slots available in the exosuit/spacecraft until you can earn some money to either upgrade the suit (if you can locate upgrade locations of course) or trade in your ship for a better model. Furthermore, although the developers have implemented some additional elements to make things a little less dull for those uninspired by the collection and upgrading gameplay, both the first person shooting and starship flying and combat gameplay is quite shallow and feel underdone. The graphical issues mentioned earlier really are almost constantly present when in your spacecraft with the texture pop-ins frequently noticeable when entering a planet’s atmosphere which feels a little jarring. Perhaps most irritating problem of all with No Man’s Sky however, is that it has a tendency to crash (quite a lot as well) and when this does occur, it erases any unsaved progress in the process. Not fun.
Ultimately No Man’s Sky is a bit of a mixed bag. I absolutely loved the exploration and for days on end got hopelessly addicted to the cycle of resource gathering, upgrading and moving on and there is nothing quite like reaching space for the first time and seeing the size of the planet you just escaped from, but there are also a significant number of issues that also detracted from the experience. No Man’s Sky’s procedurally generated universe is undoubtedly an incredible technical feat and a decent game, but its shallow gameplay mechanics and its relentless focus on scavenging reagents is most definitely not going to be a game that everyone will enjoy.
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