Review: No Man’s Sky (PS4)
Everything the light touches, shall be yours
The Universe is a large place, a place full of wonders, of stories, of untold valour. It is an unexplored marvel and one that needs its own adventure. No Man’s Sky has promised so much in the lead up to its release. A small team creating something massive. A massive amount of hype, which created a little doubt. It’s with us now, but how does it stack up to the massive unknown that is out there?
From the first time I saw No Man’s Sky I was intrigued. I am not generally one for management/exploration games but there was something seemingly special about No Man’s Sky. The grand scale which would allow me to go anywhere, explore everywhere and discover everything gave me the shivers. It sounded like a timeless experience that was not to be missed. Because it wasn’t my usual type of game I managed to stay off the hype train to a degree… thank goodness.
Explore or ExBORE?
In No Man’s Sky you start off on one of the quintillion planets within the game. The amazing algorithms developed as part of the games infrastructure means that everyone starts on their own planet. Here you are confronted with the fact that your ship does not work and you need to fix it to get off the planet.
With your trusty mining tool and scanners you can find and harvest different types of minerals which can be used in your quest to get going. It’s here where the crux of No Man’s Sky is found. You will soon lose sight of the fact that you have an objective as you go about exploring this new planet. More on that in a bit.
Once you are done exploring and have the right tools to fly your ship you can take off from the planet and enter an orbital space where you will be able to discover more and more planets, space stations and even just mine asteroids floating around. Once in the big open space you can set a course to the next planet and discover new things by landing there.
Fly me anywhere, baby.
This is where No Man’s Sky really shines. The flying is amazing and has a real sense of adventure about it. You can see this massive galaxy and just about everything is within reach given the abilities of your ship. Going into Hyperdrive for the first time is amazing but even just flying around and looking at the different planets has a sense of splendour about it.
Once you pick a planet and decide to land on it however, it’s where the magic seemingly ends. Yes, there are no load times whatsoever making the entire galaxy a huge open world and what the game does in that respect is quite incredible. The procedurally generated planets are quite something to see and landing on so many different terrains is spectacular when you look at it from your ship.
Making magic disappear is magic too right?
Sadly, the magic pretty much ends there. The first time (see I am going back now) you find yourself on a planet you realise that mining is a big part of the game. There are different types of items such as Plutonium, Iron, Carbon, Thamium, Aluminium and so on. You also realise at the first planetary adventure that survival plays a big part of the roaming around. Each planet has a specific atmosphere and depending on its makeup you will have to ensure that your life support mechanism and your exosuit are kept intact. The silly thing is, no matter what type of terrain you are on the way to manage this and survive remains the same no matter how long you play. Life support always requires the same items, and they are easy to come by so you never truly feel any sense of survival.
In fact, survival is one of the biggest chores in the game. Because it is easy enough, and actually doesn’t really matter seeing as if you die you can pick up all your lost items immediately. The survival aspect is a pain and just gets in the way of the exploration of planets. It feels almost as though it was an afterthought. Like, hey this planet should have a storm which takes away your life support quicker… which actually just results in you restocking more often and that ultimately breaks the flow of the game.
It isn’t helped by the fact that the inventory management is one of the worst I have ever experienced in a game. It is so limited from the start that there were some points where I felt like just giving up. Thankfully you can upgrade the suit so that you get more space, but it still feels clumsy and clunky to manage.
If you think the inventory management is a chore then you have no idea how much exploration becomes a chore too. At first I was blown away by the different planets I was landing on. One was completely flat and roaming with animals/creatures all over the place. The next had mountains and ruins and filled with plants, trees and other fauna, while another had oceans in between the little islands I could explore. It seemed wondrous.
Pretty sure I have been here before?
Sadly that astonishment quickly faded away when you realise that your tasks on each planet are exactly the same. After over 30 hours of playing the game I was doing EXACTLY the same thing I did on planet 1. Mine for items, top up my life support, mine some more, scan this animal and that animal, name some hideous creature after a friend, refuel my ship and fly around some more. It sounds great at first, but after a while you just want to get on with it and pray something different happens.
It never does though. Things like discovering Knowledge Stones and learning new languages of the different alien races is great, but doesn’t add that much because your conversations with the aliens are some of the most dull experiences I have ever had in a video game. It’s ironic that a Journey Milestone cutscene shows how many aliens I have met because in all honesty it may have just been the same alien 30 times. They are lifeless, never move and are almost completely pointless. I even had one interaction where the text pop up told me the alien was grateful for my help and was going back to his family immediately… he was still there in the exact same place when I returned hours later.
Exploration is definitely the big part of No Man’s Sky, but there is a storyline included, or rather a narrative section which has you following the path of Atlas. This is quite a philosophical and interesting take on the existence of the universe and your place in it and without spoiling too much led to some great, thought provoking moments. However, even getting to those points of the narrative were tiresome. At first it was awesome, I had to mine and craft items to get my warp drive working and using that warp drive looked incredible the first time. However, before long you realise that you just need to keep mining and crafting the same crap over and over, warping to new systems, explore the same places with different aesthetics and then warp again until you reach the Atlas sections. Tedium personified.
Who doesn’t like a bit of action?
If you think the mining and crafting gets old quick then you should see the “action” bits of the game. On each planet there are sentinels which will attack you if you try gather too much, or shoot animals. These brief FPS bits are so horribly mismatched that most of the time I would try run away or get in my ship so the sentinels would leave me the hell alone. You’d think being attacked by space pirates would be cool but these encounters are nearly as dull as anything else and apart from delaying further exploration really add little.
A fun story though is that when I wanted to get a new ship I sold everything in my inventory so I could afford the new ship, but I was still a little short so I went out to mine a little more. As I left the space station with absolutely no cargo, I was immediately attacked by space pirates with a message popping up that they wanted my valuable loot… right.
Getting a new ship is key by the way, especially in terms of inventory management as it offers more space, but the pricing is high and requires a lot of mining and exploring which would be great if that part of the game didn’t make me want to drink coffee every 5 seconds to stay awake.
Nearing the end, promise!
I think this review is already too long and unfortunately quite negative. It’s a pity because No Man’s Sky has such potential, and maybe through updates that will still be reached but for now it just doesn’t live up to the hype, or any hype. It’s sad how much love I had for it in the first 2 hours only to see it completely dissipate thereafter. In fact, I don’t think I even realised how much I didn’t enjoy playing until I started writing this.
There are strong points to the game though. Landing on the various planets is amazing, as is flying through space. Hell, I could easily spend hours just flying around if I didn’t have to go mine for more fuel. There are cool creatures despite them getting a little too much after a while. The soundtrack and beauty of the game is definitely the highlight, it’s enchanting and relaxing to play and listen to and even the humdrum of mining has a sort of Zen feel to it which was quite relaxing.
No Man’s Sky is ultimately a disappointment, and it’s hard to recommend it at the price it is going for. Half that price? Sure I do think that would make it more appealing to many but until it offers a bit more than what it does now even that might be a stretch. Still, it will appeal to many gamers but it’s definitely not the exploration management game I was hoping it would be.
Note: I played over 30 hours of No Man’s Sky and have not reached the centre of the galaxy yet. From what I have heard that’s as much an anti-climax as the Atlas section was. I’d love to say that I will continue playing to get there, but I am just not sure I have the patience.