No Man’s Sky touts one very important thing: a mega-huge game world. This is done through procedural generation, and the maths tell us that this means this game can have somewhere around 18 quintillion planets. So does creating a digital galaxy that rivals our own Milky Way equate to being worth the journey?
That last word in the intro is also consequently the most important: this game is in its entirety a journey. This game is primarily about exploration. As part of this, you must survive, and to do that you go from planet to planet. You then gather resources to build up your ship, your suit, and keep yourself fueled up and ready to do the same thing again… and again… and again. In just a few sentences, I described the vast majority of what you do in No Man’s Sky, and it’s the ugliest part of it. Once you get a grasp on resource management, you will find that boredom sets in fairly quickly. So what kept me going? The one thing you MUST have to continue along in a game like this: curiosity. While the underlying philosophy and “story” are part of the presentation factor, I mention part of it here because no matter how good of a gathering nut you are, you WILL be worn thin by how much you have to do it here. I doubt even the grindiest of MMO’s top elite players can handle the amount of gathering done for the sole purpose of going to the next star system. There isn’t much more for me to say in terms of gameplay, because this is where the game is at its weakest and falls almost literally flat on its face. Even the small respites of poorly implemented starship dogfights and FPS combat do little to alleviate this.
Here’s where there is what you might call the completionists ultimate, nightmare of a pleasure. With 18 quintillion planets, no single person will ever catalog all of it in their lifetime. It’s literally impossible to 100% this game simply because you will not live long enough. Some internet maths were done, and apparently if a person visited every planet for only 1 second (which it take a lot longer to just land and get out of your ship), it would take 5 billion real years. Sorry completionists, you’ll die a futile death trying to “see it all”. The good news is that while procedural generation isn’t new, it’s becoming a viable way to create “infinite” content. Prepare for future games to continually randomly generate itself for each replay. It’s just too bad that what you actually do isn’t infinitely enjoyable. Though, if you could do it with others, that would have gone light years (pun intended) in making the “infinite” content more appealing.
Aside from the successful ability to create the biggest gaming world ever made, there is one other very redeeming part of this game that many people seem to not be able to appreciate. This game is, indeed, a journey, and it lays the foundation for a thought process that particularly resonates with me. While I don’t wish to spoil it too much, you have decisions to make, and they leave questions for you to think about. The game successfully questions its own existence and purpose, and is a wise choice for the atmosphere, its size, and its scope. What better time to question your own existence than during the ambiance of traveling the stars in a way no one ever has in real life? There’s a still, a sort of haunting truth to where I’d most likely find myself if I was thrust into such a situation. This makes up that small portion of gameplay I didn’t mention above: seeking answers. Seeking answers is this game’s “story”. To wrap up the presentation, though, I finalize sadly again on less-than-stellar notes: the game’s graphics are definitely subpar for the generation. This is hardly surprising and not entirely deserving of lambast. Graphical performance and visual flair is often associated with a much higher budget which this indie game clearly did not have. Thus, framerate dips and other bland-looking animations and textures should be anticipated with acceptable tolerance. Sadly, it doesn’t stop there, as the game began crashing sometimes on hyper jumps after a black hole jump, indicating a lack of overall polish.
I really wanted to like this game more. It really hits my hot buttons: space exploration; aliens; and the biggest game universe ever made. But unfortunately, underneath its major accomplishment is a bunch of core nothingness. You see, I give major, and I mean MAJOR credit to achieving a workable, procedurally generated galaxy that can never be fully explored. Even now, this continues to impress me because I feel like I have an actual feel for the vastness of our universe thanks to the math that drives this game. I am a curious type, and the questions that have no answers keeps me going even now, but at the end of the day, none of that alleviates the extreme gameplay ennui that forces me to take a break and play another game before returning to space travel like I’ve never experienced before. No Man’s Sky is not a good game, but it’s not a bad one, either, despite its lack of visual and programming polish.
I give No Man’s Sky…