Aug 15th, 2016

No Man’s Sky is probably one of the most confusing games I’ve played this generation. That’s not because it’s hard or anything. On the contrary, it’s actually quite easy. The reason it’s confusing is because I can’t decide if I like it or not. Normally, this isn’t a difficult task for me. For most games, I can decide if I like it or not within the first hour. Yet, three or four hours into my journey across the cosmos and here I am, still hopping back and forth on this opinion.

No Man’s Sky starts you out on a unique, procedurally-generated planet. This means that where you start is entirely random; a place nobody else has ever visited. It’s your home and your discovery. Your first task is to repair your ship, get a grip of some of the game’s mechanics, and then do your own thing. For me, this meant surveying my surrounding, learning how to use my multi-tool (a weapon that doubles as a mining utility to mine the game’s precious resources), and rocketing off into outer space.

No Man's Sky - Creature 2

Before leaving my planet, though, I did a little bit of soul searching. Ok, I wandered around aimlessly, but you get the point. My first discovery was new life. If I wanted to, I could’ve named the creature anything that I wanted, within reason. Things like profane words won’t slip by Hello Games’ censors. They thought abou that. After cataloging the creature in my book, I quickly took out my multi-tool and killed it.

I’m not exactly sure why I killed it. I guess it was an instinctive reaction, or I wanted to test out the Sentinels, the patrolling robots that prevent you from stripping the planet dry of its resources or killing off animals into extinction. However, after killing the beast, I was overwhelmed with a sense of sadness. I felt really bad about what I had just done. That’s something I’ve never felt while playing a game. I realized that, at that moment, I had no clue if there was more of it on my planet. I might’ve just killed off the last of its kind. My stomach lurched at this thought. Just a few seconds after this realization, I stumbled upon more of the same species. To make up for my gross act, I fed the creatures some minerals and went on my way. By the looks of things, they were pretty pleased.

After my rendezvous with the planet’s wildlife, I spent the rest of my time on this planet mining resources. Once I was done, I hopped in my ship and rocketed straight into the air. This was one of the most surprising things for me. Those moments in early trailers where the player would seamlessly go from planet to space? That actually works. I was taken aback by how easy all of it was. There weren’t any load times or waiting either. I just kept speeding forward and before I knew it, I was in the dark, cold nothingness that is space.

No Man's Sky - Planet

The first thing I did from here was turn my ship around to take a look at my planet. It was ginormous. I’d go as far as to say that it was about the size of the Earth. From my experience, that seems to ring true for most of the planet in No Man’s Sky. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though. I’ll explain why in a moment.

Once I was done marveling at the technical accomplishments of the game, I set off from my starter planet to a space station. I wanted to sell some goods to the locals.

Landing on one of the space stations for the first time actually scared me. Everything was quiet. The whole place seemed deserted and not knowing what to expect creeped me out. Was there going to be a hostile alien onboard? Would I have to fight my way back to my ship? Ultimately, there ended up being three or four doors I couldn’t open, so I guess I’ll never get the answer to that question.

No Man's Sky - Space Travel

Now, it was time to go to another planet. I saw what appeared to be a mostly water planet nearby. Actually, no, that’s not quite right. At normal speed, my radars indicated that it’d take an hour to get to the planet. No Man’s Sky is huge. However, I used a hyper speed to get there faster (although I should have just used my Pulse Drive to cut my time by around 80% but oh well).

Once I got to the planet, I looked around briefly, went to a depot to trade and sell some of my minerals. Again, I mined the place and set off to a new planet. The same thing happened at the next planet. If you’re noticing a pattern, you’re paying attention.

The most interesting thing I’ve done happened at my most recent planet: KO-35 (shout out to Power Rangers In Space fans). When I initially landed, I started going through the same motions again: look for a depot and go from there. The first depot I stumbled upon had two sentinels patrolling it. Surprise surprise, they are been alerted that I was hostile from my last skirmish on planet Hell. Or so I thought. In reality, KO-35 turned out to be a planet filled entirely with hostile sentinels. Just my luck. I quickly dispatched those two and ran into the depot before backup could come.

No Man's Sky - Abandoned Outpost

The depot was a mess. There were tentacles everywhere and a circle thing just sitting in the middle, begging to be touched. So I touched it. The thing informed me of something. My character said something and I hopped in my ship on the search for the next depot. I found it, rinse and repeat, until I went in to this depot. I paused just as the doors opened. This one was in the same condition. “What the hell?” was my initial reaction, followed by a slight tense feeling in my body. I felt like I was on the set of the original Alien movie and something was going to attack me.

I apprehensively made my way deeper into the depot, taking note of the now-open door to my left. As I crept toward the end of the hallway, I prepared myself to high-tail it out of there in case whatever was terrorizing this planet hadn’t finished with this depot.

The tentacles wrapped around the room, engulfing anything in their path. I was terrified, but hey, a box! Oh wait, no, I didn’t have any inventory space so I couldn’t get anything from the boxes. Go figure. Inventory management is a huge problem in No Man’s Sky. Oftentimes, I couldn’t grab a certain item because I was completely out of inventory space. There’s also a very annoying survival element, for some reason. On each planet are different weather conditions. You’re not a native to the planet, so the Exosuit you’re wearing takes care of any oxygen and general living things you need to survive. That means a constantly depleting meter that you have to refill with resources like Carbon and Plutonium. That also means a robotic voice repeatedly telling you when you’re low on energy. It’s annoying.

No Man's Sky Inventory

The inventory and meter management mini-game are huge factors preventing this game from being completely fbogThey bogg down the exploration. Instead of focusing on my discoveries on a new planet, I’m more concerned with how I’m going to make room to open a box that might not even have an item worth all that trouble.

As I walked toward the last box, something struck me from above. I reeled back and instinctively jabbed the right thumbstick on my DualShock 4 up, ready to blast that thing back to kingdom come, except I couldn’t use my multi-tool in here. Gah. Luckily, the thing was a stationary tentacle, seemingly protecting the box. I didn’t really care to approach it again, so I retraced my steps and emerged back on the surface of KO-35.

No Man's Sky - Combat

So yeah, something like that was interesting. There was a slight mystery and narrative to the moment. This brings to light another problem I have with No Man’s Sky: there’s no narrative.

I’ve seen the Three Paths patch notes, but what I haven’t seen is any sign of that in the game. There’s also nothing to indicate that going to the center of the galaxy/universe is your overall objective. Right now, the only thing I’ve done during my four hours with the game is go from planet to planet, mining resources. That’s it and frankly, I don’t think it’s that fun. Yeah, I’m still doing it for some cynical reason, but I’m not really enjoying myself too much.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with No Man’s Sky is the promise of 18 quintillion planets, yet largely my planet-to-planet experience has been the same. Take those trailers from the early days of the game. They showed ginormous wildlife, quick travel to another planet, the most beautiful varied planets yet I haven’t seen any of that. It feels like my planets are just palette swaps of each other with sometimes aggressive drones.

At this point in my playthrough, I’m convinced that No Man’s Sky is boring. The survival elements keep the small fun elements from flourishing, but even those elements lose their spark after you realize you’re doing the same thing over and over again.