Sep 1st, 2016

No Man’s Sky is a game that takes the slogan “if you see it, you can get there” to the extreme. Every planet, creek, and mountain in the game can be reached either through incredibly fast space travel, or incredibly slow walking and boosting on a planet. The first time I rocketed off into outer-space, broke the atmosphere and realized just how large the game was, I was floored. Not only did it take a short while to get from planet to space, but getting to another planet, traveling at the same speed would take a minimum of an hour. An hour. That’s something I could barely grasp. If I really wanted to, I could’ve taken that hour, but luckily there are faster methods of travel that will slice that hour down to a minute or even a few seconds.

Magical…at first

The first few minutes of No Man’s Sky are magical. Being dropped onto your own procedurally-generated planet with nothing but the clothes on your back and multi-tool to help strip the planet of its precious minerals or defend you from the occasional sentinel or animal attack gives you a sense that you’re alone. For the time being, that’s pretty much true. Aside from the lone NPC, on planets or space stations, and the various ships that come and go, you’re completely alone in No Man’s Sky. Despite what Sean Murray might have alluded to during pre-release interviews, No Man’s Sky is nothing like Journey. You won’t find another player wandering around in this adventure.

No Man's Sky - Abandoned Outpost

That sense of solitude is part of what makes those first 30 minutes with the game so good. Knowing that you’re alone on this planet gives an eery feeling to it all. This is compounded by the fact that some outposts have been reclaimed by nature, with the systems inside barely running. Creepy moments like this made me want to explore the different planets that populate No Man’s Sky’s seemingly infinite galaxy. At least at first.

Not so unique

No Man’s Sky’s magic lasts only until you realize that what you’re seeing isn’t all that unique. Beyond those initial discoveries, everything starts to blend together. The crab-like creatures I saw on one planet began cropping up on other planets with slight design variations. In fact, I saw someone else with my exact same crab-like creature (on a completely different planet) on the internet. At that point, my experience was shattered because out of all the permutations that could be generated, I was seeing something that should have been a unique discovery on someone else’s adventure.

By the time I was finished with my first hour of No Man’s Sky, I was struggling to continue. Honestly, if I wasn’t doing this review, I probably would’ve stopped playing. The game is just too tedious. Your actions play out the exact same on each planet: mine resources, talk to an NPC, refill meters, and rocket off to the next planet.

No Man's Sky - Milestone

Nothing really feels like it has any meaning in No Man’s Sky. While exploring the galaxy, you’ll pass “milestones,” the in-game version of achievements. These milestones then take up almost the entire screen, removing any elements of the HUD. If you’re fighting a sentinel, say goodbye to the aiming reticle and any chance at not wasting ammo. Nothing about these milestones feels earned. I wasn’t quite sure why I should have cared about walking an arbitrary distance or earning 700,000 units when there wasn’t anything to show for it. Don’t get me wrong. Typically, I enjoy these moments of instant gratification. They’re fun for me. I like being rewarded for some made up accomplishment, because more often than not, it feels earned. Here, it doesn’t.

Even interactions with NPCs feel meaningless. Since you don’t know the three languages in the game, some of your time will be spent filling up your lexicon with the languages of the people. One word at a time. I was never able to fully grasp what anyone was saying, but it’s not like it mattered. No matter what the NPC might tell you, it doesn’t carry any weight on your journey. There was a part where I inadvertently agreed to marry one guy’s daughter or something. Did that come into play later in my travels? Of course not.

No Man's Sky - Extreme Weather

Planets feel very much the same. While using procedural generation as the building blocks of this game sounds good on paper, it doesn’t work well in practice. Despite weather conditions like acid rain, dust storms, or other hazardous elements of mother nature, after the first planet, you begin to realize that these planets are nothing more than palette swaps. That goes for the odd animals too. Very rarely was I impressed by an animal’s design to stop and stare at it for more than the time I needed to scan the creature into my database and earn a few units. The weather conditions and animals might change slightly from planet-to-planet, but never enough so that you approach each scenario in a different way.

Pointless upgrades

No Man’s Sky allows you to upgrade your weapons and ships, but you’ll be hard pressed finding a reason to do so since you never really feel like you have to. There’s no perceivable difference between ships or weapons. Despite some upgrades letting you mine faster or shoot quicker, you’re never placed in a scenario that necessitates these upgraded abilities. After obtaining my first new multi-tool, I was completely satisfied with its speed. Never did I want to allocate the limited inventory space to making it “faster” or “stronger.” The one thing that does feel necessary, though, is getting more inventory space.

No Man's Sky - Inventory Full

By default, No Man’s Sky starts you out with a pitifully low inventory space. Once you take into account the minerals you’re going to hold whenever you need to refill a meter, you’re left with barely enough space to do anything. For this reason, I spent more than an hour scavenging planets to add slots to my Exosuit. One slot at a time.

The worst part about No Man’s Sky is that there’s no story or real sense of urgency. While getting to the center of the galaxy might have been pegged as the overall goal, the game doesn’t explicitly tell you that until you go to your map and look at the path it charts. It just seems like an afterthought. In my 15 hours with the game, I wasn’t able to reach the center of the galaxy nor did I feel any reason to. So I looked it up online. I’m happy I didn’t use that as my driving force for this game.

No Man's Sky - Atlas Path

There is one thing in No Man’s Sky that slightly resembles a story. That’s the Atlas Path. Once you accept this mission from an orb you find on almost any planet, you’re able to travel down the aimless Atlas Path. This is supposed to get you closer to the center of the galaxy, but I never got the feeling that’s what I was doing. Instead, it seemed like I was just listening to my character string together sentences to sound deep and meaningful. They weren’t.

Conclusion

No Man’s Sky is a game that highly encourages the player to explore, but doesn’t provide them with the resources nor motivation to do so until they’ve sunk enough time to upgrade their inventory space. By that point, their drive to play this endless, repetitive, and disappointing game will likely have dissipated. Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games plan to update No Man’s Sky with base-building mechanics, but in its current state the game simply doesn’t have enough content to support its $60 price tag nor its near endless universe.

Pros
+ The universe is impressively large
+ Some of the planets are truly beautiful

Cons:
– The game is devoid is content
– Actions feel meaningful
– Ending doesn’t come close to being worth the investment
– Unbelievably repetitive
– Planets and animals feel the same
– Starved for inventory space for a long time
– No sign of promised multiplayer
– Survival elements kill any remaining desire to explore

Final Score

Score: 4/10