Freedom, Wonder, and Inventory Management
No Man’s Sky is a game about discovery in every sense of the word. Of course, you’ll eventually be gadding about the prodecurally generated universe, seeking interesting new life forms and precious resources. First, though, you’ll have to discover how to survive, how to get guidance on where to go next (if progression is your thing), and even how to talk to the alien races you meet along the way. It’s an exploration game in the purest sense, challenging players to take a moment and figure things out before flying willy-nilly through the vast reaches of space.
Yes, your grand space adventure starts with one very small step – a step away from your disabled spaceship onto a planet full of alien life forms and resource-rich rocks. You’ll stumble through the interface with minimal guidance, but eventually figure out that gathering and mining various metals is vital to keeping all your gear in working order. Your life is measured in bars – health bar, mining tool charge bar, hazard protection bar, warp drive bar, bar, bar, bar. It’s overwhelming keeping them all filled at first, but as you progress, you’ll develop a quick eye for the materials you need to keep on hand in order to stay alive and keep moving.
The universe opens up slowly, and you can choose whether to go it alone as an independent explorer looking for the center of the universe or follow the storyline path given to you by the mysterious Atlas. It’s a slowly-unfolding mystery that might be tempting to follow as quickly as possible, but I recommend learning the ropes and thoroughly exploring the first few star systems you discover. Seeking out points of interest on planets gives you access to vital things like technology upgrade blueprints and exo-suit improvements that add precious extra slots into your limited inventory. You’ll also come across the occasional trading post on the way, and that’s of vital importance if you want to make enough money to trade up from your cosmic puddle-jumper into a bigger and stronger ship.
Along the way, you’ll find worlds worth exploring and others that are utterly boring. When you come upon a lush planet, teeming with fascinating flora and weird fauna, it’s cause for celebration. Not only do you get to name your discoveries, you earn money for uploading them to the game’s servers. Maybe somebody will even come across them someday, though I have yet to find any other players’ planets.
The diversity of planets found in this universe is impressive, though it can also feel like a slog if you hit up too many dull, desert planets in a row. Still, the full spectacle of the places available to explore almost made me a believer in procedural generation for the first time – almost. While I’ve delighted in discovering species that I’ve named things like “Galumphing Stagiphant” and “Hoppy Hoppy Worm Worm,” the cracks in algorithmic intelligence occasionally break through my reverie. Why am I on a “wet” planet that has no bodies of water? How come I’m running into a bunch of herbivores with pointy teeth and carnivores with flat, cud-chewing jaws? Are there any rivers, anywhere, or is it just lakes? Right now, No Man’s Sky ‘s creation algorithms are somewhat lacking in biological logic, and it can be jarring if you’re even a bit of a science nerd. There’s a difference between “alien” and “completely illogical,” and I’m hoping that we’ll see an improvement in that logic in future patches.
The sentient species populating this universe make a bit more sense, and it’s fun to slowly make sense of them as you learn their languages one word at a time. Your communication difficulties make for some fun dialogue choices, as you can’t be quite sure if your actions will delight or offend your conversation partner. There’s conflict in the universe, too – pirates are a right pain in the ass, so upgrade those ship weapons. There’s apparently a conflicting alliance system of sorts as well, though in my game so far I’ve been trying to stay friends with everyone. Interspecies relationships look like they’ll either be surprisingly deep or disappointingly repetitive in the late game, and I’m not sure if any of us will have the final verdict on that for weeks.
If there’s one area in which procedural generation absolutely fails No Man’s Sky , it’s the music. It is largely procedurally generated, just like the planets, and it’s supposed to reflect what you’re doing at any given moment. Maybe my experience with the music is a judgment on my playstyle, then, but I found it uniformly dull and completely lacking in any sort of emotional swell. I found it one step worse than the usual “atmospheric” mediocrity that’s found in far too many space games, and I quickly switched over from using my surround sound system to turning the sound down and playing my own music instead. I didn’t find the sound effects particularly crucial to survival, so it’s no big deal to play that way.
So overall, how does No Man’s Sky feel to play? I’m a bit torn. I’m just the kind of nerdy, exploration-loving player that this title is aimed at, but even I’m not sure I’ll be able to hang on long enough to make it to the game’s end. To my surprise, it’s not because I find the procedural generation algorithms lacking. Rather, it’s the fact that there’s just a bit too much micromanagement required to advance regardless of your gameplay goals, and it can simply take too long to get things done with the limited inventory you’re given to work with (yes, it can be expanded greatly, but that takes money, and money takes time).
Giving a final opinion about No Man’s Sky is a bit like reviewing an MMORPG… there were so many huge additions in the day-one patch that I have to assume it will be incredibly different a year from now. Consider this, then, a state of the game at launch report. There are wonders indeed to be found in the No Man’s Sky universe, but not everybody will be willing to put in the time and effort needed to discover them. This game is a technical marvel that patient, detail-oriented gamers will love. As-is, however, it demands a bit more time than it deserves. The universe is vast, but your inventory is small, and not everybody is going to want to make the long trudge necessary to become a galactic superstar.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Though space itself is a bit plain, the planets where you’ll be spending nearly all your time are gorgeous and load almost seamlessly in the background. 3.8 Control
Hello Games has done a decent job of mapping a complex series of systems onto a controller layout. Things run fairly smoothly once you figure out how it all works. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
This will partly depend on taste, but I found the procedurally generated soundtrack hopelessly dull. 3.8 Play Value
There’s so much to see and do, but it can get repetitive and there’s too much micromanagement of durability bars and inventory space. This one is going to be best if you play for a bit at a time, then take a break. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best