*No Man’s Sky is a game that I don’t think can be genuinely reviewed, but discussed via as an impression. That’s because the game can be a completely different experience between players that giving a “concrete” viewpoint (i.e. review) won’t due the game justice. Hence this being an impressions piece, and not a review
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Genre: Single Player, Survival, Exploration
System: Playstation 4 (Version Played), Microsoft Windows
There’s no way to genuinely start off an impressions piece on No Man’s Sky other than to say it never lived up to the hype. From top to bottom, media outlet to media outlet, No Man’s Sky is considered a critical failure. Various sites lament the planetary design, the emphasis on resource management versus space exploration, and a weak story. However, let’s be honest: No Man’s Sky could and never would live up to the type of hype surrounding it. The hype surrounding the game not only entered space, but shot through our space time continuum and into another dimension. It was hype emphasizing more about key marketing words and less on what was actually happening.
What fascinates me more is what I hear about No Man’s Sky via word of mouth. That, for all of it’s flaws, No Man’s Sky is actually pretty damn fun. The mixture of planetary and space exploration, discovering planets, animals, and universes, and resource management come together to make a surprisingly refreshing single player experiences. It’s a game that genuinely let’s the player determine how their journey is going to go because of how much freedom the game allows. Based on the experience I’ve had with No Man’s Sky, I have to agree with what I’ve heard via word of mouth.
I could go on and on about the game’s limitations, but to do that doesn’t give Hello Games enough credit; for a team of comprised of 12 total people (4 main staff, and 8 others), No Man’s Sky is an ambitious endeavor. Personally, I think Isaac Smith covers this topic very succinctly.
Here’s why amidst all of the criticism, I find No Man’s Sky to be a fascinating, refreshing game:
Universes and Planets Capture a Sense of Realism
Despite the announcement trailer of No Man’s Sky showing an insane amount of plant and animal life, planets in game are much more varied. Some planets have quite a lot of animals, but not as many plants. Some might have much more plants, but less animals. Heck, some planets might be void of life but rich in resources. The uncertainty of what players will find on any given planet is what makes No Man’s Sky refreshing and makes me want to explore every planet I land on.
I also enjoy discovering new creatures on each planet I visit…and finding out which ones are aggressive versus passive. There were quite a few moments that, upon finishing analyzing a newly found creature, the creature would be on the attack against me. It was also interesting to determine whether or not it was because the creature was territorial (taking resources or encroaching on their homes) or purely from an antagonistic perspective.
The variation of planetary conditions also rewards players for exploring the planets with different resources be readily available for excavation, finding knowledge stones to learn the language of the various aliens encountered in game, and for finding various blueprints/upgrades.
Planets also capture a sense of depth really well with both topography and planets that can be seen in the sky. There were a lot of moments I found myself having to stop and marvel at the view of both giant and smaller planets I could see in the sky. I also found myself amazed at the sense of the landscape stretching beyond what I could see from the lens of my character’s perspective. I could also see the perception of distance between planets not only on the planets, but in space as well. Seeing the landscape stretch beyond what my character could see was also genuinely intriguing and exciting.
However, I will admit one caveat: there are some planets that ended up feeling similar. Some will say that’s a sign of how limited the game is, and I won’t argue against that. What I will say, however, is this: we don’t know what many other planets look like in our universe. I wouldn’t doubt that there are planets that look very similar in landscape and atmosphere. That said, all of this culminates into one, simple feeling: No Man’s Sky feels like it nails a sense of realism that I think goes against the hyped up expectations.
There’s Also Languages, Cultures, and an Economy that drives the game
One thing that I feel like a lot of reviews have not touched are the coolest features of No Man’s Sky: there are a couple alien cultures and languages to learn about throughout the game. Throughout every planet, there are various monuments, pillars and knowledge stones that, when discovered, reward the player with a new word from either prominent alien race. Some of the monuments and pillars also come with both a memory/story from a past Gek or Vy’kken figure of the past. Major monuments also often came with three knowledge stones and a test that rewarded players with both a word and blueprint if they get the answer correct. Not only that, but players also learn more about cultural values and beliefs from both these monuments and encounters in trading post, shelters or satellite camps. The higher a player’s standing with an alien race, the more they’ll learn about that alien species.
Furthermore, there is also an economy that drives profits earned based on the materials most versus least desired. For example, in one galaxy a player may get 1,256 credits per 1 unit of gold and in another get 1,910 credits per 1 unit. The amount of credits earned is also fueled by how common a resource is. Even though this is a tiny detail that doesn’t make or break the game, I feel like it’s a refreshing thing to see in a game like No Man’s Sky.
Which brings me to a major point…
No Man’s Sky is all about the pursuit of knowledge
No Man’s Sky is a knowledge driven game. It’s about learning what elements work together to improve the main protagonists all around experience. From finding the resources to create a stronger shield, to learning both language and helping to expand/create the database of knowledge to share with everyone else playing No Man’s Sky. There’s a sense that, amidst all of the players having the same end goal as getting to the center of the galaxy, sharing a common goal of uncovering everything hidden within the game. That sense of discovery and wonder are something I believe enough to keep players glued into the experience.
No Man’s Sky is all about how the player defines their journey
There is a story in No Man’s Sky, but it’s not that prominent and serves more as one of the many ways to play the game. The story is simple: players are an astronaut that’s trying to get to the center of the universe while picking up Atlas Stones along the way. How long you take to get there is up to you. In fact, I feel like the game is less worried about you playing the story and more about exploring as many of the 18 quintillion planets there are in No Man’s Sky. The galactic map even has a couple options on what type of journey you can take; Atlas Anomalies, Free Exploration and Shortcuts to the Center of the Universe. However, from my experience, doing a mixture between Free Exploration and Atlas Anomalies has been my choice of exploring what the game has to offer.
Funnily enough, I feel like No Man’s Sky does what many other games claim to do but fail to do so; gives players total agency over their experience. This is something hard, and challenging, to take on when it comes to gameplay design, and Hello Games nails it. There’s no sense of rush, or time constraint, on getting to the end of the game’s story.
In fact, the overall pacing of the game is slowed down to allow players to take in the experience. In a generation of games that’s more about producing non-stop adrenaline-inducing action sequences, it’s very refreshing to see a game take the foot off the gas pedal and allow the game to speak for itself.
It’s a soild, if flawed, experience
No Man’s Sky is a game that is defined by player agency which has made it one of the more refreshing games to come out in a while. There’s no rush to getting through the storyline, and the storyline itself remains part of the background for the overall journey. In fact, No Man’s Sky feels like it rewards players more for exploration and less for only moving the story forward.While some may argue that the game lacks depth, I feel like No Man’s Sky is the exact opposite. There is plenty to do: the exploration of universes and planets, the discovery of creatures, plants and resources, learning the language and customs and interacting with the prominent alien species, etc. The planets feel both real and capture a sense of depth and scope that I feel few others game are able to capture. For me, there’s a sense of awe and interest to just explore as many galaxies as I can in No Man’s Sky.
Is the game flawed? Absolutely. I won’t deny that it could be argued that the look of planets and creatures can look similar or repetitive. I can agree that sometimes the slow pace of No Man’s Sky can be boring and off putting.
My main counter is this; for an indie studio to release a game with this size of scope and ambition, Hello Games did a fantastic job with No Man’s Sky. Did the game deliver? For some (or many), the answer might be no. To me, I’d say it did. No Man’s Sky has been the experience I’ve expected to have, and I can easily say it was money well spent.
Overall, I believe No Man’s Sky is a game that deserves a chance to be played. It’s worth the time.