No Man’s Sky promises a lot. Since its announcement over two years ago, the indie space exploration has built up a lot of momentum thanks to the steam-packed hype-train assisted by Sony themselves, pushing the small studio project into triple-A status thanks to the backing and marketing behind it. The expectations around No Man’s Sky are somewhat unprecedented, but does Hello Games’ venture into the unknown universe deliver on its pledges?
So, basically, No Man’s Sky is a space-exploration title with elements of combat. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but the real hook of No Man’s Sky is its scale. The game is procedurally-generated, which in layman’s terms means that it uses an algorithm (computer magic) to randomly generate an infinite amount of planets, each with its own geographic layout, plant and animal life, and quests to pursue. There’s said to be 18 quintillion planets – whether this is true is up for debate, but during my time with the game, I’ve seen around 50 uniquely different planets, albeit with some similar attributes here and there.
There’s no denying that what Hello Games has achieved is a computational marvel. It’s quite spectacular to think that No Man’s Sky features an endless array of travel options and places to visit, but whether you actually want to do that is the question.
You see, the actual gameplay involves players using their spacecraft to travel to different planets, mine the resources available, either discover or fight its sometimes-hostile creatures, engage with local NPCs, and then get back to travelling. Finding a new alien to speak to on the planets can be thrilling, and having to learn their language can be a fun mini-game of sorts, but it does become a bit long in the teeth once you’ve done it 20-odd times.
Space battles are fun, but you always end up shooting enemy NPC crafts, and these battles of epic proportion are sometimes very few and far between. The promise of encountering other players is something that has still eluded the community, and we fear may always be the case. Whether or not you can even cross paths with other players (as promised by its developers) is a huge point of controversy.
Your ship can also be upgraded, with new ships with greater abilities being available for a high price, acting as the proverbial carrot on the end of the stick to get you to mine more, fight more, and travel more… in order to travel further, mine more, fight more, and travel more.
And that’s exactly the problem with No Man’s Sky – which ironically could also be its greatest asset – there’s no real purpose to your existence in the game. There is a “try and find the centre of the universe” end goal, but it’s more of a suggestion than a predetermined path, which some players who are seeking a non-linear distraction may love, and some with goals in mind will hate. You could spend all your time with the game mining, discovering new planets, naming animals, and engaging in the odd space battle, but as for achieving any sort of value in it all, that’s up to you.
No Man’s Sky‘s vast and great ideas make for an interesting framework for future games, but what’s presented at the moment feels like arguably one of the best ideas in gaming history, but one that’s not fully realised just yet.