No Man’s Sky: Fly, land, gather

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*Apologies if this review seems a little disjointed in places. I just had so many thoughts and ideas about No Man’s Sky that I just jotted them down.
For the first time in a long time, I’m torn over what I think about a game.
The game in question is No Man’s Sky, the procedurally generated survival/exploration game from small British developers Hello Games. One moment I’d decided I’ve had enough because the relentless grind to farm more resources from another planet was getting too much or the game has crashed yet again while trying to warp between systems,  the next something wonderful happened and I’ll play for another hour.

My quandary is that while I don’t hate No Man’s Sky, neither am I in love with it and I can’t see myself playing it in a month’s time. Why? I think it’s because after visiting 20 or so planets, I think the grind has finally got to me.

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No Man’s Sky starts with you on a uniquely named planed (every player starts on a unique planet), your spaceship a piece of wreckage and you having to hunt for the resources to get it working again so you can head into space. Simple.

 

You’re armed with a multi-tool – a mining tool that lets you blast rocks and minerals – and a survival suit, and not much else at this stage. After you’ve hoovered up enough plutonium, carbon or whatever other mineral is needed, an onscreen message will tell you to repair your ship’s busted launch jets and pulse unit, meaning you can head into space.

I couldn’t even pronounce the name on my starter planet: Subaiawag-quyli IE906. Sure, I could have renamed it to something more personal, more meaningful but was there any point?

I upgraded my multi-tool’s  scanner equipment which let me scan and catalogue fauna and flora that I came across. I found a weird dinosaur-like thing so renamed it Gerasauriis Bipodal. I scanned some more animals and some plants. I uploaded the data to some giant space database and got some galactic credits for my trouble.

I found crashed escape pods which offered blueprints for upgrades to my multi-tool or space ship, and I unlocked beacons at settlements that revealed the locations of things like alien ruins, distress transmissions or colonial outposts. It give me a reason to stay on a planet for a bit, exploring it rather than roaring off world after a few minutes.

No Man's Sky_20160811205707Then the grind set in. I had to constantly mine for things like plutonium and other isotopes that would keep my ship fuelled and my survival suit working. My son suggested No Man’s Sky is “Minecraft but in space” and I guess he isn’t far wrong, in some respects.

I landed on a planet that had water that was -75deg. I’d started to wish I’d packed my 7mm wetsuit in my spaceship’s boot. It didn’t matter: A large whale-like creature with a red icon floating above its head swam past. It looked hungry. I decided to stay out of the water and walked back to my spaceship. A creature walked up to me: It looked friendly – but then it head butted me, draining some of my health. I shot it with the weapon function of my multi-tool and  got  back into my space ship, took off and found somewhere else to land.

Settlements on planets often have alien lifeforms that speak to you and offer you things like blueprints but after a few encounters you realise that they’re trotting out the same type of dialogue and there is no real interaction with them.

Orbiting a new planet, I was alerted to a distress signal planet side. After traveling to what seemed almost the entire circumference of the planet, I discovered an abandoned space ship. I compared the stats of the new ship and my current one – and while on paper it was better, l was reluctant to repair it because a) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surround the space ship and b) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surrounding the space ship. I headed off world, happy with the decision I’d made.

I didn’t venture much into caves on planets as I’d heard that heard that because they’re procedurally generated, chances are they might not end – and if you can’t remember what direction you can from, you’re screwed as you can’t warp back to your ship from anywhere, either.

I headed back into space and coming out of a warp into a new system, I landed smack bang in the middle of a space battle. I took down one of the three enemy ships but, sadly, my ship was out gunned and I spiralled into a death role and blew up. I re-spawned on the nearest space station and my ship had lost the items in its storage slots but, thankfully, my grave was still floating in space the next time I fired up the game.

No Man's Sky_20160810233958I found a space station and was sucked in by its tractor beam. On board was a solidary alien, sitting behind a desk. He spoke some language that I didn’t understand but the game told me he wanted me to handover my multi-tool. I refused, not sure what would happen. He applauded my stand, apparently, clapping. He gave me some more words of his language. I was still confused about things.

Hello Games have nailed the thrill of pointing your spaceship at a planet, engaging the pulse drive and racing to your destination. It’s seamless, too: You see your ship’s heat shield glowing pink as you enter the planet’s atmosphere, spreading pastel colours across the craft’s nose, then it’ll level out as it hits the planet’s atmosphere. It’s all automatic, though: You can’t crash your ship into the planet or objects and landing is as simple as pushing a button.

There is combat, but to be honest, it’s lacklustre and involves either shooting at the galactic police sentinels because they think you’ve mined too much stuff or at pirate spaceships that are after any precious cargo you’ve got onboard.

No Man’s Sky is a survival game as much as it is an exploration game but the grind is real, and after a handful of hours, I started to wonder whether the grind had got too much. I’m not even sure the carrot of reaching the end of the universe is enough for me to carry on.

One of No Man’s Sky’s biggest flaws  is the number of inventory slots you have in your ship and exosuit. You don’t have enough to space to start with – and your suit will constant nag at you about it “NO FREE SLOTS IN SUIT INVENTORY”” –  so you’re constantly having to transfer items between your suit and ship,  and eventually discarding stuff just to free up space. You even have to have a free slot in your suit inventory just to talk to another alien!! I find this mind-boggling that I must have free space in my inventory to talk to an alien. That’s like saying I can’t talk to a work colleague until I’ve taken something out of my jeans pockets first.  It’s madness!

 

After a few hours, though, plants that you saw three planets ago start looking similar to the plants on the planet you’re currently on, and the animals you saw four planets ago kind of look similar to the ones in front of you now.  That’s not surprising, as the animals are all generated from a finite pool of body parts so it’s inevitable that eventually similarities are going to happen. A lot of the plants look similar but are just named differently, too.

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No Man’s Sky_20160816000143

On the technical side, No Man’s Sky crashed several times while I was either warping between star systems or preparing to warp. When it crashed the sixth time in six days, doing the same thing, I decided enough was enough and decided to call it quits until it’s more stable, even though I was having moments when I was enjoying it.

No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.

 

I really do think No Man’s Sky is a slow burner game if you have patience, and if you’re a gamer who gets satisfaction from resource gathering then more power to you but for me, I’m at the point now that the relentless grind of doing the same thing over and over again is just getting a little too much. Also, I don’t think it’s worth $NZ95. It’s been promoted as an indie game from a small study but it’s commanding a premium price.

I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see  to see what has changed, but for now, I’m done with No Man’s Sky. There just isn’t enough variety to keep me interested any more.

One thought on “No Man’s Sky: Fly, land, gather

  1. I’m enjoying it myself, as someone that grew up on Elite wishing for all the things NMS does. I get why some folks aren’t happy, just too busy having fun to get hung up on it. Definitely in for the slow burn.

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