So we’ve been to the centre of the galaxy, we’ve got the platinum trophy and we’ve streamed over fifty hours of No Man’s Sky over the last four days. But what do you do in the game?
No Man’s Sky is the much anticipated space explorathon that Hello Games unveiled three years ago. Coming out as a PS4 console exclusive with the Sony Marketing machine taking care of the advertising, this is very much still an indie game. You’d be forgiven for thinking a space simulator with 18 quintillion planets, a score by 65DaysofStatic and such polish was an AAA game, but it’s important to remember that this was made by a small team and not in particularly long time for its ambitious scope.
In the game you start off with very little on a randomised world. Everyone starts on a different world, but everyone is in the same galaxy. If you zoom out on the galactic map it’s hard to get over the breathtaking awe over the numbers involved. Yours is one of so, so, many stars. You will almost certainly be the first person to ever see this planet, you’ll be the first to see the creatures that inhabit it, the particular type of landscape, the plants, and the first to experience the thrill of exploring it. Explore you must because your ship is broken you and you need minerals to fix it. Mining minerals is as simple as finding them and shooting them with your multi-tool, but finding them is the real challenge. Not a challenge because it’s mechanically difficult, but because on your way to find some big blue-black pillars of heridium you’ll discover ancient ruins, outposts, trading hubs, monoliths, crashed spaceships, amazing creatures, incredible vistas and so much more. This is at the heart of No Man’s Sky. We’ve played a huge amount of time and still constantly find things that distract and enchant us – it really is a procedural dream.
It’s not just the planets that are procedural either, the music mostly is courtesy of 65DaysofStatic and it deserves special mention because it’s just incredible. It ramps up at just the right moments, dials back when something relaxing is happening and constantly sounds fresh and innovative. There hasn’t been a single time when we’ve thought we’ve heard the same track twice in all our time of playing. It could easily be the soundtrack of the year, if not the decade.
Once your spaceship is fixed up you can head into space and explore new solar systems, black holes, huge space stations and much more, finding new things and upgrading everything as you go. Everything can be upgraded or replaced and getting a new ship really is as simple as asking people if you can have theirs – they’re always willing to sell even if it’s for an incredibly high price. New spaceships bring new capacities and capabilities and even these are procedural so you can spend ages trying to find one that looks just right. In space you really can do whatever you want, there’s a vague path where the game leads you from place to place for the first couple of hours to get some important upgrades outlined a little in our top five starting tips but you can completely ignore this if you want to. The goal appears to be to get to the centre of the galaxy, but that’s entirely up to you. Much like how Minecraft has a boss now that plenty of people will never see, getting to the center isn’t that important. It’s the journey that matters.
Visually, No Man’s Sky is like nothing else. The developers wanted to capture that feel of the 80s sci fi book covers and they succeeded gloriously. Although plenty of planets are ugly, none of them look completely out of place. We’ve found plenty of beautiful oceans, canyons, meadows, forest, deserts, and everything else you can imagine and it feels like every single planet we’ve landed on (which must be in the hundreds) has had something interesting about it, even if what was interesting was just how barren and inhospitable it was. Every multi-tool has a unique appearance, every ship, every animal, every planet, every planet. It’s amazing how this kind of variety really helps to keep you interested and unlike lots of attempts to make things procedurally, No Man’s Sky manages to make it look like it was designed.
Of course not everything about the game is perfect. While the launch day patch went a long way to fix the problems people had early on with the game, there’s still plenty of strange glitches, the game crashes a lot, and occasionally things don’t work the way you should. This is to be expected from a game with such a grand scope and it’s certainly more stable than anything by Bethesda, but it’s still a frustration when the game crashes in the middle of something important or when you can’t do something for the arbitrary reason that the game engine says no. We also believe that much of the game is smoke and mirrors, with multiplayer being the obvious controversial example. There is no multiplayer in this game. We’re confident that there are no player models, no animations and no ways to meet up with each other in-game. You all explore the same galaxy so as streamers have shown yesterday, you can get to the same place at the same time, but you are not connected in any meaningful way. What you can do is share your named creations and others will see this. There’s a chance we’re wrong on that and I’d be happy to retract all of it, but the evidence isn’t looking good and you definitely shouldn’t pick this up for multiplayer.
NPCs are similarly designed to give the impression of intelligent life in the galaxy, but after a while you realise that all the aliens stand perfectly still, say the same thing over and over, and are generally devoid of life. This is a real shame as your interactions with them, while funny, are very limited and after ten or so hours of exploration you’re likely to encounter the same immersion-breaking events again and again.
There’s also the issue of terrain deformation. When you shoot the ground with a grenade, you make a hole. But this isn’t you mining in to the world like in Minecraft, instead you are simply creating a space with a shell around it. We discovered this when we made a hole then accidentally slipped through the edge of it and entered the inside of the empty planet. Sadly this means no adventures to the core of a planet because there’s simply nothing there. This issue won’t affect the majority of players but we felt it’s worth mentioning so you don’t spend too long getting your dig on.
Overall, No Man’s Sky is easily a contender for Game of the Year. There’s so much to do, so much to explore and it’s an experience unlike anything else. People are constantly moaning about the lack of new IPs so I hope that people support one of the most exciting new original games to appear in a long time. It’s a beautiful and enchanting game and we can’t wait to buy it again for the PC release.
BRB – off to explore the universe.