No Man’s Sky has been one of those insanely anticipated games ever since we all first laid eyes on it at E3 2015, and it’s finally landed! There’s already been a lot of press about how the game is not what had been advertised and how there is so much missing from it, but I’m going to be fair and review the game based on its own merits, and not on the trailers and early plays that were shown to us. And also, there are a ton of reviews and press that give the game gumph for what we were promised. So how does it REALLY feel to explore the galaxy? Suit up, I’ll meet you in the hangar bay to tell you.
In case you were living under a rock the last year or so, No Man’s Sky is a procedurally-generated space exploration game. The game is massive, with over 19 quintillion planets to explore. Obviously, even if you explore at the rate of one planet per second, you’d still be at it 5 billion years later. Each planet has its own flora and fauna, and you can pretty much explore to your heart’s content. The other fun thing is that in the unlikely event of someone actually landing on a planet you’ve previously landed on, you have full naming rights, and others following in your footsteps will be told so. Even with the crazy number of players in the game, I’ve yet to find a star system that had been claimed by someone else.
When the game starts, you’re shown to be stranded on a planet with a busted ship and no supplies. There’s not much in the way of tutorials, so you’re left to figure things out on your own. Soon you figure out that you can mine minerals and resources needed to fix the ship. Once the ship is ready, it’s off to explore the galaxy, gathering more materials and obtaining bigger and better ships. The story (well, what little there is) involves an entity called Atlas, and then there’s the whole “reach the center of the galaxy” thing as well. It’s never fully explained in any great depth, but that’s not the star attraction.
As you explore each planet, there are these drones called Sentinels floating around. Each planet’s Sentinels behave slightly differently, too. Some get aggravated with you as soon as you happen to step out your starship, while others will turn a blind eye to everything short of a small-scale war against them. Your weapon (which doubles as your mining gun) can be upgraded to help you fight them, but combat isn’t anything worth talking about. When you’re done playing with the Sentinels, you can always carry a load of precious cargo into space to be mobbed by space pirates, but space combat isn’t worth e-mailing home about, either. The pirates are pretty dumb, and once you’ve upgraded your ship once or twice, you’re good to keep them at bay for the rest of the game.
Picture this: you have a fully functional ship, so you leave the barren planet you’re on and head for the skies. Up in space, you see a number of planets around you, so you figure the blue one looks fun, and set your jets for go. The pulse engine gets you to the planet in seconds, and as you get closer you can make out larger landmasses at first, and then you start seeing smaller details such as trees and …holy moley, is that a floating rock? So you land your ship and start scoping out the local wildlife as if you’re in some kind of interplanetary safari. That’s about when you realise that the giant gleaming glob ahead of you is an actual, honest-to-goodness nugget of gold about the size of an elephant. So you do what comes naturally: you make like Daffy and go “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
A sentinel comes near to see what you’re doing, doesn’t take it too kindly, and starts attacking. Who knew the things didn’t like it when you mined too much?? You blast it out of the sky and continue mining, except now there are more Sentinels on their way. So you figure what the hell. Your pockets are full anyhow, so you head back to your ship and head for the space station to sell your loot. En route, a bunch of pirates attack, but your ship is too unwieldy to fight them off properly, so they turn you into toast. Game over? Not quite…you start off in the station, minus your loot. If you can just get back to your corpse, you can gather the stuff up again and be on your merry way. No further consequence than a small rap over the knuckles.
Ok, so scratch combat, and No Man’s Sky isn’t even what we were expecting or what was advertised to us. Heck, even the texture and model pop-in is ridiculously close-range, at least on the PS4. You can see the game drawing the environment as you fly, and we’re not even going to talk about the egregious asteroids. There’s certainly stuff to do, but much of it starts getting fairly repetitive after a number of hours. One of the big chases in the mid-game is a bigger, better starship. In a game this sandboxy, you make what goals you can.
No Man’s Sky certainly isn’t the darling it was during development because it showed us a dream with one hand and sold us a rock from the other, but the game is still definitely something to be experienced. Just not at the current price point and with the current feature set. Is it fun? Yes, absolutely. Is there a lot to do? Not as much as you’d like. Worth it? Let’s wait for either a price drop or an insanely huge feature update and then we’ll talk again.