No Man's Sky - A Frustrating Beautiful Work of Art
What is No Man's Sky?
Ever wanted to explore the Universe? Ever fantasized about setting out in a starship to delve into the unknown or just being an astronaut collecting moon rocks and samples? How about running away from dangerous alien predators on a scorching hot world that threatens to short out your space suit? No Man's Sky might be the game for you.
What is No Man's Sky you ask? It's essentially a survival game that simulates an entire vast Universe populated by 18 Quintillion procedurally generated planets. You play a nameless traveler tasked with finding your way to the Galactic Center although in truth the game let's you choose your own path.
In this hub I want to talk about why I love the game and yet why the game frustrates me and along the way I will share some screenshots from my first twenty or so hours of play.
What No Man's Sky is Not
A lot of people have been disappointed with the game going so far as to call it little more than a walking simulator with some extra flavor and pretty visuals but I feel that what disappoints many people about the game is exactly what drew me to it in the first place. When I first learned of the game's existence this past year I brushed it off until I learned just how big a Universe the game was creating and that not only could you explore this vast Universe but you could also name virtually every discovery.
Discover a planet, you can name it, discover a weird species of alien eel in the ocean of that planet, you can name it, discover a mineral deposit in a weird shape and you can even name that if you like. No Man's Sky is what I would describe as a Discovery Simulator. If what you want to do is wander through vast alien wastes hunting down elusive strange alien creatures No Man's Sky has 18 Quintillion possible worlds for you to discover.
I Can Name My Planet Anything
No Man's Sky is not Minecraft in Space, it's not Ark Survival Evolved in Space. No Man's Sky is a game about being a galactic wanderer, a tumble weed blowing from planet to planet collecting rock samples and studying new species. It's not about building things or role-playing, it's not even about shooting things like so many games tend to be (although you can shoot things in the game), it's about exploring. No Man's Sky is about curiosity for it's own sake.
Since the games release I have heard a lot of people poo-pooing the idea of exploration for exploration's sake saying the game has no real point, no real objective, even some saying it has no real “gameplay”. I don't know what commercials they watched or gameplay footage they've seen that had them so hyped up on a version of No Man's Sky that doesn't exist but I was sold the moment they told me I could explore a Universe.
I don't need any more selling than that. How many planets? Weird alien creatures you say? And when I name them something retarded, like Greg, a player who stumbles upon my planet a year from now will know that I named this hopping mushroom monster Greg? As the old adage goes – SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
Where the Game Excels
Thus far in my experience the game excels at exactly what it promised, a Universe of beautiful diverse alien worlds generated procedurally many of which populated with alien outposts, flora, fauna and plenty of rock samples and resources to bring home. No Man's Sky, with the exception of some annoying bits I'll discuss later, is exactly the kind of escape I longed for.
If you're tired of the tedious grind of your day to day life, the social and physical constraints of reality, and want to wander through a bizarre acid trip of colorful planets dotted with alien life No Man's Sky may be for you. Much like booting up a new Minecraft world and going exploring to see what crazy landscapes and endless caves you can find landing on a new planet is No Man's Sky is an adventure every time.
Sometimes you land on a lifeless world, but sometimes planets don't have life, sometimes they are barren wastes that stretch on forever. There is an eeriness and loneliness to the game thanks in part to the strange alien life you encounter and a big part of that lonely wanderer quality is its incredibly excellent score.
Walk Until You Call it Wander
People who regularly read my hubs will know that I have a fascination with the idea of wandering far from home, of going on an Odyssey and of seeing where the tide takes you. No Man's Sky scratches that itch to explore in ways that no other game I've played has. In a lot of ways I would describe the game as therapeutic. It gives you the freedom to explore like no game ever has before.
Some of the most frustrating parts of No Man's Sky are elements that feel shoe-horned in just to please a certain crowd. Take for example space combat. I've only been in combat a few times but I can already tell I don't care for it at all. The idea that pirates can swoop in and lower your shield before you can figure out where they are to fire a shot is extremely frustrating. It feels as if these random encounters with pirates were added merely to appease people who weren't satisfied with a game that was just about exploring.
I get the same feeling from the annoying Sentinels. It's been hinted at in the little bits of lore I picked up that the Sentinels are an ancient race of automatons spread across the Universe to make sure that travelers remain peaceful. Really they are just floating drones that shoot at you if you step out of line or land on a planet they are very protective of. It isn't easy to maintain immersion when I am walking around scanning some half-baboon half-armadillo creature only to hear the all too familiar buzzing of a Sentinel scanning or hovering nearby. Even planets where the presence of Sentinels is supposedly low have a TON of the things.
I feel like the Sentinels were originally different but they were adjusted to appease those who wanted a shooter or combat element to the game. Obviously I can't confirm this but the constant buzzing of nearby Sentinels is one of the worst things about the game.
No Free Slots
Another negative aspect is the ever-hampering inventory limitations. While I can understand putting limits on how much my character can carry within the confines of his spacesuit inventory I cannot understand why most of the ships have such restrictive inventory sizes as well. My exploration of alien worlds is constantly slowed by having to transfer items to the ship or recharge my tools or protective shielding simply to use up enough materials to free up a slot.
Again I understand limiting the player to a reasonably sized inventory however the suit and ship inventories are both entirely too small and entirely too difficult to upgrade so that you can carry more. I'm not sure why this system was implemented but if you ask me the starting slot number could be doubled for both suit and starship without anything game breaking being the result.
Alien Languages and a Madman With a Starship
Throughout the game you find ancient alien artifacts which allow you to slowly accumulate knowledge and reputation with some of the intelligent races you'll encounter in the game. Discovering these monoliths and stones is one of my favorite aspects of the game although I do feel like the appearance of the ruins could use some variety to give each race of alien a different feel to it.
I feel like the player is just passing through. It's not been revealed in the time I've played what alien race, if any, the player character belongs to so most alien species simply treat you as a traveler. It is somewhat strange that the aliens do not appear to have major cities on any of the planets you discover although many of the worlds are hostile inhospitable ones which are good for little else but mining resources and studying the indigenous lifeforms.
I would like to see the alien language feature expanded upon further perhaps even leading to exploration of the alien homeworlds. The fact that the aliens, like the player, do not appear to call any of these new worlds home, adds to the isolated lonely feeling of the game. Just a madman in a starship off to see the Universe.
Promising, Beautiful but Frustrating
Exploration for explorations sake. Wandering just to see what's over the next horizon. From jungle worlds with magenta sunsets to barren rocky wastes where giant mushrooms reign No Man's Sky has 18 Quintillion planets to explore. It is daunting in size, much like the real Universe, and you may never actually encounter anything that your fellow players have also seen. It may not be a game for everyone, and that's perfectly alright, but I've enjoyed it thus far and plan to keep on traveling the stars.
No Man's Sky is for a person looking to let go of reality for a while and soar through the stars uncovering the secrets of a procedurally generated Universe of dazzling colors and mind-boggling variety. It's not perfect but it is without a doubt the best game ever made for those who have that itch to explore. Since there isn't a game that let's you pilot a TARDIS through both time and space and real offworld colonies probably won't be a reality for decades if not longer No Man's Sky is the next best thing.