The last time in recent memory that a game created as much controversy as No Man’s Sky. If you’re interested in what I think of the hypetrain and all those broken promises, well just go look up totalbiscuit. The idea that the devs were less than responsible with their hype train pretty much sums it up for me. I think that if this were any other game, based on the promotional materials provided, gamers would have cautioned each other. “No Pre-Orders” and “Don’t believe the bullshots” are common phrases before release, and instead people embraced these things with No Man’s Sky. But if we strip away what was promised and only look at what is presented, what sort of game are we left with? What core gameplay mechanics can we boil the game into, check our crucible and see if we can find that elusive rare material: fun.
If you’re not familiar, a quick rundown: No Man’s Sky is a procedural (but not randomly) generated universe which contains a bevy of flora, fauna, races, elements, planets, moons, stars and civilizations. This means as you wander about, you have no idea what you’re going to come across and unless someone else was there first (which is unlikely) you can even name your discoveries. At least in theory you can name them because apparently Hello Games didn’t implement semaphore locks in their databases, meaning an offline player can name something because they never got the notification it was already named. Weird game design choice, in my opinion.
So that’s what exists, but how is the player left to interact with it? Using your exosuit to survive, your multi-tool to collect, and your ship to travel, you hoof around on planets taking pictures of the local wildlife and plants. You also collect one of nineteen elements harvested from all around the surface of the planet. Each planet should contain all the things needed to keep your ship, suit and tool repaired and full of the required fuel/ammo. Wandering about the surface of the planet will unveil points of interest like crashed ships or bases. If a planet lacks the basic resources required to function, then these ports of call can offer a viable alternative. This is my problem with the game.
Why is this core game mechanic, the rule that allows you to exist in the universe and have fun, a problem? Because if every planet has the resources needed for you to function then there is little else to do aside from the main story, but that’s a linear affair and not why you go into an open world sandbox game. If I looked at a game like The Long Dark, collecting the mundane is essential to your survival. The way you hoard your resources and how you manage everything is the engaging part of the game. Here, because everything is so bountiful, there’s no need to collect it until you need it. This leaves you with grinding to ‘uncover’ an entire planet by photographing it’s lifeforms, milling about looking for points of interest to upgrade your items so you can do that on another planet. It’s a cycle of four actions, repeated over time.
Does that mean the game isn’t fun? Not at all, evidenced by my already putting over 12 hours into the game. Is the game worth 60 bucks? That’s a personal question that I can’t answer for you. But if you’re looking for a game that’s going to suck you in and let you dump hundreds of hours into it, you might consider a different game. NMS has a limited lifespan unusual for such a nearly unlimited scope.