Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Released: August 2016
Platform: Playstation 4, PC
Disk Size (GB): 6GB
With the wide array of articles at one’s disposal on this decidedly dividing game, it’s hard for someone to decide what may or may not be true about the expansive space exploration title, “No Man’s Sky”. Those that rode the hype train for years are disappointed, some that hoped for certain features have lost interest, and with a 90% drop in player base in less than a month, it’s easy for any passerby to assume that the indie team of Hello Games made too big a promise with too small a delivery. Is the negative press true? I submit that this universe’s beauty is in the eye of the control holder.
Hollow Game or Hallowed Ground?
I can’t pretend that I was on the hype train for this game. At the end of 2015, my favorite gaming channel produced a “Top 10 Games for 2016” video that highlighted “No Man’s Sky”. The artwork and gameplay featured in the short clip caught my attention: colorful, but not unrealistic, bizarre and wonderful creatures, and awe-inspiring horizons. I will readily admit that I’m a sucker for space, so seeing planets and flying a spaceship (or starship, in this case) proved incredibly appealing to me. But after this short clip in the video, the group of guys moved on to discuss other games, and I put “No Man’s Sky” at the back of my head. Unlike my typically obsessive self, I didn’t read the press releases or watch thirty videos on the game. My interest grew organically, and when the game did finally release, I bought it.
While it came to no surprise to me that the gaming community was terribly upset about the game immediately after release, I had a hard time seeing the reason for complaint. The gameplay is smooth: transitioning from planet to ship to space is seamless. The animation once my ship hits atmosphere is beautiful, and panning across the surface of a new planet for the first time brought me joy that took me completely by surprise. I took issue only with the lack of ability to find other players in the game. The time it took for some visuals to render was an adjustment, but honestly the entire universe is procedurally rendered, so of course some graphics take a second to load.
So why is there such massive discontent surrounding this title?
Sean Murray is being labeled a liar, a cheat, a snake oil salesman. Yet, when I watched interviews with him, there’s no hint of slimy salesman about him. He was genuinely enthused to give this game to the world. He requested patience from game consumers as they grumbled when release dates were pushed. And when the complaints started rolling around that the “center of the universe” game feature was a bust, he promised there was much more content just on the other side of the veil. He wanted to give the world a game that he dreamed of playing as a child, and just maybe, this game is his dream realized, even if it isn’t ours.
I tried to understand both sides of the argument. Hello Games is a company of a few people in relation to those who purchased and played the game. As a development team, they had the weight of the world on their shoulders, working to produce a title to fulfill the promises made by both their leader and Sony. They had Sony’s parameters in which to work, as well. But ultimately, if a game doesn’t live up to the players’ expectations, especially after overextended publicity, the game will fail. Add in the coding issues that caused the game to nearly be unplayable on PC, and we are looking at thousands of gamers requesting a refund.
Yet, sitting on my couch, in the dark, I’ve played through “No Man’s Sky” and rediscovered a sense of wonderment. The story, tenuous for some and slow for most, is essentially irrelevant for me. I don’t focus on how quickly I can gorge my appetite on this game before moving onto the next title to devour. I have savored this game, and as a result, enjoy it immensely.
On one planet I discovered a herd of animals that would dig up resources once fed. I’ve since discovered animals that do this on nearly every planet, but at that moment, surrounded by nearly fifteen happily cooing creatures the size of cows, I had an epiphany: I enjoyed being surrounded by all these animals with happy faces floating above their heads, and that I was hopelessly lonely in this universe. They were my first real interaction in-game, and while I was sad to leave the planet, it was a realization I wouldn’t take lightly.
For so many of us, playing games has become a form of social interaction. There is such a multitude of multiplayer titles that some younger gamers have never experienced a single player game. In a game where isolation is one of the prominent features of the gameplay itself, it’s a hard sell. On the other hand, though, there are those of us that need little guidance to fuel our imaginations and interests in a game. One of the joys I derive from “No Man’s Sky” is sitting in complete silence, with the exception of the sounds of the game, exploring at my own pace. Of course I’m still playing other titles socially, but when I don’t want to move my vocal cords or rely on teammates, this game is a sweet respite.
I completely recognize that “No Man’s Sky” is not a game for every player. It is slow, there is resource grinds, the universe is solitary at best and emptily isolating at worst. But in all my years of loving video games, I’ve never felt awe while discovering a game quite the way I have while playing Hello Games’ title.
You’ve Convinced me to Play! Now What?
If you’ve decided to continue on and journey through space with just your exosuit and starship for company, you’re going to see you need to mine resources to repair your ship. There are a few items I like to keep in reserve: Plutonium, Zinc, Thamium9, Carbon, and gold. All resources but the last are items on which you will regularly rely to keep your exosuit and ship in repair. Gold serves as a decent trade item for currency anywhere, and whether you’re in this universe or the procedurally generated one in “No Man’s Sky”, you need money to get by.
When you start the game, you are standing next to your badly damaged starship. The first hour or so of scavenging serves as your game tutorial. As you mine for items like Plutonium or Carbon, you’ll see your mining tool status bar in the upper right hand corner. Be aware that the more you mine in one continuous stretch, the more likely sentinels are going to be alerted of your presence.
Ah, sentinels. Those nasty little buggers that are flying in the air around you, scanning resources and animals to make sure they’re safe- those guys are a big factor in how favorable a planet can be. You could land on the most lush, temperate planet possible, but if the sentinels are listed as “frenzied”, just go ahead and get back in your starship. And, on that note, as you land on planets, you’ll see a quick run down in your lower left hand corner of what the planet (and the resident sentinels) will be like. Temperature, flora and fauna, hazardous environment statistics (if applicable), and sentinel state are all listed here when you first land on a new planet. Take note of it.
Let’s rewind a bit to those first few moments on your first planet. There is an opportunity to “follow the guidance of Atlas” or to ignore it, essentially, and your choice matters because the guidance of Atlas will be really the only strands of a story this game has. If you choose to ignore Atlas, your entire experience in the game will be self-guided. With Atlas as your in-game “deity”, you will have some semblance of a path to take; some purpose will be given to your journeys and your endless (and cautious) mining of resources.
You may or may not happen upon creatures on the planets you visit. They tend to fall into one of two columns: they’re either docile (and you can feed them), or they’re hostile, and you can either run away or kill them. Note that if you kill an animal, a sentinel may attack you for it. Your mining tool does have a weapon of some sort, once you build and equip it in an available slot, so you could kill an animal and then destroy the avenging sentinel. I’ve made it my mission to not kill any animal unless it relentlessly follows and attacks me, but my affinity for animals may further extend than your own.
If you have a knack for Tetris, be prepared to utilize those skills while managing items in both your exosuit and starship. You’ll find different places to upgrade your exosuit storage space, but your starship? That’s another issue entirely. You can save your hard mined money and buy an upgraded ship, or, you can be a smart consumer and repair a wreck. You’ll find crashed ships on various planets, usually with a distress beacon marking their locations. Be patient, and don’t waste your currency on a ship early in the game.
There are other locations that you can find using your “map” (hint: it’s that thin white half circle at the top center of your screen), like monoliths. You can find the location of monoliths, usually historically important locations and dilapidated relics resembling buildings, by accessing different alien outposts. Alien outposts are great places to meet new NPC faces, sell your items (just what else are fascination beads and gek charms for, anyway?), and hide away from those occasional planetary storms. Your interactions with these NPCs will increase or decrease your standing with their races (Gek, Korvax, and Vy’Keen), so be on your best behavior. Or worst, if you’re that kind of person.
If you’ve chosen to follow the path Atlas has set for you, eventually you’ll make your way to an Atlas interface. You’ll also discover space stations, space pirate shootouts, and LOTS of Thamium9 (if you run into floating space rock debris) along the way.
My guidance into “No Man’s Sky” has to end here, because I’m taking my sweet time savoring this game. While it hasn’t dethroned my favorite title, it also hasn’t been discarded like other recent space games that promised much and delivered little. Truthfully, I enjoy Hello Game’s title. Perhaps it is missing the promised content, perhaps more will be added later, or perhaps this game is everything it was intended to be and the general public misunderstood. None of that really matters to me because I’m enjoying the game as it stands, and really, isn’t that why we play games in the first place, for enjoyment?