No Man’s Sky (PS4, PC)
Developer: Hello Games
Release: August 9, 2016
Score: 9 out of 10
I’ve spent 40 hours with No Man’s Sky. In that time I’ve explored the cosmos, blasting my way between solar systems and diving down deep into planets galore. I’ve bought starships, pillaged minerals, traded with alien explorers and splashed the cash. Life in the stars is much like life on earth. Make money, buy stuff and take pictures along the way. After all this time, I haven’t reached the centre of the universe, the game’s designated end game. And you know what? It doesn’t bother me.
Normally I don’t write a review until I’ve finished the game in question, but I realize now that the joy of No Man’s Sky is in the journey, not the destination. So long as you’re not rushing to try and see the credits roll, anyone can pick up this title, feed it into their console and walk away impressed.
Not everyone agrees. Two weeks since its release, the dust is settling. The hype is gone, the hyperbole has dimmed. We’re left with a product naked for the world to see. Many of you love it, but just as many of are disappointed.
One thing no one can deny is this game’s beauty.
No Man’s Sky is beautiful in a way I’ve never seen before. Just take a look at some of the screenshots dotted throughout this review. Planets teem with life, light, colour. Discovering a tropical planet rich in fauna and flora is a joy. It is these places you’ll no doubt gravitate towards, leaving a barren rock as soon as it materializes before your eyes. But sometimes, disembarking on a dry slab of land gives you something better – a surprise. Explore, and you’ll come across ultra rare minerals and once-off discoveries. You never know what you’ll find – and that’s a key ingredient in the exlir.
Individual maps are enormous and could take an entire day to explore. That there are more than a quantillion to discover, all procedurally generated, boggles the mind. Even so, I have already come across two planets that have been discovered by other players – and may well find more.
That raises a question: is this a shared universe or not? Recent controversy suggest it isn’t, but that shouldn’t put you off. This is a solitary journey if there ever was one, punctuated by brief encounters you have with aliens who sell you minerals and buy your trinkets. Trade turns out to be a big complement of the experience, but these sentient encounters are driven by text and eerily devoid of audio.
These traders are your friend, because you can’t just hop into your ship and explore. Your ship needs fuel, and for that, you need materials. Mining valuable resources can net you big money and the first time you discover a rock of gold the size of a double-storey house, you’ll rejoice.
On the plus side, it adds a layer of depth to the experience. On the other, it means a certain amount of grinding is necessary to progress. There’s no getting away from it – and in the end, becomes key in determining your impression of the game. So here’s the skinny: your ship and your suit only have space for so much gear. Either you find a way to upgrade them or you be selective about what you hold. There’s a watershed moment when you realize that you can solve the problem by simply being clear about where you want to go, and what you want to build. A huge amount of criticism has been lobbed at inventory management in the game, but it forces you to find solutions without having your hand held.
More than anything, I think No Man’s Sky is the victim of the modern review cycle, which necessitates we burn the midnight oil to deliver a verdict on time. With copies landing on press desks late, reviewers have been pressed harder to squeeze every last drop of energy out of the game. That’s not the way to best enjoy No Man’s Sky, which doesn’t lend itself to marathon sessions. It’s better enjoyed like a fine wine you dip into at odd hours of the day, sip, enjoy and re-cork.
Take it slow and you’ll resist the urge to simply build warp drives and head straight for the center of the universe, because that would rob you of the secondary delights, like the diagrams for better gear, highly precious resources discovered at random, new words of alien languages or a side story dubbed Atlas. The Atlas storyline is, I believe, a late addition to the package and one hurriedly written to add narrative structure to the game. It’s not perfect and it does get repetitive, but it’s still a neat incentive to keep you ploughing forward as you rack up the voyager miles.
If you go into No Man’s Sky in search of meaning, purpose, direction, you’ll walk away disappointed. And frankly, that’s foolish. No Man’s Sky can be as aimless as space itself, letting you do as you please with only ever a subtle nudge in the right direction. This isn’t a role-playing game with experience points and skill trees. It’s what you make of it.
All the gamey stuff necessarily protracts what we’re really after: the joy of hopping into a space craft and discovering some new delights for our eyes and ears. And make no mistake – there’s plenty. Though the allure will eventually wear off (and how could it not?), there’s 40+ hours of content to enjoy before you reach a plateau.
Most games are judged on a linear scale: a tick for a plus point, a minus for a niggle. No Man’s Sky is more subjective. The world you will see will be different from the one I’ve seen. All I can say is this: If you’ve ever been fascinated by the idea of space exploration No Man’s Sky will make you draw breath. I’ve never played a game where I’ve taken so many screenshots, or been so willing to show off to friends. Take your time with it and you’ll learn to love a game that, through its stunning beauty, is more than the sum of its parts and stuffed with surprises that make you smile. You’ll take delight in the journey: the magic of maths, science and art working together in beautiful union.
I’ve absolutely loved it.
Discovered a planet that I colonized first (EdwardLoveZA)? Drop me a comment in the thread below!