Discovery and space.
Discovery. No Man’s Sky is all about discovery. There’s something quite special in the way that No Man’s Sky presents this ideal too. From the moment your character awakens in a strange new world, to warping through black holes to discover all new locations, No Man’s Sky captures a feeling unlike any other. In a world where games consistently tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, No Man’s Sky lets you loose onto an infinite creation which simply begs to be discovered.
The size and scope of No Man’s Sky is a fact to be marveled at, without hesitation. Time and time again, Sean Murray spoke of the infinite worlds that players could discover— and that promise has rung true. Even after 60+ hours spent in No Man’s Sky, the experience of discovering a brand new planet comes with a euphoric rush. Am I landing on a radioactive moon with hostile fauna? Is this an ocean planet with scarce formations to land on? What elements will I find on this planet? What alien race calls this part of the galaxy home? Yes, some of the bits in-between may be banal, but that feeling of discovery and exploration is something that I still marvel at.
No Man’s Sky is described as an action-adventure survival game built on four pillars of gameplay: exploration, survival, combat, and trading. While the aforementioned introduction of exploration is surely the strongest card No Man’s Sky plays, each pillar has varying degrees of necessity to the overall experience. At the core, No Man’s Sky can be similarly compared to Minecraft. Minecraft… in space, you might say. While this is reducing both products down to their base form, it is often the most succinct way to describe the former. You are thrown into a strange new world, and must craft and fight and explore to survive. While Minecraft has had years to grow and expand, and certainly does many things better than No Man’s Sky, there is still so much potential and polish in the way that the No Man’s Sky presents itself. I adore jumping into Minecraft, mining, and chopping and building a place to call home, but there’s something so uniquely special about No Man’s Sky. That sense of discovery, the continuous sense of wonder and astonishment, it builds itself into something really magical.
This sense of magic honestly and truly begins from the get-go. The first planet that you wake up on will be different than the planet that I wake up on. I woke up on a planet with acid rain. Lucky me. My brother woke up on a planet full of flora and fauna and beautiful vistas. I had a close friend who woke up on a snowy planet with hazardous weather conditions. These moments created wonderful points of discussion and interaction, and went even further than that. All three of us had wildly different experiences, from the alien races we saw in our adventures, to languages and multi-tools and more. These moments were simply magical, whether sharing with others, or while basking in them alone.
Acid rain. My first planet had acid rain.
While magical all the same, No Man’s Sky is also desperately haunting. No, there are no space ghosts or devilish creature out for blood, but there is a sense of abandonment and loneliness that satiates throughout. Sure, this is perhaps bolstered by the fact that NPC characters don’t provide any interaction besides the same stagnant stares and repeating riddles and menu selections, but those feelings still remain. Throughout my numerous hours in No Man’s Sky, I truly felt like I was a lost explorer desperately attempting to find my purpose, and discover new planets and galaxies. While menu navigation and actually tracking and archiving of said discoveries verges on lackadaisical and in need of much refinement, those feelings always remained.
Even after 60+ hours in No Man’s Sky with my exo-suit fully upgraded and a multi-tool that can melt through resources with ease, even with the ship mechanics and warping and ship storage management almost perfected, those feelings surge through. There’s nothing as terrifying, and exhilarating all alike, as warping into a brand new galaxy to discover something brand new. Will I inevitably find myself jumping into the same gameplay loops and jumping through the same resource hoops? It is inevitable, but that doesn’t change those feelings that emerge in those actions.
No Man’s Sky uses the Ubisoft approach of “Here’s a thing. Go to the thing. You are at the thing. Here are more things over here!” which is both beneficial and excruciating at the same time. While I spent hours and hours going from marker to marker in the first handful of galaxies, and spent numerous hours really exploring a handful of planets, these repetitious activates soon lost their luster. I adored how No Man’s Sky approached the task of learning new languages bit by bit, but acquiring words for each new language soon inconvenienced the draw of actually wanting to learn more. The first time you interact with an alien, only picking out one or two words and attempting to talk and cooperate was an interaction of wonder. By the time you’ve done this hundreds of times and the alien races remain tragically stoic and rigid, it once more loses its charm. Yes, a tiny studio with lofty ideas built No Man’s Sky, but some of these attempts inevitably come crashing down.
There are so many bits and pieces within No Man’s Sky that I adored, but they held back the overall experience just as much as they helped. I loved the tiny bits of narrative that leaked through by interacting with monoliths, but at the same time I wish those moments could have been streamlined to be experienced in full. I spent so much time interacting with the Gek for probably 65% of my journey, and then 25% with the Korvax, but hardly 10% with the Vy’keen. While this helped to make my experience different from those who I discussed the game with, I wish I could have indulged into the other races even more to discover their heritage and those great narrative bits. Once more, No Man’s Sky brought burdens upon itself with the vastness, while it still had all of the potential in the world to do the opposite.
Even with consistent crashes, I always jumped right back in.
In No Man’s Sky, there was never a moment where I was immediately pushed away or found myself hating what I was doing. I was often aware of the grind, but those moments of progression and discovery constantly pushed me forward. Even when I saw the cracks start to form, I didn’t mind because I was so infatuated and obsessed with that discovery and the progression systems within No Man’s Sky. Even as crash after crash after crash plagued my playthrough, I still wanted to return, still wanted to progress towards the center of the galaxy. Even as I fumbled through the odd inventory and design choices, I still wanted to continue playing, continue discovering. No Man’s Sky, faults and all, always had hooks in me throughout my playthrough.
No Man’s Sky has seen ups and downs, highs and lows, but it still exists in the realm of video games as a work-in-progress. Yes, a version of No Man’s Sky went gold and was later patched, but the game will certainly continue to grow and expand which will only enhance the product. Allusions to Minecraft come in hoards when it comes to No Man’s Sky, and these continue to be abt. The Minecraft of 2016 is far different than the Minecraft of 2010. I believe, and ultimately hope, that No Man’s Sky will trek a similar path. At the core, No Man’s Sky has so much potential to capitalize upon, it’s just a matter of the little studio that could doing so.
No Man’s Sky is a wonderful experiment in size and scope and a true master in creating blissful moments of discovery. All the while, the bits and pieces and moving parts that contribute to that sense of wonder and amazement end up holding back the best parts. Discovering words in order to decipher a strange new alien language is phenomenal. Interacting with the same lifeless aliens over and over again is not. Discovering what strange new lifeforms exist on a planet is remarkable. Having all species interact with your character in the same three ways is not. The list goes on and on. No Man’s Sky is a struggle of push and pull, a combination of so much greatness and potential while fumbling all the same. While I’ll take a break from No Man’s Sky for a little bit while the first wave of patches and updates roll out, deep down, I can’t wait to come back and discover something new.