No Mans Sky is an ambitious game from the team that brought you Joe Danger. Its lofty goal is to create an entire procedurally generated universe with 18 quintillion planets for players to explore, replete with all sorts of crazy life forms, plants, rock formations, outposts, and technology to discover. Most people's first reaction to such a thing is that there's no way that it's possible. The game is finally out, and it's time to see if No Man's Sky is everything that it's cracked up to be.
This begs the question: Is it the final frontier because it has no end?
At first, the marvel of No Man's Sky isn't overly apparent as the game world and situation into which you're dropped is pretty similar to many other games. There's a sky when you look up, some form of ground under your feet, rocks, trees, some objects with which to interact, a laser gun that doubles as a mining tool, and a crashed ship that provides at least a bit of context. Tooltips pop-up in the lower right hand corner to provide instruction on the workings of the game and to provide direction on what to do next.
The basics that are presented here are all lackluster at first glance, but as you finally start to make progress on your way back to the stars, the enormity of literally everything presents itself. After getting the ship up and running, it's amazing how the structure that was an hour's walk away is now merely seconds away. Looking up to see a moon in the sky is commonplace, but when it finally strikes you that it's not a moon but a distant planet that you may have already explored, the game is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The first trip to a nearby space station is absolutely stunning, not because space is filled with sights on the way, but rather because the speed that turned an hour walk into mere seconds puts your ETA for the space station at several hours.
Stay away from the light!
This awe only lasts for so long, however. While the planets can definitely be gorgeous, many of them are fairly barren places. Structures follow only a few different formulas and are scattered across planets like a giant blanket, leaving you not far from the next predictable encounter with a basic number puzzle or half understood conversation. The intelligent life that is sprinkled throughout the system never moves, unless you count the random trade vessels that land and depart at certain ports.
Each type has its own culture, but they don't seem to break out from traditional archetypes much. This appears to be intentional since each of these groups has its own language that you have to learn through various ruins on planets, and having these aliens follow archetypes allows players the chance to fill in the blanks from context. By the time that you've reached any significant level of understanding, you've likely stumbled into the realm of an entirely different culture where you need to start again, so it never feels like real progress is made. All of this exists in what could have been interesting encounters, but it frequently boils down to receiving either a random reward or penalty of little consequence.
While there is certainly animal life out there, it's only a small percentage of planets that have more than a couple of different species. There are variations of plant life that appear across multiple planets, and while they are theoretically different, it's hard to tell them apart. Scanning all of these different plants, animals, and even rocks provides the chance to name them in exchange for some cash, but it feels like there's very little substantive difference between them.
What are the odds that two identical ships dock at the same place at the same time?
In fact, all of these different rock and plant formations provide iron and carbon respectively. There are some special deposits on these planets, but all of the red crystalline bits that are sticking out of the ground will be plutonium, while the green will generally be either emeril or some equally uncommon element that's rarely used outside of being sold to the galactic market in exchange for Units, the game's form of cash. Yellow plants will generally give zinc, yellow shards provide titanium, and green chests provide curios that are designed only for selling. Once the predictability of it has been figured out, it's not hard to enter a rhythm that keeps you moving. Anything beyond that is what feels like a mindless grind towards the galactic center or other destination of choice.
The predictability of the systems is compounded by the actual gameplay itself. Moving around is sufficient, but it never feels good. Combat is somewhat drab as a result, but perhaps more telling is the fundamental nature of the combat. It's generally not worth finding cover when fighting on foot in most instances, but the fact that enemy sentinels have a habit of moving themselves into your line of sight before attacking is odd. As if this wasn't enough, aim assist will deliver hits on an enemy even if the reticule is a body length away from the target.
This is similarly true in space combat, where enemy ships go through a pattern of moving around you before heading straight for you, regardless of whether you're shooting at them or not. In both instances, it feels nothing like a daring battle of wits so much as a battle of who has better protection and stronger weapons. If you can take the beating while dealing damage fast enough, you win. If you lose, you simply have to return to where you died to collect some of your things, which rarely carries with it any of the danger that got you killed in the first place.
It's a striking look, but it's also quite a common one for caves.
All games must have some level of juxtaposition and contrast for its greatest aspects to strike home, but in No Man's Sky this comes from the basic gameplay. Wandering across an empty plain in search of a particular resource is a drawback that stands between one great vista and another. Flying from one point to another, after the initial revelation of the vastness of space, is a mundane task the separates lush, resource rich planets from empty wastelands. Combat is just something to do between setting out to find a piece of technology and actually finding it, so that the reward doesn't come too easily. Even the tedious inventory management that's required, especially early in the game before you upgrade your inventories, seems devoid of any real purpose other than to be in the way of making progress.
For trophies, progress is the name of the game although only in a numerical sense. These trophies are similarly mundane, although likely in an effort to stay out of the way. Of the 23 trophies, 18 of them are merely three tiers of six different trophies, while the remaining five are two tiers of two different trophies, and the platinum. Aside from the trophies for surviving in harsh conditions and for uploading data on all of the species on a planet, the trophies simply fill from simple tasks as you play, such as walking or shooting down attacking enemy ships. Being exhaustive with the various species on a planet could be quite troublesome due to just how big the game is, but aside from this, they all seem easily attainable. In fact, much like the game, this seems like more filler that doesn't actually provide any enrichment to the game and doesn't have a definite ending because the trophies are listed with ranks rather than numerical descriptions.
SummaryNo Man's Sky truly manages the goal of being awe-inspiring. Maintaining that awe slowly becomes a struggle as the game systems, as if by design, get in the way of exploration. Combat boils down to a simple numbers game rather than skill, finding the resources that you need is tedious more than an adventure, and learning an alien tongue is a long process that rarely pays off in any meaningful way. Stumbling through the first few star systems is a special experience that you won't find elsewhere, and it could last a worthwhile several hours, but after that it's a game that will only appeal to those who love grinding and expect little in return.
- Infinite possibilities...
- Pretty worlds and scenarios
- ...but a lot of similarities
- Weak gameplay loop
- Mundane survival elements
- Rigid, unrewarding intelligent life
- Poor combat
A Playstation 4 copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer for the purposes of this review. The reviewer played for roughly 15 hours, which was for an extra 10 hours beyond learning how to build his own warp cell, after which the game never deviated from routine. Brandon earned 8 of the game's 23 trophies in the process.
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