No Man's Sky Impressions.
Ah, the long wait is finally over. No Man’s Sky is here. And you know what? It’s not entirely the game I expected.
And I originally thought it was better than what I expected it to be. But now I don't think that is the case. I'm much more ambivalent than either elated or disappointed.
For me, I think so many people - Sony, Sean Murray, the fans - got caught up in this hype machine and I think it's absolutely fair to say everyone could've done something a little different to temper expectations to something realistic. Especially the fans who got ridiculously, needlessly and ignorantly out of hand.
If you look at Sean Murray's Twitter cover photo, you can clearly see his adventure game influence from a golden age of sci-fi/fantasy/adventure fiction in games and novels. No Man's Sky is a love letter to those things and I think Sean Murray largely made the game he wanted to make. I don't think the game he made is entirely indicative of the game that was shown pre-release. And it's a hard thing to reconcile. I think Sean Murray and Hello Games - based on previous work, not just NMS, are very good, hard working designers.
What I think the biggest part of the problem is how you describe a game before you can play it. In NMS, can you fly in a technically infinite universe? Yes. Can you explore planets for upwards of 30 hours apiece? Yes. Can you shoot alien creatures? Yes. Can you fight space pirates in a spaceship? Yes. And all of that sounds so amazing! Who wouldn't want to play that?
But sometimes ideas sound great when you explain them and not when you play them.
Hype, "broken" promises and other nonsense aside - what exactly is No Man's Sky?
It is a survival + exploration game in an infinite universe. And it's great at being those 3 things. Don't dig much further. Explore the game at a slow, easy going pace and ignore anything that pulls you in any direction other than the direction you want to go. And to the players who constantly complain about the survival aspect, I say: Just play the game because Hello Games really nailed the sliding shift between the early hours’ focus on survival towards the mid-to-late game’s focus on exploration.
This game is about the experience you have while playing it, the mysteries and revelations of solitary exploring.
But not all is perfect in No Man’s Sky. The story telling is so obtuse, sometimes it might not even bother to show up at all. Which is a shame because what I did get and manage to understand has been a beautiful homage to classic sci-fi. The gameplay gives us as players such wonderful individual stories (like when my ship glitched itself off planet and I spent 3 hours trying to figure out how to get it back) that the actual story of No Man’s Sky seems…interruptive. Like, it’s a nuisance because it stopped me from mining minerals. Sure, it can be “optional.” But when I get those damn Abandoned Building beacons, they don’t seem to go away unless I do them or warp out of the system.
The UI, while taking some very clever pages from Destiny’s playbook, can get a little wonky. I’m absolutely unclear how many exosuit slots I have left to find. Every time I fill the square and I find another one, it just makes the square bigger. So now, when the upgrades are too expensive, I leave them be. Seems like there’s an infinite amount? I’m not sure. Typography routinely seems mismanaged - when a ship costs a lot, the price sort scrolls because it doesn’t entirely fit. And during monolith events or scripted events, the way the type is set can be somewhat difficult/uninviting to read. I’m also not a fan of the “hold X button down” to do literally anything. In Destiny, in which the same delayed select mechanic is present, the speed of the delay is dynamic based on the rarity of the item. Why No Man’s Sky borrowed so much of Destiny’s UI but not this particular feature is…strange. The aiming reticle is so tiny and often gets lost when I do a scan that I’m sometimes not sure where it is among all the icons. Also why carbon, plutonium and thamium9 all are under the “isotope” icon but your ship requires specifically plutonium and thamium9 for different functions is very strange and I’ve stopped caring about the isotope icon and just looking for specific flora that gives me the element I’m looking for.
Last but not least the game is buggy as hell. A few times now I’ve been coming an area for large deposits of Emeril and when I land, I find out that I already harvested that deposit because it slowly fades from view. Grass comes through the floor of inhabited outposts, my aforementioned ship suddenly autopiloted itself into space, numerous crashes to the menu and so many other bugs - which is fine. I get bugs but there’s just so many that they should be mentioned.
In closing though I want to be clear - No Man’s Sky ups the bar for what a small team can do - and not just in game development but what an indie game achieve in the media and in sales. I’m in love with the scale, the personality, the art direction and vision of the game. The moment to moment gameplay is so quick from mining to combat to crafting to exploring that every minute something new can pop up if you allow it to. Amid the controversy and the bugs there's a genuine passion in this game that you would be wrong to miss.