If you could have measured my initial enthusiasm for No Man’s Sky on a scale from “Not at all Interested” to “Willing to pay $1,300 for an advance copy” (I guess some people don’t have rent and college loans to pay off) I would have landed somewhere around more than mildly interested. It was only once I started hearing the hype that the game contained more than 18 quintillion planets (are we even sure that’s a real number?) that my radar finally started to focus on Hello Games’ endeavor into intergalactic exploration.
As someone who loves open-world games, this sounded like a dream come true. As a completionist (someone who likes to obsessively explore everything a game has to offer) I knew this could also turn out to be a time-consuming, OCD nightmare. No Man’s Sky has turned out, so far, to be a little bit of both (thankfully, with far more dream than nightmare).
Your Journey Begins
So, what do you do when you find yourself suddenly set down on a strange planet with a damaged spaceship, a multi-tool, a jet pack, a constantly waning life support system and your instinctual will to live? You go exploring, of course. The game’s only initial instructions (conveyed to you through messages that appear on the bottom right of the screen) are that you must find materials to repair your ship. With that, the planet is yours. It is up to you to figure out how to go about your task and, most importantly, stay alive.
Surviving in Outer Space
It doesn’t take long to realize No Man’s Sky is essentially a game of survival. As you travel along the planet’s surface, you will need to gather certain minerals and isotopes from the surrounding terrain and plant life in order to keep your various life-support systems, and your multi-tool, charged and operational. Carbon keeps your multi-tool at the ready, for example, while zinc keeps your Hazard Protection going, thus preventing you from freezing to death.
Some minerals can only be gathered by using your multi-tool, while others can simply be plucked by hand—this is good news when your multi-tool runs out of energy and needs to be recharged. Also, using your multi-tool to mine can attract the attention of sentinels there to make certain you aren’t destroying the planet. If you start going to town on, say, a pile of gold (guilty as charged) you might find yourself in a battle with a gaggle of enraged robots. Thankfully, you can outrun them and they seem to forget afterward that you are ravaging the planet’s resources (unless they catch you doing it again).
Never Enough Slots
Of course, managing your collected resources becomes one of the most major (if not the greatest) difficulties the longer you explore. While you don’t have a weight limit, your equipment only comes with a certain number of empty slots. This leads to some very telling revelations about your personality, like the time I contemplated whether I really wanted to let go of a resource I knew I could sell for a lot of credits (money), or gather more zinc so I could live (that’s normal, right?). I ultimately, though begrudgingly, did choose the zinc, but only because I was far away from a save point and knew I couldn’t outrun the cold long enough to reach a post and make the sale.
When I realized you could teleport the contents of any slot you wanted back to the ship to make room for more stuff, I thought, “Well, this is just too easy.” That is until I was struck by what should have been the obvious reality that the ship only has a certain number of slots as well (duh).
Building (and Buying) Better Equipment
So, how do you get more slots? Well, unfortunately, the only way to do that is to acquire better equipment with a higher slot capacity, which can be costly. You will need to earn credits through either scanning or cataloging wildlife, or selling your hard-earned resources through the intergalactic market.
As far as upgrades and repairs go, the crafting menu is fairly simple, displaying what elements are needed to create an item or a certain material, and how many of each item/material is needed to make a repair or an upgrade. This way, you know exactly what you need to collect in order to advance your journey. You will also learn new combinations by running across and interacting with broken-down machines.
No Man’s Sky But Yours
It is safe to say without any exaggeration that what Hello Games has accomplished is nothing short of one of the greatest feats in gaming I have seen in my lifetime (and I have been playing since the good ol’ days of the NES). I spent the first few hours of the game simply exploring the planet on which I initially arrived (and not just because I got stuck in a cave for at least 20 minutes before locating an exit). The freedom of open exploration is exhilarating. You really can go anywhere on the planet, thanks largely to a very handy jet pack. Once I finally decided it was time to move on, takeoff was simple and the flight controls were fluid and natural.
From there, I could easily jettison to some new planet, or explore a space station, without any loading screens. The universe was mine to explore at will, and it is hard to put a price on an experience like that. However, my first dozen hours with No Man’s Sky has been enough to convince me that the game’s biggest draw is also its greatest weakness.
A (Practically) Infinite Universe, But a Limited Attention Span
The ongoing cycle of scavenging, collecting, surviving, upgrading, and exploring is at first exciting if you like that type of game (and I do), but I can see how it could also become painfully repetitive after a certain point. Aside from reaching the center of the universe (whenever you choose to start that objective) there isn’t any sort of ultimate goal other than challenging yourself to see how many planets you can visit, or cataloging all the wildlife, or seeing how long your patience holds out.
While the game notes your accomplishments, including new discoveries and distance traveled, it would be nice to have something more to hold your attention like a leaderboard, or some way to more directly interact with other players. The ability to fast-travel between already discovered waypoints on a planet would help a great deal as well (it would definitely have helped solve my life or money issue I mentioned earlier).
Initial Impressions: Is No Man’s Sky for You?
In the end, whether No Man’s Sky is worth your cash depends largely on how you want to spend your time, your level of patience, your love of exploration, and maybe your ability to take a break from time to time.
This is a game that is designed to be an experience far more than simply something you “beat.” In that way, I feel like No Man’s Sky is more of an experiment than it is a traditional game. I, for one, am excited to see what the future holds now that we know what it’s like to seamlessly explore an almost infinite universe. Hopefully, in the future, we will get to experience something similar with more direct interaction with other players.
I am not certain yet how long it will take me to reach the center of the universe since I have been having too much fun simply exploring. When I do finally break and start my bee-line toward whatever is to be found there, I’ll let you know. Until then, I do feel the game was worth my money and time, though, you might want to wait until it goes on sale if you don’t plan on taking the scenic route.
Images: Hello Games