Massive. Eternal. Beautiful. Those three words probably best describe my experience with Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky. Its humble beginnings as an indie game was soon forgotten, propelled by its dreams and promise as it captivated crowds with each tease. Who can help it? It shows that players are empowered and given a chance to explore a digital universe complete with the stars and planets. In paper, it sounds incredible and very tempting in a consumer’s standpoint. But is this exploration game worth your time?
One dot = one star system = 3 or more planets
What is No Man’s Sky?
18 Quintillion planets in one game. The number might sound alien but imagine that the digits are so large that it has 30 zeroes! For the exact number, it’s 18,446,744,073,709,551,616. Colossal, right!? In an interview, the creator, Sean Murray, told that it would take 584 billion years if the player manages to visit a planet per second. All planets can be fully explored given that you have the time and patience to do so. If the planets in the system has all been treaded upon, you can go to other systems to explore their planets and again repeat the cycle.
You can feed this thing with metal (?) to gain its trust. Afterwards, you are rewarded with rare metals.
What cycle? Well, the player starts off as an astronaut stranded in an unknown planet. With the spacecraft down, the first task is to gather minerals to repair it. Depending on the whims of fate or the random number generated, the player might find him/herself in a very hostile world. But don’t worry, getting dead in No Man’s Sky is not a chore. Dying is but another cycle in this crazy big universe. If the player dies, he/she is revived and is presented with a choice to revisit the place of death to retrieve lost materials.
At some point, weapons can be upgraded. Changing to a newer tool opens up more room for enhancements. Grind more to get that new tech!
Initially armed with nothing but a sorry excuse for a space gun, it’s easy to die in the first attempt. No Man’s Sky’s major facet is also found in resource gathering. While it is first used in repairing the ship, as time goes by, the player finds new blueprints which augment the space suit or the craft itself. Upgrading is not a cakewalk as the player must sacrifice inventory space to make room for enhancements.
The inventory can be upgraded during the latter parts of the game. At first, you’d have to contend with a limited space and a fairly weak suit.
Once the tedious task of gathering materials to repair the ship has been done. There’s nothing left but to explore beyond.
Fly like a butterfly, turn like a tank.
Ship controls are basic as a whole. You got buttons for tilt, acceleration, and a quick-button for landing. Flying over planets isn’t as free as you’d expect it to be. The ship cannot fly too close to the ground, impeded by an invisible border. However, you can crash onto mountains. On the otherhand, flying to the otherside is as seamless as expected. The player can break through the atmosphere and silently glide across space without being stopped with loading screens.
In space, the player is given a glimpse of the magnitude of it all. Looking at the vast expanse and the large colorful orbs await the player’s footsteps. Each star system has a hub, a large space station that acts as a sanctuary for all interplanetary travelers. Here, the player can trade the goods mined or acquired in different planets. Elements such as Gold and Aluminum can be traded for sought after materials to be used in upgrades for the player’s suit or ship.
Becoming the Last Starfighter
Ships can be bought or discovered in various planets. Only one ship per player.
In exploring the lonely sea of the universe, the player might find him/herself in the middle of a large firefight. Ship controls are clunky and it’s not hard to find oneself respawning inside the space station to retrieve the broken husk that was the player’s ship.
I remember being excited as I was invited to participate in a space fight. I was confident as I upgraded my ships guns and had enough systems to reduce their cooldowns. To my surprise, I was pitted against 13 incredibly agile and organized fighters. Given the odds, I was downed after burning just two enemy ships.
These large ships called for my help but didn’t even lift a finger to fend off against their attackers. Do note that those little arrowheads denote one enemy ship. I had to contend with 13 of them at this time. It didn’t end well.
After that sortie, I thought that it was but a rare moment in this large game. But lo and behold, it happened four times. In all, I was the lone fighter against numerous opponents. I did win one, but the others left me battered and frustrated. How was the game expecting me to fight against more than ten enemies despite the large BATTLESHIPS themselves were asking for my help? I answered the call and was met with nothing but stares and no aid. So much for space hospitality.
I liked how the game populated the underwater segments with plants and wildlife.
Before playing, I was already surprised with the size of No Man’s Sky. Literally. It just took me about 5GB of hard disk space to accommodate it in my PS4. It’s very small even though it offers a mind-boggling number inside it. How did this go? Blame it on procedural generation. As the player travels, the game generates planets with the flora and fauna in it. The developers made some elements that can be hot-swapped to make new creatures and new planets. For example, some readily made limbs can be changed to create a new kind of specie. Planets also get the same treatment. Plants and ores exhibit the same behavior.
The PS4 version suffers from some popping issues and limited draw distances.
Graphics are also something to note. It’s not the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen but it’s art style is memorable. It showcases a variety of tricks in lighting and in design. Just look at the images below:
Is it Worth it?
Captivating views are definitely not in short supply.
As one of the highly-anticipated games for 2016, No Man Sky does deliver. But not as we expected it to be. Most of my nitpicking stems from the lack of things to do. Yep, even though it has tons of planets to explore, the main chink in No Man’s Sky’s armor is its lack of anything to do. It’s a toil of mining minerals, walking across a planet, and then jumping to the next star system. It doesn’t sound enticing as it should as you’ll most likely come across the same tree, but this time, the leaves are blue.
The game has a day-night cycle, and the leaves and grasses follow suit with the wind.
Design implementations also affected the experience. The field of view is tight and narrow. The menus are also designed in a way similar to Destiny’s. It involves the player twiddling the joystick to select the choices or replies. It seems counter-intuitive as directional buttons would suffice.
The space combat is also troublesome and not enjoyable. Frustrating at its worst, meh at its best. Getting beaten by swarms of ships that are highly accurate and as fast as bees is not in my list of things that I’d like to experience.
With its faults, No Man’s Sky still shines like a bright star. Among the games, it finds itself snug inside a hole that was left unfilled for a long time. It employs simple gameplay mechanics that meshes together and evolves to form an experience that is grand and untapped. After a while, it might lose its fuel to appeal, but it did manage to get the first flag in uncharted territory.
I have to give it to No Man’s Sky for coming up with a gargantuan game knowing that Hello Games is composed of a very small team. The procedural generation and galaxies isn’t new as it was first employed by EA’s Spore, and it also utilized the same techniques. But No Man’s Sky made it so that we could sit down and explore it with our very own eyes. Its use of efficient programming defies size and expectations. With its success, I can say that more games might be encouraged to follow suit with this kind of technique.
There’s loneliness in this vast universe. You are alone without a noisy AI to bug you.
Is it something you should play? Definitely. I might’ve lost interest because I played it straight for more than a dozen of hours. But I see myself picking this up after sometime. I think of it as a go-to game when you’re tired of new releases or you’d just like to sit down and explore. Sort of like my Sims 3 or my Civilization V binges. Quick, easy, and not stressful. The good thing is that the devs are not likely to let go yet as they are still fixing the game to make this diamond shine all the more.
No Man’s Sky is a console-exclusive for the Sony PS4 and runs at a steady 30 FPS at 1080p. It is also available for the PC.