Short Version: It’s a good game, but only if this is specifically what you’re looking for. The game is exactly what Hello Games said it was going to be, so there aren’t any broken promises here. You explore, trade, fight and survive, but none of those elements are done particularly well. The sound, art, music and overall immersion is excellent, but if you are looking for something more complex other than having a chill time while looking at some planets, then look somewhere else. The first couple hours are great and full of discovery, but anything after that gets repetitive, tedious, and sometimes irritating. For the most part, I enjoyed myself, but a lot of other people won’t feel the same way. Stay informed and play this at your own risk.
Long Version: Ever since its very first announcement at the 2013 VGX awards, I was absolutely pumped for a game like this. Aside from having electric super powers, which was a fantasy satisfied by the Infamous games, being able to freely explore outer space with no restrictions was another one that I was sure No Man’s Sky would fulfill. For the most part, it succeeds, but that is without mentioning how it holds up as an actual video game, which isn’t the best. The whole novelty of an infinite universe that you can play with starts to wear off very quickly after one realizes its many unfortunate shortcomings. One does not need to get to the center of the galaxy or explore every planet to notice the four pillars that define, but also hinder, this enormous game created by a tiny team of very talented people.
When you begin the game, you are placed in a random planet that can vary from a desolate planet with almost nothing on it, to a lush and beautiful landscape full of creatures and flora to look at, which I had the fortune of getting during my playthrough. Immediately, the game is striking in its art direction, with gorgeous colors that pop out like an old science fiction book, with visible planets in the distance and the strangest creatures you’ll ever lay your eyes on. Seeing vistas like these made me do the unthinkable and actually use the “Share” button on my PS4 controller fairly frequently for taking screenshots, which I never thought that would be a thing I would ever do.
You soon realize that all you have is an exosuit to keep yourself alive, a multi-tool for mining resources and a broken starship that needs fixing. Knowing that, your first objective is to wander around this planet and look for all the resources necessary to bring your ship back up to working capacity; to which then you can launch off into space and explore more planets. Believe me when I say that there is no better feeling than flying off into space for the first time, with absolutely no loading times whatsoever. The transition between arriving and landing on a planet is incredibly smooth and elegant that certainly became a highlight of my experience.
As soon as you are airborne, you are free to explore any planet, which can contain different biomes such as snowy, desert, grassy paradise, dead, radioactive and even extreme versions of all of those. All of these different biomes will have different kinds of creatures, plant life and sometimes even rare resources for you to scan and upload to a network that will then pay you in units for you to be able to buy stuff. After a certain point, you’ll know precisely where to look for the stuff you need, mostly due to the fact that all planets will always have the same basic stuff that’s necessary for you move forward, and not much else than that.
I say that, since there is really no purpose to exploring caves and enormous bodies of water, for you will always end up finding the same resources and landmarks that you normally would on the surface level. Whenever you aren’t collecting things from the environment, you can also find buildings such as observatories, trading outposts, and shelters. These all sound different, but they all pretty much boil down to the same thing: One dude that you can talk to, a computer that will direct you somewhere else, some machines on the wall that recharges your stuff and sometimes a shop. There are a couple differences, but not big enough to truly say that they are different or worth acknowledging. The same goes for the planets. After you’ve discovered about 20 or 30 of them, you’ve pretty much seen them all. For an infinite universe full of billions of planets, it’s really not that impressive.
Of course, not everything is walking around and staring at stuff. There will be a few moments where you will have to arm yourself and get ready to fight some enemies. Throughout the game, you will have many opportunities to deck out your multi-tool with upgrades, basically turning it into a mining beam, a gun, or a mixture of both. Enemies will usually be comprised of a group of mysterious, self-replicating automatons known as the Sentinels. These machines are more generally known by people as the “space cops,” who will get mad at you if you excessively mine resources, kill too many creatures, or if you go out of your way to attack them. There will be some Sentinels that will attack you just for existing, since there are some planets out there than have much more aggressive robots than in others and will shoot you on sight. Sometimes, there will be animals, and even plants, that can hurt you, but that rarely ever happened in my experience.
Whenever you find exotic resources, you will immediately get 3 stars in the game’s Grand Theft Auto style wanted level system and get constantly shot at, which in a way discourages you from ever getting those valuable objects, especially if you are not a fighter. Actually, most of the time, the Sentinels were an enormous source of frustration for me, since they would always get in the way of me doing something fun or discovering something interesting.
One infuriating example was one time when I found a crashed ship that was exactly what I needed. I was trying to transfer all my items and fix the ship, but because this planet had hostile Sentinels, they never stopped shooting at me, no matter how many I destroyed. After being very annoyed about that, I decided to get on my older ship and fly away for a bit. After the Sentinels went away, I wanted to go back to the crash site, but I never found it again, since the map marker mysteriously disappeared, and it never showed up when I scanned my environment. I was absolutely furious, to say the least, since I spent an absurd amount of time gathering money and resources to buy a new ship, only to find a much better one just lying there, and I lost it, just because a bunch of annoying robots that serve no purpose come over and endlessly stare at you, then shot at you, then rinse and repeat, then the game crashes.
What is probably the strangest part of it is that none of the enemies are all that challenging. Most of the time, the game was a breeze. The aggressive animals, deadly plants, space pirates and even the high level Sentinels were incredibly easy to beat. I’ll put it this way: I’ve played the game for over a full week now, and I’ve only died once throughout the entire thing. I’ve had the game crash way more time than I have died in the game, which I find completely unacceptable.
If you are less of a fighter and more of a trader, you are more than welcome to spend your time with some menus and play around with the galactic market, though there isn’t much to see here. During your travels, you will notice that most planets will have space stations right next to them. When you land inside, you’ll find an enormous space that only contains two tiny rooms to explore, with one of them locked until you obtain a special pass for it. When you enter, you usually find the same things that I mentioned previously when talking about the different buildings on all the planets, so not much to talk about here that’s different.
These space stations are mostly used to sell off resources and items that you obtain on your journey, with some worth more than others, depending on where you are and what faction you are selling it to. You can also buy some things, but you mostly won’t ever need to do that, since pretty much every single shop sells most of the same stuff, which are resources that you can usually get on a planet in a couple minutes of searching.
Basically, this galactic trade network has about the same level of complexity as your typical JRPG shop in a random town. Whenever I played around with it, I never felt like I was having an impact on anything. Whether I was in a space station or on a planet, it just felt like a regular shop. You always pay in units as well, so it’s not like you’re actually “trading” anything. I’ve spent many, many hours playing this game, and all the places that have the word “trading” on them don’t have any actual trading, other than using the currency that everyone knows about.
Speaking of everyone, there are also alien races that you can interact with, in which you can raise or lower your status with them based on your choices. For the most part, these dialogue moments are very easy to figure out and never had any trouble getting any other aliens to like me. The one problem that I find though is that I can’t really see the effects that these decisions have on the game. I don’t really see any benefit to having everyone like or hate me, especially when there is no menu or location available to measure how big or small my standing is with a particular race. Whenever you get someone mad or happy, the game simply lets you know about it and…that’s it. There is no direct consequence to you doing any of it that makes it worth your while, especially when it gets to a point where literally anyone you interact with gives you technologies that you already had for a long time now with rarely anything new. Then the game crashed again.
During your travels, you can also find monoliths, knowledge stones and plaques that can give some lore about the different races and even teach new words in order to understand the aliens better. However, most of the dialogue with the aliens was already pretty easy to figure out, and most of them start to repeat themselves after a while, so I never felt the need to learn any new words other than to get the trophy for learning them. These locations are, by far, one of my favorite things to look for, since they provide a rather interesting story that I always wanted to know more about. On top of that, these locations can create many scenarios related to your avatar than set a very unique, and sometimes even fantastical and disturbing picture of the universe that you are exploring. Then I tried to save the game at a waypoint and it crashed at the same time that it was saving. Booted the game up again, crashed at the title screen. Great.
All of these actions that I’ve described so far, in one way or the other, have been interrupted, made slower or bothersome by the fact that you have to constantly keep yourself alive, no matter where you are. When viewing your inventory, you’ll notice that you have many different bars that you have to take care of, such as your life support, temperature, multi-tool charge among many others. Most of your resources will go towards very frequently recharging these things, which can get pretty annoying after a while. This would’ve been less of a problem if there were some shortcut or an easier way to recharge everything, but instead, you have to stop what you are doing, go to your inventory, find the tab that you need, select the inventory slot that needs recharging, choose the resource you want, and then the recharge happens. It also doesn’t help that the game is never really clear about what any of these things are, but it still insists on telling me, after playing for a full week, that I can press square to land my ship.
Till this day, I still don’t know what the difference is between my health, my life support and my shields. Why couldn’t it all just be one life bar, or just have one for life and one for your shield? Why have life support? Also, whenever you’re in a planet with extreme weather, there’s a temperature bar that you need to recharge as well. Aside from the color of the planet, the weather doesn’t impact the game at all, other than the fact that now you have one more annoying bar to constantly babysit on top of all the other ones for your suit, your ship and your mutli-tool. This, to say the least, really sucks, but it is not the worst part of it.
This process is even more frustrating and clunky when you are in the middle of a space battle or getting chased by enemies, where your shield goes down and you need to recharge it, but those tedious moments where you’re bumbling around in the menus can make the difference between life or death. In fact, that one death that I had during my playthrough was due to me struggling with the menus and recharges right in the middle of some space pirates shooting at me. I really wish there was one button, or a combination of them, that automatically allocates resources to something, rather than having to do everything manually, which I find to be a very un-futuristic way to take care of this futuristic problem.
Many occasions where I wanted to explore more of the planet I was on, I was very promptly stopped by my different bars running out of charge, which made me stop exploring in favor of mining more rocks and recharging everything again, especially when talking about my spaceship and the absolutely absurd amount of resources it takes to charge your launch thrusters, hyperdrive, pulse engine, shields and the only two weapons you can have, which for a game that encourages exploration, it really loves to interrupt it. I could talk forever about this, but one thing is for sure: I feel that these systems do more to hurt the game than it does help it. I have never been able to venture out and truly explore because of all of these things getting in the way.
I think I’ve had dreams about No Man’s Sky that are much more interesting and less frustrating than the actual game. Overall, No Man’s Sky delivers on everything Sean Murray and Hello Games said it was going to be, and I actually had a pretty good time when I came to understand that. I have always been very passionate about this game, and have always believed in the small team behind it, but it seems that they fell short on everything that wasn’t the production value that immersed me into the experience to begin with. Even though I struggled a lot with the main systems, there was never a moment where I would’ve considered myself bored. I had a blast for a lot of it, but I firmly believe that this game is nowhere near it’s full potential and still needs an enormous amount of work done to it.
I just hoped that the game had more meat to it, and less tedium in between all the fun parts. I am well aware that there will be many more updates coming that will add more things and will hopefully improve on a lot of these issues. But as it stands now, I was thinking of where to place this game on my Games of the Year list for 2016 before release. However, now that the game is out and I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with it, it probably won’t even make the list at all. I had fun for the first couple of days, but the rest of the week was a complete chore to get through. And yet…I still have faith.