“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan
No Man’s Sky is finally here, and it has completely divided critics and gamers alike.
It feels strange to be writing those words. Since No Man’s Sky was announced at VGX 2013 (back when the Video Game Awards were presented by Spike TV), I’ve been waiting for this game to arrive. It has not only been my most anticipated game of 2016, but most of the industry’s. As many of you reading this are well aware, a mix of arguably bad marketing from Sony and the promise of an infinite universe has caused hype to expand out of control. The last minute delay of the game, pushing it from June to August, meant that fans were ready to explode by release day.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the leak occurred. First a man purchases an early copy of the game for an exorbitant amount of money almost two weeks early. In the week prior to release, many stores break street date and begin selling the game to players, including major industry review outlets frustrated with the lack of provided review copies. Then, the news broke: There would be a game-changing day zero patch, which is why review copies wouldn’t be sent out until the day before release. The game on the disc was, in simple terms, incomplete. In the midst of all of this, it was announced that the PC version would be delayed until August 12th. It’s difficult to think of a more challenging video game release in recent memory.
No matter how the release went, the game is out now. Did No Man’s Sky ever have a prayer of living up to the expectations surrounding it? Probably not. But the project still had the opportunity to be a good game. A great game, even. Myself and a number of BagoGames staff picked up the game this past week, and now we’re here to give you the official BagoGames review. This is not your standard review, as this is not your standard game. There is no score at the end, and you’ll find a mix of impressions here. Our hope is that we can provide some insight into this strange game and whether or not it is right for you.
Let’s get down to it.
What is No Man’s Sky?
If you’ve somehow been living under a rock and this is your first experience with technology in decades, congratulations! Go put some clothes on! But this also probably means you don’t know what No Man’s Sky is. According to developer Hello Games, “No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy.” That’s…actually a nearly perfect description.
You see, the team at Hello Games has used a mathematical algorithm to create a literal universe of planets within the game. Over 18 quintillion planets, theoretically. The game achieves this through procedural generation, or building the universe around you as you move. In many ways then, No Man’s Sky is very much a contemporary to the massive success that is Minecraft. If No Man’s Sky manages to achieve nothing else (which is highly unlikely), the game will at least be remembered for being the technical marvel that it is.
Within this “infinite” universe, you as a humble space explorer stranded on a planet with a crashed ship. Your job is to mine resources from the planet using your multi-tool, use said resources to rebuild your ship, and travel to the center of the universe. This means exploring planets for both necessary and rare resources, collecting money from traders, upgrading your tools and ship, fighting space pirates and alien creatures, learning the languages of the galaxy’s four alien species, and slowly hyper-jumping your way towards the center which is hundreds of thousands of lightyears away.
All of this, and the game’s biggest criticisms appear to be repetition and emptiness. So what happened??
“No Man’s Sky was never meant to be an action-packed adventure, but rather a long, complicated exploration experience. Because of this, it is most definitely not a game for everyone. It’s slow paced and difficult, with a complete lack of direction that will drive some players mad with too much freedom. No clear main quest or mission exists outside of “explore,” which is good for players who want nothing more than to relax and do just that.” – Meg Humphries, BagoGames Reviewer
Even with all of the gameplay elements I listed off, No Man’s Sky never feels like an action-packed game. In fact, there are many times where No Man’s Sky feels more like a lonely experience than an actual game. This is primarily because No Man’s Sky never really asks much of the player. There is a semblance of a storyline as the player learns more about the mysterious Atlas, but there is never truly a quest or goal assigned beyond striving to reach the center. As Meg said, this will “drive some players mad…”
But many modern gamers, those who love getting lost in open world games, may find much to love here. This is because, without the guidance of objectives or missions, players are left to explore freely the unfathomable reaches of the No Man’s Sky universe. Every planet is different in some way: The animals that inhabit it, the plants that dot the horizon, the atmosphere and weather conditions, the hills and valleys, the bodies of water, the caves that wind beneath the surface. As I played, particularly in the first dozen or so hours, I felt the need to see and explore everything. Every time I activated my scanner and icons popped up on my screen telling me what was around me, I felt the need to explore. I have little doubt that this was the exact feeling Sean Murray and his team wished to create in players.
In No Man’s Sky, you will be exploring alone, and space is a lonely place. There has been some confusion over the aspect of multiplayer in the game, spawning from what appears to be some poor marketing. All players are sharing the same universe and they can name star systems, planets, animals, and plants that they discover first. Other players who then visit that planet will be able to see their discoveries. This is a fun little aspect of the game, and I personally have enjoyed making a story through the things I discover and name. I have been to star systems that were visited by another player, but this other player neglected to visit any of the planets and name them or anything on them. This player didn’t even change the name of the system, instead opting for the default name. It was fun to feel like I wasn’t alone in space, but it was also disappointing.
A large news story broke early upon release that two players were attempting to meet up, but were unable to see each other, though it was believed that they were supposed to be able to in the shared universe. Sean Murray claimed server issues, but that seems unclear. At the end of the day, it seems obvious that this isn’t a multiplayer game, and if you plan to purchase the game, keep this in mind. But it’s not a bad thing — No Man’s Sky is not for groups of space marauding friends, but for the solo explorer in it for the long haul.
Playing a game like this for a long period of time requires discipline, however. The lack of objectives or missions is a double-edged sword, both freeing and constricting. Some players will enjoy wandering aimlessly through the worlds, naming things and finding strange new creations. More players will likely lose motivation and a drive to explore without aim after the first five-to-ten hours. It is possible to find a new drive in dedicating yourself to upgrading your ship and your suit to assist you in making it to the center, but this opens up the other double-edged sword in No Man’s Sky: The gameplay loop.
The Gameplay Loop
“While wandering the planet in search of materials, I sensed that the planet was large, but it wasn’t until I could fly several hundred meters above it all that I saw the true scale of this one particular world. I then promptly left the atmosphere and headed out towards the closest planet. After a few minutes of clumsily negotiating an asteroid field, I entered the planet’s atmosphere to find that it was nothing like the planet I’d just left, covered in snow and devoid of nearly all fauna. I flew around aimlessly for awhile, taking in the view, before I spotted what appeared to be an abandoned outpost. I then landed nearby and began to scour the encampment for supplies, fuel, and materials needed to build new tech. It was at this moment that I realized a full hour had already slipped by.” – Corey Atwood, BagoGames Features Writer/Reviewer
Hello Games has claimed this not only as an exploration game, but also a survival game. This is where the gameplay loop comes in. As Corey mentioned, he was always in search of materials and fuel (even while taking in the scenery). Almost everything in this game takes some sort of resource to work. Your suit’s life support and shields take fuel. Your mining tool and blaster take fuel. Your ships various engines and weapons take fuel. Not only do you need to find blueprints for upgrades to your various tools, but you’ll need thousands of resources to build and maintain them.
There are good and bad aspects here. For starters, this means that you’ll be mining the same resources over and over throughout the game, as well as spending hours upon hours within menus managing your inventory. This is important if you’re considering buying this game: Roughly 30-40% of this game consists of in-menu inventory management. Some, like myself, will love this aspect of it. Others looking for more of a video game experience will likely not, and it’s hard to blame them. The inventory management lessens as you upgrade your available holding capacity, but it never truly goes away.
The survival aspect also means that you’re constantly monitoring your systems. A heat storm on a hot moon can mean death in a few short minutes, and a battle with a group of angry scorpion/crab/spiders means that you’ll need plenty of blaster fuel ready. This can seem exciting, but some of the weight is taken out of it once you learn that a) you’ll almost never die and b) if you die, you can quickly go back to where you died and reclaim your things, a la Dark Souls.
It doesn’t help anything that the controls, particularly in regards to combat, are a mixed bag. One on hand, flying around with the jetpack (particularly after you upgrade it once or twice) is extremely satisfying, and the multi-tool has a healthy sense of auto-aim to it. But your movement is slow in every sense, from running to gunning. Combat feels clunky and unresponsive, both on land and in your ship (which is particularly disappointing, as your ship becomes a beloved part of you in many ways). Sure, combat isn’t the primary focus, but what is here feels underwhelming and unresponsive.
The gameplay loop: find resources, fuel your ship, jump closer to the center. Get money, upgrade your tools and ship, jump closer to the center. Lather, rinse, repeat. The places you go will be different, and unique experiences will always happen, but the fundamental grind will always be the same.
“Mining every bit of large mineral deposits can be tedious and the intelligence (or lack thereof) of the sentinels is sometimes laughable. Also, certain location types I discover sometimes feel repetitive, such as shelters, outposts, and so forth. I would really like to encounter some alien urban cityscapes or perhaps some large underwater lifeforms. However, with the supposed size of the universe, just because I haven’t seen something yet doesn’t mean I won’t….eventually.” – Corey Atwood
Black and White
There are huge aspects of this game, all the way down to the fundamentals, that will be divisive amongst players. Some will love the gameplay loop, others will loathe the repetition. Some will love wandering aimlessly, others will crave direction. What No Man’s Sky has to offer can be great for some and awful for others, and this is a fascinating space for the game to exist in. That being said, there are some black and white aspects to consider as a consumer.
For starters, as of a week from launch, there are some technical issues. On the PS4, the game can suffer from occasional hard crashes. While this may not seem like a deal-breaker for many PC gamers, console players are spoiled with rigorous game testing and standardization. Thus, seeing a game hard crash three times in a couple of hours is jarring. There are also some issues with clipping, framerates, and even a game-breaking bug regarding the preorder bonus ship.
Things appear to be even worse on PC. Players have been reporting that the game doesn’t even open at times, and constant bugs plague the project. Sean Murray has gone on record, saying “We’re tracking a number of issues, bugs and crashes that players are reporting with No Man’s Sky, and working to resolve as soon as possible.” This open communication with players is important, but waiting for the next update before purchasing would certainly be understandable.
On the other end of the spectrum — when the game is working perfectly, it looks fantastic. No, it isn’t always Uncharted gorgeous, though there are some moments that really are. But it is the art design and approach that steals the show here. Everything is vibrant and colorful. Each planet is a joy to see, whether for a day or for a minute. Everyone playing the game on social media has suddenly become an intergalactic photographer, and each shared screenshot looks like a selected promotional photo. There’s something about the way the game looks that is just fantastic.
Finally, no one so far has had a single negative thing to say about the soundtrack behind No Man’s Sky. 65 Days of Static, the small indie band working with the small indie dev team that is Hello Games, created a fluid and dynamic ambient soundscape that perfectly supports the action on the screen at any given time. The technical magic of taking off from a planet’s surface and flying directly to another is only enhanced by the atmospheric drums and warped guitar. The balance of indie rock and ambient chill permeates the game thoroughly, and is a perfect addition in every way.
The Stories We Tell
“No Man’s Sky is founded upon the moments of discovery as you explore a vast and varied universe. It is a game that I love because it doesn’t tell the player what they should find interesting or what play style matters most. My time with No Man’s Sky is defined by what I find interesting, and in a game filled with so much to discover, I am entranced by its freedom.” – Christopher Cross, BagoGames Senior News Editor
Across the board, it appears that the best things to come out of No Man’s Sky so far have been the stories. Whether through written articles, podcasts, or Twitter rants, people are sharing their procedurally generated experiences exploring the universe. I’ve heard stories about people getting lost in giant caves and finding giant dinosaurs. There are stories about discovering gorgeous crashed spaceships and then being killed by a plant while trying to fix it. Some people tell stories about robbing a trade ship only to be obliterated by sentinels, the space cops of the galaxy.
Social media has turned into one massive screenshot sharing service for No Man’s Sky. It’s impossible to scroll far on Twitter without seeing dozens of gorgeous shots of planets, ships, and creatures from the game. And it’s exciting to see — even as I write this, I’m jealous of other players for discovering creatures I haven’t seen and owning ships I didn’t know existed. This community helps fuel the fire of exploration and the desire to see more.
The No Man’s Sky community is a huge aspect of the early time with the game. Hello Games purposefully left many aspects of the game unexplained, leaving players to discuss and guess with each other in order to figure things out. People are, together, slowly learning about things like Atlas Passes and Vortex Cubes. There are tons of hidden secrets and easter eggs in this game tucked away by a small team of developers who wanted to make a passion project and ended up creating a universe.
“I know my strongest memory growing up in the outback of Australia, seeing the stars at night, and feeling overwhelmed. Reading sci-fi and wishing I could escape into those worlds. If for one small moment I can make some people feel that they have stepped through a science fiction book cover, or to think briefly about the size of our universe…then I’ll be happy with that.” – Sean Murray, Hello Games
The reason that there is no score for No Man’s Sky is that this isn’t an easy game to recommend to a standard group of people. As Sean Murray claimed, this is a divisive game, a “niche” game. If you’re looking for the next great space shooter or a great scripted adventure, you will not find it here. If you’re even looking for the best or most hardcore survival game, you’re in the wrong place. No Man’s Sky is not for everyone — it is slow, it is repetitive, and it is not always immediately rewarding.
But for those searching for a universe to explore, a galaxy to get lost in, an impossible journey to undertake, and personal goals to achieve, well…
“…I feel I’ve begun to understand what’s possible in it, and it excites me. I am aware that Hello Games’ Sean Murray has publicly said that this “may not be the game everyone was expecting from the trailers,” which has scared off a lot of potential players. However, as someone looking for a primarily single-player, Spaceman Spiff experience, I can’t wait to pour many, many more hours into No Man’s Sky.” – Corey Atwood
“No Man’s Sky is a game that asks nothing of the player. There are minor objectives that push players to the center of the universe, but there are no concrete expectations. You don’t have to go to the center of the universe if you don’t want to. You can spend the rest of your life in space, just exploring star system after star system…This is a game to just sit back and enjoy in calmness and solitude.” – Christopher Cross
“Dying before you can even fix your ship to leave your first planet is a very real possibility, and for some may serve as a deterrent from the game – however, those who are dedicated excursionists will use that difficulty as a learning tool, and thrive in the explorative atmosphere. Honestly, I have nothing but positive things to say…Excitement seekers beware, this is a game of beauty, adventure, and building. For me, those are all positive attributes of a game unique to anything I’ve ever played before. If you fancy yourself a pathfinder, test your survival skills with No Man’s Sky.” – Meg Humphries
For me, I can see the cracks in No Man’s Sky, but I choose not to care. When the repetition sinks in, I’m okay switching tactics or even to another game altogether. The itch to return to my galaxy is one that always seems to come back. When I try to warp to another star system and the game crashes, I take a deep breath and push on, desperate to see where I’m heading next. I’m 40 hours into the game now, and I am still enamored by the project. Reaching the center is a daunting task, but one I want to achieve.
I’ve been a lover of science fiction for years and years. Reading the original four Ender’s Game books by Orson Scott Card gave me a sense of awareness in the universe I didn’t know I could feel. I’ve been Sean Murray, looking up at the stars from the hills of Iowa, wondering how my humble life fits into the unknown abyss of infinite space. The team at Hello Games wanted to let you step into a sci-fi book cover and explore. Whether you end up loving the game or not, their universe achieves exactly what it set out to do.
There is no score here because, just like the universe of No Man’s Sky, you’ll have to go discover for yourself.
No Man’s Sky is available now on PS4 and PC