So, No Man’s Sky! It’s a game everyone’s been talking about for nigh on three years now. First announced in 2013, developed by the tiny fifteen person team at Guildford’s Hello Games, NMS quickly became one of the most anticipated title of 2014. And 2015. And 2016. Yes, it’s a game that’s been in development for such a massive amount of time (in gamer terms “forever”) and shrouded in such secrecy that expectations are stratospherically high while no one really knows what to expect. The clever cloggs at Hello GREW the estimated 18 quintillion (!) planets in the game from a randomly generated seed, for goodness sake! That’s a lot of game space for something we know so little about. But, it finally hits PS4 and PC this week! We got our hands on a PS4 review copy only yesterday (due to some last minute patch shenanigans) so this isn’t a review. Consider it an early impression. A snapshot of someone standing on the edge of a bottomless pit, preparing to dive in.
A bit melodramatic? Perhaps, but that’s what the first few hours with No Man’s Sky feels like. Freefalling into oblivion with the knowledge that there’s a parachute somewhere around here if only someone would tell you where. The game starts with you waking up next to a wrecked ship with basic instructions on how to repair it and fly off the planet you’re on. So, go out into the unexplored wilderness, gather resources, craft items, make sure you keep your environmental protection and life support topped up with the various Isotopes, Oxides and whatnots you collect. Repair your ship and get the hell out of dodge. Any other abilities? You’re on your own. Hope you don’t get into any scrapes when you don’t know how to get your gun working, lol soz m8! So, yeah – No Man’s Sky is a survival game.
But wait. What’s that? You can scan the animals and plants around you? You can then upload these to a central database which logs and legitimises your discovery, date and timestamping it for the world to see. Oh, I didn’t mention? Every player starts on a random planet in this huge randomly generated universe. You may be knee deep in an arctic tundra, or wading through a humid, toxic swamp. So, No Man’s Sky is an exploration game.
But there’s more! Who’s that in that building? Gosh, it’s an alien! I wish I could understand him… I can, if I find rosetta stone type items which help me learn his species language. The game is split up into a number of star systems, each of which holds a different, randomly generated species which you can coexist with, learn their language, trade with, talk to, get items to upgrade your inventory – so, wait, No Man’s Sky is an RPG?
Then there’s the space flight. In space, it’s as close to the feel of the classic Elite than I’ve felt in years (bearing in mind I’ve not actually played Elite Dangerous) but then nipping around planet surfaces in your ship, speeding up transport time is another thing entirely. And it’s so seamless! When you want to travel to another planet you just do so – you fly up and off your current location, into space, nip across the void and touch down elsewhere. Somewhere totally different to the planet you were on, where weather could be violent, there could be no creatures or something else entirely. So… it’s an open world, no scratch that, open SPACE game?
It’s all those and more. There’s combat. There’s an overarching story, several in fact depending on how you want to play. There’s the fact that you can name any discoveries you make on planets. There’s the hidden bonuses you can find. There’s… so much. With so little hand holding, No Man’s Sky can initially feel somewhat overwhelming in its vastness and the fact that you can set off out into infinity from the get go in ANY direction and, while there is a recommended path you can choose to follow the desire to explore runs counterintuitively to it.
I don’t feel right in judging the game yet. I’ve spent what feels like comparatively such little time in its universe yet I’ve lost hours to it, sometimes just walking, sometimes looking for specific things, sometimes with a desire to learn. It is zen. It is existential terror at the constant blinking meters telling you you’re dangerously close to dying from exposure or overheating or radiation or some other horrible thing that is specific to the planet you’re currently on. It is frantic action when you come upon a hostile group of creatures or ships. It is thoughtful contemplation that you are a tiny, tiny speck, insignificant in the vastness of it all. But there is a nagging feeling so far that a degree of repetitiveness could set in. I’ve dedicated myself to following the recommended path through the game to see where that hand holding can lead me, but all the planets I’ve visited so far haven’t been THAT dramatically different. Perhaps that will change as I venture further.
At the moment, however, I am enjoying being in the No Man’s Sky universe. Being a part of the things that are unfolding around me. Would I recommend the game to anyone? Am I ready to give it a score out of 10? Not yet. Perhaps not until next week when I’ll have spent more time exploring and seeing what the universe has to offer. Until then, if you’ve picked up No Man’s Sky, I hope you’re enjoying yourself. If you’re on the fence, I’d say wait a while and see what reviewers say. We’re certainly not the only ones holding out with our final scores.
Right, I’m off to hop into my spaceship. I think there’s an interesting looking alien building over there that might just hold the key to my very existence. Or, at the very least, some kind of shiny bauble I can sell. Bye!