Traveling through space is one of the few wonders that remains for human kind and it is a toss-up between how many games take place in a fantasy world or a sci-fi setting but rarely do these sci-fi games tout about how players can generally explore the galaxy to their hearts content. When Hello Games revealed No Man’s Sky, a game that promised just that, and slowly revealed details over the years fans grew quite excited to see the final product and now that the title has been released, was it worth the wait?
No Man’s Sky is the type of title that can be a bit hard to explain at times primarily thanks to the fact that there is no real set goal to what you generally are doing. The game does feature some semblance of a story as players are given the option to follow a path given to them by a strange oddity named Atlas or simply explore the galaxy on their own and travel towards the center, the true goal of the game.
However everything that you do on the way is completely up to you and is also completely random. Players begin the game by spawning on a randomly generated world where their ship is in need of some repairs and refueling before you can venture into the stars once more. This serves as something of a tutorial as players will explore the planet seeking out various resources that tend to serve as key components that they will always need to have on hand regardless of how advanced they become.
While traveling through the world the world you start on, or any world in general, the variety that can be on offer is absolutely astounding. Through my time with the game I’ve found planets with lush blue-green forests and animals that had dinosaur bodies but tentacles for heads, frozen wastelands that threaten my life every time I step outside shelter or outside the ship but is home to valuable materials and a number of odd looking creatures that all seem to move around by hopping, and an extremely hot world that managed to have the very first aquatic creatures I had seen swimming beneath the water.
These types of discoveries will keep players rather excited as they explore the countless planets that are available to them and if you happen to be the first one there to make these discoveries then you can name everything and make your mark on the world. That being said, the fascination with finding these new worlds and seeing the strange creatures and plant life that can survive the planet does begin to wear thin. Despite the amount of variety that should be on offer, it wasn’t long before I was seeing plants that looked exactly the same only with different names and animals that looked like mish mashes of parts that were already seen on other creatures.
This repetition, which became apparent after only the tenth world, is mimicked by the actual tasks that you perform in the game. At its very core No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration and survival and anything outside of that can unfortunately be seen as extremely thin. After only a short time exploring different planets and even meeting the three other alien species that seem capable of traveling the galaxy I found that all of the buildings tend to feel the exact same, with even the ruins that hold knowledge about a species’ past beginning to be repetitive to the point that the very first wondrous looking object I found became so repetitively noticeable I could spot it without even having to slow down while coasting through the sky in the ship.
The complete lack of personality or even interactions with most of the areas that players travel to is disheartening to say the least, especially when everything begins to act the same or play out the same dialogue despite belonging to different alien species. This came as an unfortunate surprise as it quickly appeared evident that outside of the rare oddity that managed to appear among everything that I had seen before, that the game had already laid out its cards and could only shuffle things around from that point on.
While players can explore and analyze various plants and animals as well as travel between outposts looking for aliens to talk to, alien words to learn so the aforementioned conversations can start making sense, inventory upgrades, crashed ships, mining operations that can be looted or manufacturing buildings that, if you solve the issue occurring there, will reward the player with a useful recipe, the majority of the game is likely going to be spent mining.
Players make use of an multi-tool that is basically a gun that serves as a mining laser that can be used to obliterate pretty much anything in the game that is destructible. Plants can be torn down for carbon, iron from rocks, gold or “emeril” from asteroids that appear to have crashed from space or take the form of crystals, crystalized plutonium, and more. The type of resources a planet might have is completely random in nature and makes hunting for valuable commodities quite an exhilarating feeling at times. This is especially true when some of the rarest elements appear on worlds so toxic or freezing that they can kill the player in under a minute if they don’t keep up their protective suit and life support systems.
Surviving and making sure that you never run out of vital goods is a key aspect of No Man’s Sky but also one that is incredibly challenging in a few ways, though one of these is eventually mitigated slightly as you progress. Your starship, multi-tool, and exosuit only have so many inventory spaces to work with and sat the start of the game this is an incredibly limiting factor. This is primarily due to the fact that suit upgrades that do things such as help you run longer, survive hostile conditions longer, or upgrade the boost on your terrible jetpack all take up slots that are invaluable and these upgrades are mimicked for your starship, with the eventually required hyperdrive fitting in a slot that might have once held valuable gold or necessary plutonium.
Thankfully this limitation is lifted slightly by the player being able to expand their exosuit inventory through upgrades found on worlds and eventually on space stations if players follow a certain path and once you earn enough cash from mining you can drop a lot of money to flat out buy ships (the only method of upgrading a ship’s inventory) from other aliens that are either at a space station or sitting at a trade depot on planet. This is similar for the multi-tool as players can find larger versions with more slots for upgrades either for sale or gifted to them by thankful aliens that they can help out.
Considering the multi-tool works as both a mining laser that the player will need to upgrade to make mining more efficient, an analysis tool to zoom in on landmarks and identify plants and animals, and a weapon to fight off anything hostile, finding a serviceable multi-tool is essential. Thankfully thanks to the fact that combat is incredibly simplistic in No Man’s Sky even the most basic of weapons will likely be useful for at least ground encounters. You see, while there are a few openly hostile animals that reside on worlds (all of which happened to be insect in appearance for me) most will leave you alone entirely and a few will fight if you attack them first meaning that the only real threat comes from the ever present Sentinels.
These serve as robotic police that generally only appear as floating cameras that occasionally scan the player or look at something they mined/killed but when attacked, or a law is broken, they will begin to shoot the player and call in increasingly dangerous types if left alive. Unfortunately thanks to the simplistic combat mechanics of simply pointing in the general direction of an enemy the basic drones are no problem to deal with while even the dog-like robot serves as no challenge with the eventual bipedal walker serving as the earliest threat but even this threat is abated easily through either simply hopping in your ship again or killing it with a couple of simple upgrades.
When in your ship players can engage in simply flying around in the low-atmosphere in search of materials such as large mounds of gold or floating copper, traveling towards question marks in order to find more of the samey structures that they’ve visited before, or occasionally attack other space ships and take part in some dogfighting through some simplistic combat mechanics that are rather subpar in nature and provide pathetic rewards. Ship based combat is fun to start with but grows exceedingly useless when the best drops you obtain from slain trading ships is some iron you could have mined in ten seconds or occasionally a single unit object worth ten to twenty thousand units.
Unfortunately since these single items cannot be stacked like resources, such as Thanium9 which is required for your pulse drive or Plutonium which is essential for not only keeping your mining tool powered but also fueling your launch jets and life support systems, they are generally only a luxury to gather when you have nothing else to sell or have upgraded inventory space. These aforementioned battles often take place in space through pirate encounters or simply by once again partaking in a bit of piracy yourself but rarely does the combat feel truly enjoyable.
Once players learn the systems of No Man’s Sky it is incredibly easy to guide your way through the galaxy and keep yourself supplied well enough to take on any challenge. Only a few resources are ever truly required and keeping a back-up stored on the ship of these items may take up an inventory spot but ensures survival in combat and travel where things might have once gotten dicey. Once this is done No Man’s Sky becomes a simple game of mining items, earning units, crafting items needed to travel between galaxies, traveling, then repeating the processes while also upgrading yourself so you can mine faster and travel longer.
This means that No Man’s Sky can be a game that can burn out on you incredibly quickly if you take a serious approach to the game but also one that does have quite a lot to offer. While mundane and often similar at times, there are numerous moments that I was wowed by the sights that a world had for me, jumping in and out of my ship in order to harvest rare materials from floating jellyfish-like structures before the toxicity would melt me, or the fact that the seemingly useless alien word of “syrup” actually managed to appear in conversation. Winding down a day by exploring a new planet or looking at the strange creatures that reside on it makes No Man’s Sky a perfect way to relax a bit and take things easy but be prepared for quite a few bugs that appear to hamper even the simplest of times.
Despite the simple nature of the game there were numerous times, more than I ended up bothering to count, that the game would flat out crash back to the PlayStation 4 home screen and while the game does offer frequent auto saves, one such crash put me back a solid ten minutes of mining. Plenty of times I ran into buildings that were clipped into the ground or faced off against Sentinels that spawned beneath the dirt and were untouchable. Even the starships are prone to glitches as simple take offs to travel from place to place on a planet often results in being catapulted wildly into space forcing me to re-enter the atmosphere or, upon buying a new ship, shoot myself repeatedly with a laser that it had installed until I reinstalled the laser myself, or constantly losing health any time I leave the ship as it removes all clipping in an effort to drop the player to the ground, often off the side of a cliff.
Visuals & Audio
No Man’s Sky may feature the same style of assets that eventually become apparent when you see enough of them strewn throughout the galaxy but seeing them combined together often creates a world full of wonder that you will want to explore. Sure there are more planets that are simple duds and feature incredibly basic designs that you have seen before and creatures that appear to be more Frankenstein than something that could have evolved to survive but the vibrant hue of colors used often make even the most simple planets look rather astounding.
Even the star ships come in a wide array of designs and colors so while you may prioritize finding a shop with the most inventory spots, looking for one with a nice looking outer interior might be preferable as well since the cockpit designs also change from ship to ship. That being said, the game does feature some generous pop-in when it comes to structures and environment. Often when entering the atmosphere of a planet structures won’t spawn until you are practically on top of them and more than a few times spiraled out of control after hitting a floating rock that loaded in too late.
The soundtrack accompanying No Man’s Sky’s exploration is quite wonderful. There are a wide variety of tunes to help keep your exploration feeling fresh and it never seemed like a track felt out of place outside of the few times that the combat theme began to repeat non-stop after clearing a level five Sentinel attack.
No Man’s Sky is a game that offers a massive experience for the player to explore and with only minimal transitions between a planet’s surface and the asteroid filled space above and plenty of variety to see, players will be astounded with the amount of things they can initially do. Unfortunately this shine does begin to wear off as the shallow nature of what is actually on offer begins to reveal itself. This shallow nature is far from a huge deterrent as the amount of fun and unique encounters that you can experience is still keeping me returning to the game but be prepared for an incredible beginning that wanes as you experience issues and see the puzzle pieces that make up the world, plant, and animal variety begin to recycle.