As an avid sci-fi nerd and space enthusiast, it’s easy to see a game like No Man’s Sky and get tremendously excited. There aren’t too many games out there that allow free exploration of the cosmos – well, not recently, since I feel as though the 80’s and 90’s had many DOS games that filled the void rather well. No Man’s Sky is one of those game-changer type games, and while some may say it did not live up to the expectations (one guy wanted a refund so bad he compared it to buying a sneaker at Footlocker – wtf?), it’s clear that this indie game has caused quite the stir this summer.
If No Man’s Sky can be described in one word, it would be exploration. Which is fitting, considering that’s what every space exploration movie is about – from Prometheus to Star Trek. Sure, story is important – that’s where Prometheus bombed and where The Martian and Star Wars excels – but you can’t deny the fact that No Man’s Sky might actually be the best exploration game ever created.
In a few short words, No Man’s Sky explores a seemingly infinite universe that requires you to mine materials, battle hostile ships, trade artifacts and minerals, and enjoy some of the incredible visuals ever seen on PS4. It truly is a visual masterpiece. I follow many video game subreddits, and I’ve never seen a subreddit like /r/NoMansSkyTheGame/ that since pre-order, has had gamers posting beautiful, unique screenshots ever minute (and troll people who take cell phone pictures of their TV). The thing about our universe is that it’s impossibly large – much like the game, which has every experience totally unique. From the weirdest alien species to indescribable terrains, it’s fascinating how a small team of 20 developers were able to create such a massive universe.
Needless to say, if you love space, this game is an absolute must to try. No spoilers ahead, so feel free to follow me through the first 30 mins of No Man’s Sky.
Starting is always the hardest part
The first planet you appear on is literally your planet. Nobody’s explored it before, nobody’s even caught a glimpse of it from afar. No Man’s Sky creates a new planet for every new player, plus you get to name it whatever you’d like. A nice touch if some online passerby happens to stumble around your hood.
You start with a crashed ship, which kind of sucks because there really isn’t any direction as to why it’s busted, why you’re dying from radiation or thermal reasons, and why there’s a little flying orb called a Sentinel following you around (which reminds me far too much of Fallout). Sentinels are found in every planet, watching over materials and blasting you with lasers if they catch you mining. You’re directed to find a certain set of materials to get the ship back up and running, which can be anything from carbon to plutonium. As you adventure into the desolate surroundings, if you have any sort of taste for things visual, you’ll fall in love with the scenery. Everything from the planetary positions, rolling hills, uncertain vegetation, and passive and weird alien creatures. I haven’t hit the screenshot button on the controller as much as I’ve started playing this game.
As you search for material (and sprint back to your ship when you realize you need to refuel your thermal gear), the mining beam in your Multi-Tool takes care of business for you. It collects all those wonderful gems and stores it into your Exosuit, which can then be teleported to your ship (in sci-fi, there’s little need for explanations). Once your ship is repaired, you have a choice of either exploring the rest of your home planet, or blast off into space. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to fly off into the stars – with so many planets to explore, why settle with this one?
Each planet, and all its special locations and alien races, can be uploaded for the in-game currency called units. Units can get you everything from rare materials to new ships. Upgrades to your Exosuit and ship don’t actually need units – apparently you, the player, are such a genius that all you need are the right materials. Sounds a lot like how Matt Damon somehow survived 550 Sols on Mars in The Martian, huh?
Space travel is exhilarating. As I flew through the stars, dodging astroids and deciding which direction to go, Madaline, who was mesmerized by the journey, felt it was very similar to the 1980’s DOS game Star Control. Myself, I associated the game to Dune for Sega CD. Interacting with aliens, mining, and travelling unexplored planets has been a popular fascination for gamers since sci-fi was sci-fi. While similar games have landed in the diamond in the rough category, No Man’s Sky applies next-gen opportunities to what made those cult favourites special. We live in such an amazing time to be able to explore those same adventures, replacing 8-bit sprites and campy dialog for an immersive first-person experience.
Taking the Pulse Drive to warp speed into another system brings new aliens, new terrain, new materials, and new danger. Materials become more rare, the Sentinels become more frenzied and terrifying, and the alien creatures become, well, weirder. You’ll need better ship upgrades – nearly everyone who gets in their first battle gets wiped – and you’ll need to outfit your Multi-Tool with weapon upgrades to mine quicker and kill faster. As you jump from system to system, you start to realize that this universe may not have an end. It’s an experience that has no limits.
However, there are areas that could be improved. As a sucker for a good story, No Man’s Sky doesn’t really have one. Or at least it’s not communicated well enough to me. When I get stuck on a certain story in Fallout 4 or Mass Effect, it’s easy to catch up via the HUD and an in-game knowledge base to loop me in. It’s far more difficult to understand where I am in the story – or if there even is a story. Makes me hesitant to explore too far as I may never be able to actually progress in the game. Also, while I love to loot and grind new materials, it does get tiring. Trading in your finds for more units, which at end-game, is pretty much only used for more expensive ships, doesn’t motivate me to keep laser beaming the terrain.
That said, if you play this the way you want to play it – by flying through space, engaging in battle, feeding happy creatures, blasting Sentinels or oversized behemoths, and being visually blown away in the process, you’re in for a treat. I can see role players really diving into this, and with each patch, maybe meet up with friends in multiplayer. Hello Games has many times announced they plan to continue to evolving the game, including the possibility for VR, so you’ll never know what the universe has in store for us.
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