What is No Man’s Sky?
No Man’s Sky has definitely been polarizing in the gaming world. It has raised the ire of many gamers but has also brought up some important topics for discussion. This isn’t going to be a traditional review since I wanted to cover a number of the “community” issues beforehand. If you’re interested in my review of the game, it’ll be at the bottom of the article.
No Man’s Sky was recently released after a massive PR blitz from Sony. The has been in development for a number of years by the small, and I hesitate to say Indie, studio called Hello Games, Ltd out of Guildford, UK. The game has a very simple premise but one that has been difficult to execute. Many have tried, and many of failed. Did Hello Games fail? I’m really not sure. The game definitely missed the mark…but they delivered something truly special, but how they got there definitely left a sour taste in my mouth.
What was No Man’s Sky?
To truly understand the anger of the community, you have to travel back to E3 2015 to the initial announcement of the game. We were greeted with the still unknown Sean Murray, Founder of Hello Games, pitching a “little game” he was working on but had since been picked up by Sony, No Man’s Sky. We saw a simple starscape with many thousands and more little whitish dots. What Sean said next would blow the minds of everyone in attendance. Every one of those white dots was a star…a star that you could travel to. There were billions (actually quintillions) of them. Many people will travel to many of the stars but no one would travel to all of them, and many would likely never be graced by the presence of a player.
As he’s telling us this, the starscape is zooming in to a particular spot. Further in the demo we get closer and closer as it zooms in to a solar system, then a planet, then even further down to the ground where we zoom into us, the player, standing next to a ship. He showed us around this planet, hopped into his ship and then we were off to the next planet. Instantly, he had opened up this massive universe to us.
The Hype Train
Over the course of the next few months, Sean and Sony went on a press tour showing off the game, and continued to let the fanbase grow while letting their imagination go wild. We learned we’d be able to travel and explore unique planets, each with their own biomes and species. We’d be able to gather resources, craft goods, and trade throughout this massive universe. Then throughout the many interviews he dropped a bombshell, one that would come back to bite Hello Games, and draw massive criticism from the community. You’d be able to run into and interact (I hesitate to say play) with other real live players in the universe.
We were told of massive space battles, choosing sides in factional battles, wondrous worlds, and infinite exploration in a procedural universe governed by physics, the list goes on. Even crazier, they actually showed us a lot of these features in some way, shape or form.
Now, mind you, many of us approached this game with a healthy dose of skepticism…Hello Games, Ltd is a small, 12 to 16 person development team some minor titles under their belt. However, as the press events and hypetrain kept rolling, many people began to believe it. Too many actually. Looking back at many of the interviews or questions, you’d see that Sean Murray was rather vague. The gameplay demos were very limited in scope and Sean Murray gave us many examples of things we could do in the game.
Things Fall Apart
However, Sean Murray lied. Now we’re not talking the typical puffery and marketing speak lies, but at some fundamental level, he wasn’t telling the truth. It may not have been fully intentional and from my analysis, it’s far more likely that Hello Games, Ltd ran into the age-old problem in game development…and software development in general. Scope Creep. As the hype train built up, and Sony funneled more money into this tiny now not so indie studio, it became harder and harder to deliver a simple indie exploration game. The game now had AAA expectations of things you can see and do.
Launch day came and people were not pleasantly surprised to say the least. The game we received was quite different from the game we saw and were promised. The space flight was more an on rails guided tour than real flight. The inventory system was simplistic and cumbersome. The AI for native species and Sentinels alike were rather unintelligent. The trading system…well, lets just say I’m not going to building a trading empire. Physics…not really there. The list goes on.
The biggest hit, however, came when 2 players managed to realize that they were near each other in the universe. They coordinated to meet each other and against all odds found the same location on the planet they were on and disappointingly realized that they were not able to see or interact with the other. Despite many vague allusions to multiplayer and the ability to meet other players, the functionality was not present.
Hello Games expressed surprise that players were able to meet up within a day or 2 of Launch and blamed the inability to see each other on “server issues”. Jury’s still out on if this is true or not…seeing as it’s been a week since Launch and still no evidence of being able to even see each other.
Both the PC and PS4 editions have large reports of performance issues, crashing, as well as save game issues. I personally have only encountered a few minor crashes on the PC and have been able to maintain performance without too many issues, but it’s something to be aware of.
The Review…Finally…Initial Thoughts
Here’s my review…it doesn’t jive with all the other things I’ve mentioned from the community rage…which is weird. I’m overall disappointed at the lack of depth in the game. But being a developer/technologist/avid gamer myself, I’ve sort of trained myself to see beyond the hype.
I feel that as Hello Games got closer and closer to launch, they realized that they just couldn’t bring the hype train into the station. As this dawned on them, features were cut, functions were dumbed down, baggage was thrown off the train so to speak. Unfortunately, it shows in the game as well. You are greeted with some ridiculous looking creatures. The inventory and management system are fully console-ified. The factional combat they mentioned…I haven’t really seen it…it’s just walking up to a species, pressing a button, guessing a question’s answer and getting a standing up or standing down. Overall you have a really really huge sandbox that is 1 inch deep.
So What’s The Game Like?
You spawn alone on a planet with a rather busted up ship. You’ll spend your first hour or 2 gathering resources following very very loose tutorial prompts on how to repair your ship and get rolling into the infinite expanse of space.
During this time you’ll receive a few very vague hints into the main storyline and a “mysterious” Atlas entity. Throughout your many hours, you’ll be prodded to follow the “Atlas Path” or not. There’s no real push to do so. You could just as easily skip it and just do your own thing.
Anyways…you’ll eventually gather the materials to build a few components and then repair your ship…and off you go.
What You’ll Do
- You’ll go to new planets
- You’ll fight mysterious Sentinels which seem to be everywhere…
- You’ll dogfight with some pirates in space.
- You’ll curse at how annoying your inventory is
- You’ll find a new ship
- You’ll buy and sell things
- You’ll solve the same puzzle a few billion times
- You’ll explore
- Seriously, the exploration is actually pretty cool.
What You Won’t Do
- You won’t get your shooter or space combat fix from this game…it’s too simple
- You won’t build a trading empire. You just buy and sell stuff at some arbitrary “better or worse” price
- You won’t build any permanent structures (they say this is coming)
- You won’t see another real person or your friends.
- You won’t find the story all that exciting. Fairly trite and simplistic.
It’s Not All Bad
If you set aside the hype train, and the heaps of praise that Sony and Sean Murray laid on with this game. No Man’s Sky is actually pretty good. If you remember this was made by an Indie Studio at it’s core, the game is better than what most small developers would deliver. Hello Games did deliver a truly expansive and massive universe. The planets are huge and can take hours and hours to explore. The fauna and native species vary quite dramatically. The backdrops and scenes you’ll see are unique to each planet. You’ll be greeted with various color schemes and styles and it’s definitely pleasant to explore and hunt down new things. I honestly enjoyed just taking in the scenery.
It’s very easy to get into and it’s not terribly difficult to gain resources and upgrade your inventory despite inventory management being more of a chore. The combat, while simple, is fairly amusing and can help break up the monotony a bit. I’ve definitely had some fun space battles with large ships engaging. It’s no Elite Dangerous, or Star Citizen in terms of scope, but it’s there.
A real winner in the game is the soundtrack. It fits the game extremely well with a mix of calming music while you’re exploring, all the way to some very well composed beats and riffs during combat. I could find myself listening to it outside of the game. Hello Games definitely made some solid design choices when it came to music.
If you treat the game as a very basic exploration game where you hop in your ship, and go to different planets, No Man’s Sky delivers. I had some level of Zen/Peace while just running on a planet last night looking to learn one of the 4 languages in the game while gathering some more exotic resources. It was pretty fun.
Looking at the realistic fact that this game was developed by 12ish people, I wasn’t expecting a mind-blowing epic. I also feel that Sony coming on board forced a lot of changes on the studio. A lot of the features shown in the demos would not realistically work on a console. The power just isn’t there. A lot of the massive physics simulations, or the high polygon/resolution textures shown on creatures just wouldn’t work well. The Massive planets would bring the system to it’s knees regardless of the graphical tricks even the most seasons developers could muster.
No Man’s Sky fell victim to it’s hype. The developers and founder bit off more than they could chew. They oversold the game in pretty much all of their interviews and going back and watching them, it shows. You can see how uncomfortable Sean Murray was in answering some questions, because he was really excited about their huge little exploration game. They dreamed big…and they delivered a big…but ultimately empty experience for most. To be realistic, it’s extremely impressive at the scale of universe that Hello Games, Ltd delivered. If they had stuck to that, as a niche game, they would have been deemed a critical success. Unfortunately, with all the hype, No Man’s Sky is going to be seen as a critical failure despite the little gem it is.
All I know is that I still get an urge to hop in my ship and see what’s next. As for you. This game may not be worth the steep $60 price it’s selling for. But it’s definitely worth picking up at the 20 to 40$ price range. If you like exploring and seeing new things…give it a go. If you were reading into the hype…don’t bother, this game does not live up to it.