It’s been a dream of any gamer- young or old- to one day find themselves climbing into a spaceship and get lost into a universe offering infinite possibilities. To allow them to carve out their own story in the depths of space- something straight out of a Star Trek episode. So when Sean Murray, and the crew at Hello Games first revealed their trailer for No Man’s Sky at the VGX 2013, of course, it was destined to turn heads and gather hype. However, in the years that have followed, the hype train surrounding the game reached levels that I have honestly never seen before in a video game. One of the main factors that resulted in this reaction, was Sony’s inability to get in front of the message and temper expectations, and instead only added fuel to the fire. From studio floods, game delays, street leaks, and more- Hello Games has had one hell of a development cycle, while the world watched every move closely in anticipation. While No Man’s Sky is not the “end-all” game that so many had placed on its shoulders, the ambition and technical accomplishment that Sean Murray and the team achieved is nothing short of incredible, and is surely going to be a landmark for future game development industry-wide.
One of the most common questions that I have received from friends and followers of The HUD since the game’s release, “Is this game worth my time and money?” Honestly, it entirely depends on what you are looking for in a game. For those that are looking for an open experience where they aren’t under constant pressure by sidequest markers and deep storylines, then this game is probably right up your alley. However, if you are looking for moment-to-moment action and a more linear experience, then this is probably where I would say this isn’t the game for you at the moment. That is the one thing that I cannot shake from playing this game- is that we are playing year 1 NMS at the moment, and this game is going to look very different in the months and years to come.
From a gameplay standpoint, NMS is pretty straight forward once you wrap your head around the loop, after what can seem like an incredibly daunting opening scenario. Land, discover, compile resources, upgrade, then wash, rinse, and repeat. While I describe this, there is really no way to do it justice in the sense that everything is on such a grand scale and the ability to hop in your ship and fly into space at any given moment (without any loading screen), really is a feat. Thus far into the game, I have learned there is no way to measure how far you are into the game based on time alone. For example, if you tell someone that you are 150+ hours into Fallout 4, then you have a good sense that this person has seen most everything the game has to offer. Where in NMS, you can spend several hours exploring one planet alone without ever leaving the surface or visiting a space station.
Level design is where the game starts to lose its luster after a bit. It’s weird to say this because there truly are 18 quintillion planets to land on, but after a while, they become a bit more than color swaps and environmental factors that can kill you. However, for the first dozen hours or so, you will find yourself in moments as you explore the surface of a planet that is mind boggling to think that odds are you will be the first and last person to ever set foot on the planet. But as with the law of depreciation, this element loses its luster after you start to feel like you’re landing on the same planet with different trees.
Now one of the most divisive aspects of this game is the story or lack-there-of. I remember shortly after the release of vanilla Destiny, most people criticized Bungie for forgetting a ‘story’. Not to be outdone, however, No Man’s Sky managed to create a larger universe with even less of a story. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate games that encourage to discover the deep lore behind the games universe, but in this case, I really can’t help but feel like the campaign was more of an afterthought rather than a focal point of the development cycle. This is where my biggest quarrel with the game lies The framework for one of the most incredible experiences in gaming history is right at their fingertips, all they have to do is give the player real incentive and background to accomplish the games one goal- journey to the center of the universe.
At the same time, this is where No Man’s Sky shines brightest- is its future potential. In my previous example of vanilla Destiny, look at all the content and additions the team at Bungie has made to their platform- offering some of my favorite gaming experiences in the past decade. But it took those expansions for it to reach that level. This is where NMS is at, and I am excited to see what the universe has in store for the team at Hello Games.
No Man’s Sky is going to be a masterpiece to those that are looking in the right places and pleased with the loop, while it will fall flat on its face for those that go in with preconceived notions that this game really is an ‘end-all’. While I don’t think this game is going to work for everyone, I honestly believe that this game is one that you need to gain your own opinion on. In the years to come, we will see many iterations of this experience come from several different companies that will attempt to put their own spin on the ambitious formula. When you find yourself playing those games, it will mean that much more to understand where ground zero was- and what we had to do get there.