Space the final frontier…
I know, wrong franchise. Yet No Man’s Sky taps in to the same spirit of exploration embodied in those famous words and throughout that franchise. Fundamentally, this is what the game is all about: exploration.
First, how do you begin to review a game which has a theoretical 18 quintillion worlds to explore? In nearly 50 hours of gameplay, I have explored 60 planets, or some 0.00000000000000000003% of the known Universe. I have seen bizarre species of flora and fauna, beautiful vistas on both barren and lush planets, been attacked by pirates and have even collected on a bounty. Each planet I arrive on does give me a sense of wonder and awe. Despite having done it 60 times, I can still be surprised by what I find.
Yet in order to explore these wonderful worlds you have to exploit the resources you find throughout the Universe – a lot. For the most part, this can be a repetitive and tedious affair. There are a few times though I find a massive mineral deposit which goes down 100m and, despite the repetition, is fun to excavate (especially if it is valuable Gold or Emeril). After a while though, I have gotten in to the habit of only mining if I have a particular blueprint or upgrade I am looking to craft. For the most part, you can get by on maintaining a minimum inventory of essential resources.
The inventory management was much maligned in reviews; however, I have had little issues with it. You get a handful of slots to begin with in both your exosuit and ship. The exosuit is easy to upgrade, yet the ship is a bit of a burden. Either you can buy a new ship you stumble across at bases or space stations (they can end up costing millions of credits though) or, more likely, you can find a crashed one on a planet. In fact, there is usually at least one crashed ship in whatever system you explore. The problem, though, is they are damaged and you cannot transfer your upgrades. Basically, you have to start over again by upgrading your ship each time. Basic repairs are easy enough, but upgrading to the best equipment (which usually requires more rare resources) can be demanding.
However, while 48 inventory slots is the most you can ever find on a ship, I have managed fine with a 25 slot ship. Perhaps, at some stage, I will upgrade to another ship (the crashed ships you find usually have one extra slot above your current one, so you can get to 48 slots by finding some 30 or 40 crashed ships) or invest in a million credit trade.
Graphically, No Man’s Sky is pretty to look at. It is not the best looking game out there, but the planets in particular have a charming beauty to them. The ships, which are all randomised by the computer code, vary from lumbering frigates to sleek fighters. The aliens you encounter, on the other hand, are muddled and low-res. It is not a game breaker, but even on the lowest settings they struggled to move. I think the game is also a resource hog given the amount of computations needed to render planets. This leads to awful tearing and pop-ins throughout the environments, which is annoying but something you get used to. I have also found the game is unable to run at higher settings despite my rig well meeting the requirements.
The music is spot on while you explore the galaxy: quiet while you wonder around, rocking while you fight. The ambient sounds are also terrific, with animals making different sounds and the sound of rain beating down on your cockpit’s canopy strangely relaxing as you look out on an alien world.
Fundamentally, all I wanted from No Man’s Sky was a game which made exploring vast alien world’s an exciting experience of awe and wonder. In this, the game is fantastic. I am still making my way to the centre of the Universe as I walk the path of Atlas, but this is secondary to finding out what is out there. Sure, after a while the planets have a certain sameness to it, but it is still a new alien world; and I can still be surprised by what the algorithm churns out.
This game is not something for a completionist since you will never see everything there is to see, but I am sure over the months people will have interesting stories and photos to share.
Should you give it a go? Yes. This is one of those games which will make a mark on gaming history. It does not revolutionise games, but it elevates games to a different level as technological achievement (rather than as an art medium). I have always wanted to look up at the stars, take-off and go to another planet all without any loading screens since I began gaming when I was a kid. No Man’s Sky does this breathlessly.
This game, from a 15-person independent studio in England, says to the gaming world: “Look what games can do!”