image No Man’s Sky Review: Ambitious Repetition 

* Please note this review is not final but I feel I have spent enough time exploring the universe to formulate a conclusion and score. This review and score may be updated upon completion of game.

I really want to love No Man’s Sky. I really want to tell you it was everything you were hoping for and is a truly mesmerising, in-depth space exploration game where every planet is unique and the universe they are contained in is fascinating, full of interesting things to see and do… but I can’t.

Hype surrounding No man’s Sky has been building for what seems eternity, reaching a crescendo of expectation and excitement just before release. If the history of video games has taught us anything hype can be a dangerous thing (see The Division, Destiny, etc) and I for one try not to get too carried away. In the case of NMS I shied away from the copious media attention the space exploration game was receiving, quietly biding my time with a good degree of optimism. I knew it wouldn’t be the best game ever but I won’t deny I was invested in and excited for Hello Games’ universal adventure.

However good things don’t always come to those who wait and while No Man’s Sky is by no means a bad game, far from it, but the ambitions and efforts of Hello Games’ has led to produce an ambitious but ultimately flawed game.

One small step…

After loading up No Man’s Sky and patiently waiting for the game to load, whilst being treating to an ethereal, colourful, star filled title/loading screen, we finally get to see the game in action and experience our first planet. Initial impressions were mixed. Pre-release trailers, screenshots, etc had got me excited; the visual direction of the game was very appealing; a sort of stylised, vibrant b-movie feel to them, one which felt completely in tune with what NMS was setting out to be. Fast forward to the present and what I experienced was a somewhat mediocre version of what I expected/seen. Whilst by no means terrible, visually I was disappointed at first. Maybe the first planet I encountered did not really help matters; a garishly green, radioactive planet, everything on show just didn’t seem as eye popping or unique as I had hoped/was expecting.

No Man's Sky First Planet
Where it all began for me.. don’t think I will miss Rimokordsenta but I will miss my mini-stegosaurus freinds

On the plus side my planet was full of weird and wonderful creatures and plants, all which contributed to the feeling of a distant planet, full of diverse, seemingly exclusive to this particular planet, lifeforms. It felt quite “authentic” as you could begin to correlate and imagine the effect of the planets radiation to it’s flora and fauna.

After spending a few moments taking in my surroundings it was time to get busy as I had a crashed ship to repair. This is one of the few moments where the game provides a set of objectives. Here we start to learn the basics of the gameplay from mining and obtaining resources to traversing the landscape using our jet pack. However NMS is such an explorative, free form game it opts to tell you very little else, such as important controls (I only found out on my second planet how to scan lifeforms, which can then be uploaded for credits). I don’t mind this shackle-less response but it can make players miss certain things.

Once my ship was rebuilt and fuelled up I could finally leave this radioactive ridden planet, full of mini stegosaurus’s, and fly into the atmosphere and into deep space. From here No Man’s Sky wonder and it’s flaws start to become more apparent…

Universal Repetition

Space in No Man’s Sky is initially awe-inspiring. Here in the vast expanses of the galaxy you really start to gain a perspective and a sense of scale of No Man’s Sky and everything in it. After setting my sights on a planet in the distance, the game proudly states it will take several hours to reach said planet by simply drifting there at normal speed. Naturally that’s a bit long to wait so I whack on the pulse thrusters and bam! Where are their in a millionth of the time.

No Man's Sky_20160812015401
The dark, vast “wonders” of space through the eyes of our cockpit

Upon entering the planets atmosphere our ship starts to “burn up”, this has no significant effect on our ship it’s just a piece of visual spectacle that enhances the immersion of flying in a spaceship. As the planet surface starts to come into view, it initially hides behind a “blurry blanket” hiding it’s true form, environment and appearance until we reach a few hundred metres from it. You have the option of landing anywhere on a planet (bar water of course) so you can scour the landscape for points of interest before setting down, however flying over a planets’ surface highlights a visual issue, where parts of the surface seem to appear grained and “dithered”, which begins to dispel our immersion. I was hoping this issue was a one off but sadly it happened on every planet I visited.

When exploring a planet there are numerous points of interest such as monoliths and outposts. Each has a certain significance wherever it’s learning a new word of alien language or obtaining a new schematic to improve your equipment, every p.o.i aids you in your quest to the centre of the universe. A lot of the planets you visit will also be abundant in resources, which are useful in refuelling and keeping your equipment functional, as well as crafting certain items, which all assist your journey in one way or another. NMS is largely a mixture of resource gathering, upgrading and searching. And in that lies one of the main problems with NMS.

After a few planets it becomes apparent that you will be largely doing the same thing on each planet and this starts to become somewhat tedious. To make matters worse the realisation that every planet is essentially the same in structure starts to greaten. Each one has a smattering of monoliths, outposts, shelters, etc and a number of resources to mine and flora and fauna to scan. And while there can be some diversity in the plants and animals, the “buildings” that do appear on the landscape all look the same depending on their purpose. Planets only really seem to vary in environment and colour, and essentially it begins to feel like every planet is essentially a re-skin.

NMS and it’s 18 quintillion planets were made possible thanks to what is known as “Procedural Generation”, the problem is each planet is made via this mathematical algorithm and while so many planets would not be possible without said algorithm, it could be argued that it is actually detrimental to the illusion of everything being unique, since planets can only be created in a certain way and not individually hand-crafted and programmed.

No Man's Sky_20160812132242
Procedural generation also creates some strange issues such as “floating” beacons

Further progressing in NMS further illustrates the repetitive nature of the game. Initially I spent a good amount of time on each planet I landed on, scanning new species, finding monoliths and outposts but with each new planet I seemed to spend less and less time on them, quickly grabbing a few resources maybe learning a new word or too before moving on. There isn’t really enough to keep you interested for a duration whilst on the surface and your own willingness to keep playing will be based on your desire to reach the centre of the universe and other personal goals. One of my goals that keeps me playing is to get a new ship and I worry once I have obtained enough credits to buy said ship then I will lose focus and interest in NMS.

Unfortunately for NMS, space itself does little to spice and mix things up, as that also becomes somewhat tedious as every system has very little to note between the planets except the odd space port and the occasional space battle, which themselves don’t feel very intuitive thanks to the ships “clunky” controls. Battles seem more a war of attrition than actual skill as I found myself just lining up shots, firing in hope and then repairing shields in between “attacks”. The fact we are restricted to the cockpit view also makes things more frustrating and it would have been nice to have been able to switch camera angles to see our ship flying through the stars, allowing us to gain another perspective on the vast cosmos.

A Divided Space

So far you would probably come to the conclusion that I don’t like NMS but you’d be wrong. Ok so I don’t love NMS but as I mentioned earlier, NMS is not a bad game. There are elements I enjoy and there are moments of true awe-inspiring wonder.

The first time you warp to another system is quite a monumental moment one that is emphasised thanks to a glowing, visual spectacle through the eyes of your cockpit. Visually the game has moments, which truly do grab the eye and while it’s not as visually appealing as I had hoped for, there are times I can happily just stand still in NMS and enjoy my surroundings watching the sun set on a extra terrestrial planet, teaming with wildlife. The wildlife itself is also highly entertaining, while it has been well documented there are some strange often disturbing creations (all thanks to procedural generation), to their credit, Hello Games have created life-forms that are diverse and interesting from dinosaur-esque creatures to bouncing pineapple things (I kid you not) every creature helps add a degree of life to their often lifeless surroundings.

Dusk turns into night as a giant creature walks underneath a distant planet
Sometimes you get a moment in No man’s Sky that just makes you stop and appreciate the universe, this was arguably one of my defining moments in NMS.

At times NMS can also be a serene and very relaxing game to play. Its free form structure allows such astral and peaceful sensations, free from urgency and “forceful” objective gameplay. That’s not to say there are moments of danger and suspense where immediate action is required but NMS is at it’s best when you take time to enjoy your surroundings. It’s just a shame when you come to do anything, it is largely dull and repetitive.

I did enjoy the language mechanic employed in the game. There are a few different alien races you encounter during your time in No Man’s Sky, each that speak their own unique language. Often discussions with said aliens (and sometimes encrypted terminals)  are decision based, where there are right and wrong answers, however deciphering what they are asking is not always easy if you have not swatted up on the language, and can lead to choosing the wrong answer, which often leads to your alien counter part showing their displeasure. But when you had taken the time to learn some of the language and are able to decipher some of their message it is quite a satisfying feeling, one in particular for me where I managed to override a terminal just from learning one word, which helped me decipher that the temperature levels were too high, gave me a sense of satisfaction and felt that I had been doing something worthwhile. Unfortunately this became somewhat tedious as well and the aliens present in the game only serve as basic dialogue options, offering little in the way of personality or character, which is a shame as their character models are detailed and well created.

No Man's Sky_20160812125231
Needless to say I wish I knew more Gek

It is also a shame there is relatively no story or lore present in No Man’s Sky. Yes one could argue this is a game where you make your own story but when are you virtually doing the same thing on most of the time, one could easily counter that comment by saying it would not be a very interesting story, one full of repetition. NMS did not need a fully fledged, in-depth narrative but it’s baffling that you have all these aliens and ancient ruins inhabiting planets and they are given little to no context. It’s just one element that unfortunately serves to break the illusion of a living universe.

 

A Star Unborn

While essentially there is a lot to do in NMS; the game boasts combat, trading, crafting and more, everything is quite basic and not exactly fully developed, and the games main draw of having 18 quintillion planets to explore is not enough to warrant it being an outstanding experience. NMS arguably was attempting to be greater than the sum of its parts but unfortunately a lot of the parts it is comprised of are simply not strong or enjoyable enough.

I don’t regret my decision to buy NMS, it is a unique and ambitious experience one, that if Hello Games decided to, could be further developed and improved into something truly engrossing and captivating. But at this moment NMS is a mere promise of what could have been.

Paws Up

  • Moments of awe-inspiring wonder
  • Often a peaceful and relaxing experience
  • Brimming with potential and very ambitious…

Paws Down

  • … but ultimately flawed and lacking
  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Immersion is often broken by issues

Review Score: 6/10

*this score may update in the future upon full completion/extra content

So those are my thoughts on No Man’s Sky what are yours? Are you enjoying your adventures in space or are you severely disappointed? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, until next time have fun and play games.

 

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