When Hello Games announced No Man’s Sky back in 2013, I was sold on the concept. Playing through a game with a whole universe to explore sounded fantastic – and this idea also captured the attention of gamers and press alike. It was easy to see that the game was poised be a massive title release for 2016.
Going in, I had an idea of what to expect from No Man’s Sky. I knew this game was about exploring, going to distant planets, documenting your discoveries, venturing into the unknown and trying to learn about the alien species that already inhabit this universe. That is exactally what I got with No Man’s Sky; I had this massive universe to explore and a vast amount of species to find. But on this journey, I found the flaws that held back game from becoming something great.
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: PC
Release Date: Out Now
Your journey begins with you taking the role of an unknown traveller stranded on a random planet in the No Man’s Sky universe. Armed only a multi-tool and with a wrecked ship in the background, it’s up to you to gather enough resources to repair their ship to aid in your escape. Once on your way, the journey can truly begin as you make travel through the universe and attempt to find what lies in its centre.
When starting out in No Man’s Sky, I felt overwhelmed with information. I had a list of systems that needed repair on both my ship and on my multi-tool. There was a list of materials to gather, which I had no idea what they looked like or where to look for them. It took me a bit of time to get my bearings and figure out the essentials but soon found that gathering these materials can be simple.
While everything in the game is procedurally generated, certain aspects of creation’s properties will never change. For instance, objects that have the same look and texture of a plant or a tree will always give off carbon for the player. Iron can always be found in rock-type objects, and plutonium has to be mined from red crystals. No matter planet you’re on this rule will always apply, so learning where to find materials never takes long.
From the outset I’d discovered that one of the game’s most annoying systems reared its head, I’m of course talking about the refuelling of your life support system. Early on you notice a grey bar in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, slowly depleting. This is the player’s life support system, and it is needed for the player to survive on the surface of any planet. To refill it, all you need is to gather an isotope – like carbon for example, and then you can continue your journey. But your multi-tool will need energy for its beam. Plus the engines on your ship need to be refuelled at some point, and then there is always looking for oxides for recharging the shield on your ship.
Keeping track of all these meters can be annoying and at the start of the game because they drain way too quickly. Yes, you can upgrade them with technology you discover along the way (making them a bit more reasonable to keep track of), but it can take hours of playtime to find the blueprints for these technologies. When I’d started No Man’s Sky, I was looking forward to exploring the billions of world in the game. But every time I landed on a planet, I found myself spending more time searching for materials so I can keep my life support system, multi-tool, and starship topped up, then actually looking at the environments.
The need to regularly top up various meters is a shame because No Man’s Sky is such a gorgeous game. All the planets I have explored have looked fantastic, and there is good variety between them. Be it down to the vast amount of creatures to find or how dangerous these planets can be to my character. Also, the unusual colour palettes used for these environments makes the game stand out compared to a lot of other titles.
Another thing Hello Games has done does right is the scale of the universe. When I started No Man’s Sky, I never released how vast the universe was going to be. When I first left my beginning world and had set a course to a distance planet, thinking I would be there in no time. I was so wrong; a pop-up told me it would take me hours just to reach this my destination.
Of course, the ships in the game have multiple speeds so the time it takes for travelling doesn’t matte, but that one moment drove in how massive a universe is. The distance travelled is beyond what people deal with in day to day life. In reality, planets are millions of kilometres away from each other, while stars are light years apart, and it felt like these distances also apply to the universe in No Man’s Sky.
As a visual experience, No Man’s Sky performs superbly, but unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the gameplay. Combat at the best times feels stiff, while at its worst, it’s just standing around hoping your life bar lasts longer than the enemies. It never feels exciting, engaging sentinels or pirates in space. It is just another annoyance that blocks the player from enjoying the games environments.
When it comes to walking on the planets that populate the game, it can be so slow. For a game that involves so much exploring to do, I can’t believe at how slow I move through the environment. I feel the speed I sprint at should have been the standard walking pace as it would have made it more reasonable to explore the planets in the game.
If I could explain No Man’s Sky in one word, it would be repetition. I have been performing the same tasks over and over again, to reach a goal that is too far to reach. I haven’t reached the centre of the universe, and I don’t think I will as the game can’t keep my attention for that long of a time frame. Most of my time in the game has been gathering materials to fuel my multi-tool, so I could gather more materials to keep my life support going for longer, so I could spend more time collecting more materials to fuel my ship. And after all of that, I set a course for a new world to explore, only to start this process all over again.
Exploring the universe is fun, but it is near impossible to return to where I have visited. There is no map to use when exploring a planet, no way of setting a marker on a location you want to return to. There have been many times I found a crashed ship but lacked the materials to repair it. So I left the area and gathered everything I needed, only to release there is no way to find these ships again, apart from wondering aimlessly on the planet’s surface. I am better off going to new planets and wait for my scanners to pick up what another downed ship, than to return to an old world, and wonder around, hoping I find the crashed ship or the building I want to revisit.