To Infinity And Beyond?
It’s easy to understand the hype surrounding No Mans Sky; the premise of a procedurally generated universe in which you can explore sounds intriguing. In a way, Hello Games-makers of Joe Danger-is making an incredibly ambitious move. Even with all this hype, does No Man’s Sky truly deliver? Well…yes and no.
Starting off on my first planet was a rude awakening, mostly because I was given little to no context as to what to do as far as a tutorial is concerned. The game drops you in, expecting the player to know exactly what to do at a moments notice. Despite the rude awakening, I soon found myself getting acquainted with my first planet. Here is where I-ambiguously-learned the core mechanics No Man’s Sky was “trying” to teach me. First off, the hud displays essential information that pertains to the planet. The bottom left corner shows the planet name, temperature, and life support systems-which protect you from environmental hazards. The shield and life bar make up the top left, followed by radar at top, ammo/mining beam battery life and wanted level in the top right. You are also equipped with a scanner which is used to analyze different species of plants and animals, and upload them to the galactic database.
After I figured out the core mechanics, my next step was to complete a few simple objectives: fix my ship and get off the planet. While learning the basic mechanics the game had to offer me, and trying to complete the first set of objectives I realized what I needed to do. Mine. Thus began my introduction to what No Man’s Sky ultimate feels like: a resource grind.
On every planet that’s discovered there will be the same basic components that will aid you in your quest toward the ultimate goal of No Man’s Sky: the galactic core. Most of these resources such as carbon, plutonium, emerald and gold are on almost every planet the player visits. This is where the resource grind comes into play. Every component of your ship, as well as your space suit and multi-tool requires recharging. One of the ways to recharge is…you guessed it, mining resources.
Mining essentially feels like the crux of the game. Ship, tool, and space suit all require recharging, and that includes the upgrade components for each piece of equipment. Once the meter for the specific piece of equipment starts slipping, it must be recharged to continue exploring. Thankfully the item menu is very similar to that of Destiny’s, in that you can move the analog stick around to select the items you want to use. The meter will also deplete quicker depending on if the planet is hazardous or not. The trouble comes when trying to obtain rare elements like iridium and aluminum. Rare minerals are used to upgrade certain equipment to a higher level. Some of these rare minerals can be found on planets-if lucky enough-or inside giant floating asteroids that can be shot with your spaceship to collect.
Before I left my first planet, I took a moment to take in the beauty No Man’s Sky has to offer. It was nighttime, and I stood overlooking a grassy field that housed nothing but my spaceship and some vegetation. I looked up, and amongst the backdrop of stars, I saw three planets ranging from big to small-due to the distance from my planet-in the night sky. I audibly said “Wow.” That’s when I envisioned my own space odyssey. So I jumped in my spaceship, left the planets atmosphere, and hit space.
Once in space, I positioned my spaceships reticle at the nearest planet and noticed the estimated time of arrival; an hour. It would take the player an hour in real-time to reach the planet, just holding down the trigger. Thankfully there are ways to cut that time just to mere seconds. The spaceship is equipped with a pulse drive, once initiated, the spaceship goes into autopilot toward the direction of choice. Depending on how far the planet is, the time will increase.
Descending into I entered my second planet I started to explore the vast nature of the planet. I found various monoliths-sorta similar in design to that of 2001: A Space Odyssey-, that gave me english translations of alien words, alien shelters in which I could find upgrades, materials, as well as alien traders that can trade goods. When encountering these aliens, they will often request a certain item to begin trading, or there will be a worded scenario in which you will have to read and choose a correct answer based on the multiple choices given.
Besides discovering neighboring planets, I took a quick trip to the nearby space station, but before I could reach my destination, I became notified of incoming hostile ships. Much like everything else found in No Man’s Sky, ship battles are entertaining at first, but then become a nuisance. So much of a nuisance that enemy ship encounters can happen when you least expect it. Encounters can happen immediately after exiting a space station, or on the way to a nearby planet. After awhile all I wanted to do was explore in peace, but that’s hard to do when constantly being bombarded with enemies on either land or space.
All of these gameplay elements seem unique at first, but they begin to ware out their welcome. By the time I reached my fifth solar system, I had this self-conscious realization that I didn’t want to continue much further-even though I did just to review the game. My quest towards the galactic center felt more like a chore, and all I really wanted to do was say I reached it. Once I finally reached it and saw what exactly the secret was; I became extremely disappointed.
For as much secrecy and hype that was built upon release, there was nothing more deflating than seeing the end result. It’s not just the galactic core, mostly everything feels like a chore: grind resources to get upgrades that barely improve, build warp cells to be used to reach another system, find a black hole that cuts your time to the center of the galaxy. To make matters worse, planets start to look the same. The only difference is the color of the planet and the species that inhabit it.
As ambitious and groundbreaking as No Man’s Sky sounds, the same can’t be said for the actual execution. During my time playing I found moments of atmospheric beauty to be the only highlight, and I can’t fault the game for giving me a sense of wonder, I only wish the end product gave me more to do.
The gameplay is repetitious and paper-thin, and planets vary ever-so-slightly from one another. This is a case where Hello Games’ ambitious reach exceeds it’s grasp.