Author’s Note: I would love to have taken some screenshots to illustrate my points a bit better, but as you might have heard, the PC version of the game is a little crash-prone when it comes to alt-tabbing, screenshots or being opened. Apologies for the standard imagery, but hey, looks nicer than the game, right?
… Huh? What? Why are you- Oh, you want a review. Well, I mean… I can certainly provide, but at this point, you’ve probably already made your mind up, right? The rest of the internet has, so… I dunno what to tell you. It’s alright. It’s not the game we wanted by any stretch, but it’s not the disaster of the century. It’s just another game, some more survival mechanics and a whole lot of grinding for little payoff. There’s a lot of ambition, sure, but there’s no point to a billion stars if they all feel the same. It’s not that the game plays like eating steel wool, it’s just… Eh. Still, I’m sure you’re wondering what it is that you do in this over-sized playground of stars, and I can safely say you… um… do stuff.
The biggest issue with No Man’s Sky is how vague everything about it has been and, uh, still is. After 13 hours with the game, I still don’t know why I should travel to the centre of the galaxy, investigate the Atlas interfaces or do anything that doesn’t delight me for no reason. Your reward for reaching an Atlas interface is the waypoints to another Atlas interface, and that just repeats without explanation. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the game’s content, nothing does. Why I should do anything is unclear, and the rewards that I’ll get are equally shrouded behind some invisible wall of knowledge. That doesn’t mean the game is devoid of merit; it’s just very… Eh.
If you’re hoping to find a vast and compelling space sim here, you’re better off renewing your EVE subscription. The game revolves around simple, repetitive survival mechanics, similar to Rust or Minecraft, but on a whole other level of tedium. Your life support barely lasts 10 minutes before you need to feed it, and you can only launch your ship off the ground four times before the landing gears cry for more plutonium. These aren’t difficult resources to find (plutonium is practically as common as sand), but the frequency with which you need to gather fuel is stifling to every other element of gameplay. For a game intent on having me explore the universe around me, it’s disappointingly demanding for you to complete trivial tasks, like a boyfriend who loves watching Rent. I suspect that these mechanics are in place to keep people from noticing the lack of depth in other areas of the game.
As you go exploring planets and talking to aliens, most of what you’ll be doing is a then-and-there affair. There’s rarely a time where you’ll need resources on-hand to deal with an alien encounter, and missions don’t exist, so nothing you do has any bearing on future events. Well, that’s not entirely accurate; you can gain a reputation amongst alien species, but I’ll get to that soon. Even trading is shallow, and considering how often you’ll be selling resources, there’s no reason to put any effort into working the market in the first place (assuming the market is even open to manipulation, which I cannot confirm or deny from my playthrough). The whole game is a collection of barely connected systems that have nothing to dig into, so once the novelty wears off, the cynicism kicks in hard. Unfortunately, for a game with millions of planets to uncover, there’s not much to find.
The universe of NMS is utterly mind-boggling in scale, and words cannot encapsulate how dull it is to explore. In theory, every planet should have unique forms of flora and fauna to discover, but you’ll keep seeing the same archetypes these creatures are made from. I saw the same tendril-headed crab on six different planets now, and don’t even get me started on the clam-trees. What should be an exotic planet is filled with iterations of old discoveries, so instead of being thrilled at each discovery, you’ll sigh at yet another world of giant dogs. Don’t get me wrong, if you like going around planets and scanning flora and fauna, this could very well be your jam, but you’ll ultimately be examining familiar wildlife on familiar backdrops. On the up side, you can gain favour with Daft Punk.
Aliens are sci-fi bread and butter, so you’re god damn right that they’re in NMS, and you’re god damn right that they’re as eh as everything else. Conforming to the sci-fi clichés in more ways than I can list, there are three alien races to interact with. You’ve got the TV-headed technophiles, the Korvax (aka Daft Punk), the conniving trade-leaders, The Gek (aka Geckos), and the honourable warrior race, The Ky’veen (aka Klingon-wannabes). Solid clichés, if nothing else. That reputation system I mentioned before is the only real overarching mechanic in the game, along with learning their respective languages from knowledge stones or encounters. The thing is, learning their language takes so long that it borders on academia, and reputation does nothing more than open a few more dialogue options. It can sometimes be fun to have a chat with them and see what they have to offer, but it can be a challenge when the UI keeps getting in the way.
Milestones. God damn. I take five steps, I’ve achieved another milestone, so the game letterboxes the screen and stops me from opening my inventory or interacting with anything around me. My entire view is taken up by my supposed achievement, I can’t recharge my gun, and I can’t get this freaking bane of my existence out of the way. Milestones are just one of the problems with the UI, including how long it takes to do anything because you have to hold buttons down or wait for the text to fade in. You can’t just do anything because the game keeps wanting to remind you how epic everything is, despite my inventory being the size of a hip pocket.
You’d think at this point, where ships and space travel are commonplace, we’d have a way to store a teensy bit more in the trunk. You can transfer items between your inventory and the ship, but then more problems emerge. Trading posts can sell from both inventories, but only if you landed the ship in the right place, even if it’s within range to transfer items. So, you buy a bigger ship, but then you get new tech, and those take, you guessed it, inventory slots. There wasn’t even a point to partitioning inventories into slots because there’s no RE4 Tetris-esque management to it, so a list would do the job better and be a bit more lenient about it. You either die empty handed or live long enough to see yourself run out of room, assuming you can see anything from your ship.
To call the ship controls ‘awkward’ would be like saying Nine Lives was a bit rough around the edges. Walking on the planet, no problems, standard fare. In your ship, nothing is sacred. You can’t get close enough to the surface of a planet to let you see where you’re going to land, and you can’t even strafe in space! Half of the fun of space-flight, gone! Not to mention that the landing mechanism (you hit a button, it auto-lands) is a touch rough around the edges too (yeah, I landed in a cave and almost died trying to lift off again). Dogfights are somewhat enjoyable, but since your ship always moves wherever you point it, there’s no nuance or space-strafing strategy to leverage. I would have at least liked a button to turn all this pilot assist bullshit off, but as far as I can tell, it’s in a perpetual state of holding me back. Despite all of this, NMS is a damn good looking game…
… Sometimes. From afar, particular things look great, like planets and ships. Up close, the textures resemble something between puke and a Videodrome fever dream. The art style is striking, and I’m willing to say it’s what drew so many people into following the game, but the implementation is very hit-and-miss. There are times where you’ll lean back and realise just how amazing this vista is; then there are other times where you’ll feel like it’s 2002 and Saddam Hussein’s showing his true colours. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack is great, which is standard praise for 65daysofstatic. Shame they couldn’t have picked a more exciting game for their brand of cinematic music.
And there you have it, a review for No Man’s Sky. It’s not the buggiest game in the world, nor is it devoid of worth, but it’s so very eh. The personality of the ships, the music, and the art simply don’t translate into the game’s design, and because of that, everything suffers. If you’re willing to go through millions of stars doing the same ol’ thing, by all means, I won’t stop you. Hell, good on you, the game’s not broken by any means (… well, I mean, it still opens), but I’ve got better things to do with my time than scan more tentacle-crabs and grind for answers. Hypocritical given all we do in life is grind for answers… Unless you have internet access, then you can just wiki ‘em.