Procedurally generated fun across a vast galaxy
gameplay 89 / story 88 / graphics 92 / sound 99
DISCLAIMER: Gamelust was given a copy of No Man’s Sky from 505 Games and Hello Games to review.
No Man’s Sky, the tale of promises, silence, and comebacks – it’s a tale I’m familiar with, following Sean Murray and Hello Games well before launch; their promise of a procedurally generated universe teeming with life and unmapped stars had me captivated to say the least. Sure enough, the release came around and the controversy surrounding the game’s content creeped in. Despite all the controversy and all the missing features I continued to play on and off with each update. Two years later, NEXT delivers the experience I (and so many others) was craving from the beginning; It’s managed to convert the game into something of a sci-fi adventure. Anyhow, here’s my detailed review of No Man’s Sky, one of the better survival titles to come out of this decade.
I’ll start at the beginning, or at least where the game drops you from a choice of almost infinite planets; getting dropped onto a procedurally generated planet with nothing but a crippled ship and a semi-functional exosuit to your name is somewhat of a cliche although it’s a superb way to introduce you to the basics. Besides, the game wants you to know it has it out for you before it even begins; nothing screams I hate you more than smashing your tech to pieces and tossing you on a planet with either insane heat, radiation or frost. Jokes aside, the sense of not knowing where you come from or why you’re there adds a touch of mystery to your journey – the harshness teaches you the ins and outs of No Man’s Sky’s crafting mechanic from the get-go.
Despite being a key mechanic, gathering resources feels passive yet crucial chore. Unless you’re building a base, you’ll find yourself harvesting pivotal elements, clogging your inventory with unnecessary extras. I’m not saying that gathering is easy by any means but after the first-hour gathering doesn’t become the burden of No Man’s Sky. No, that title is claimed by another activity I’ll get to later. All planets contain the basic resources; Di-Hydrogen, Ferrite Dust, and Carbon and unless you’re playing on higher difficulties, you’ll always find these elements in bountiful handfuls which saves some much needed time.
Crafting, on the other hand, is a monotonous process. Most recipes require little resources but make you jump through hoops to find them. Some recipes take an insane amount of time to craft while others can be whipped up in seconds. While crafting doesn’t bother me too much because I have time to dedicate to the game, it’s clear how players who want a quick intergalactic fix will find it hard to make progress on the harder recipes with some requiring you to hop galaxies just to obtain ingredients.
No Man’s Sky headlining feature is the option to choose your own path; the game is often categorized into four pillars: explore, fight, trade and survive. Each one can be done separately or simultaneously because No Man’s Sky thrives on giving you freedom. It’s daunting at first, but once you repair your hyperdrive and make your first jump into uncharted waters, you’ll quickly begin to pick up the secrets of the universe that help you decide which path you want to forge, or if you want to dabble in all four professions.
Maybe you don’t want to focus on one profession and that’s doable. The game doesn’t tie you down or tempt you into one career by offering exclusive benefits using a class system. You’re a free bird that can unclip its wings at any given point of time in your journey to the center (or if you’re not keen on flying into a sun, on your journey across the galaxy). Of course there are ships that fare better trading than engaging pirates (and vice versa) but that’s where having a freighter comes in.
Thankfully, a freighter is gifted to you early in the game, allowing for space to store multiple ships as well as conducting fruitful missions from the ship bridge. What’s more, you have the opportunity to build your own quarters (or farm, it’s entirely your choice that can be reverted if you wish to) in a generously large section of the ship
Some Freighter missions provide you with the opportunity to experience action (while others send your crew off to random systems to perform random tasks), something that No Man’s Sky fails to execute in a satisfying way. Weapons feel resonate too well with the multitool and ship lasers are strenuous to control and navigating can be a nightmare when entering orbit as quick turns to dodge that oncoming mountain are almost impossible due to the ship’s inability to turn hastily. Sure, this is down to the ship you fly but I found myself facing the same issue regardless of what craft I hopped into.
Upgrades towards your character and their equipment is relatively simple to understand while having a level of complexity. You’ll soon learn that there are better upgrades and tweaks out there. You’ll also learn that these upgrades can be grouped together to make bonuses that stack and just like almost everything else in No Man’s Sky, the modules (as they’re called) are procedural.
Speaking of procedural, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the incredibly designed soundtrack that accompanies you on your space travels. Although 65daysofstatic recorded a soundtrack, No Man’s Sky takes audio from those tracks and mixes them up to suit the occasion. Escaping sentinels? There’s a high speed song that has been generated playing in the background. It’s a truly remarkable achievement that just adds to the game’s style.
We need to talk about planets too; No Man’s Sky has some breathtaking views when on foot, surrounded by a vibrant sky, complete with some quirky creatures but the charm wears off after spending some time trailing across the galaxy. Biomes felt familiar and same-old despite existing on planets eons apart from each other and trudging through plains quickly became a shallow experience that was a chore. This wasn’t always the case though, I often found planets with weird kinks that provided hours of worthwhile exploration and a reason to claim the soil. Despite this, I can’t help but wonder if the algorithm that No Man’s Sky utilizes is spitting out the same planet, hindering the ‘you’re the first person to discover this’ feel. Vehicles help eliminate this repeating terrain to an extent as you’ll be able to cover long distances in one of the five machines offered to help aid you in exploration and, if you wanted to, you could build a race course for you and your friends to test this vehicles which can be heavily modified with upgrades and nifty features.
Luckily, there is a reason to trek across the terrain: containers buried in the ground yield valuable blueprints for your base. What’s more, filling in data for your log not only rewards you handsomely, but gives a feeling of satisfaction for completionists. These container are an incentive to explore and are essential to building your home; as they contain a currency which can be spent on purchasing base parts to build your own habitat: a zenith feature of No Man’s Sky. Base building itself is fairly simple as everything snaps into place, but the option is there to position parts to design some whacky bases, most of which are shared to the active community.
In a way this progression block undermines No Man’s Sky’s do anything you want mantra but at the same time forces the player to discover the power of maths. It’s a contradiction that creates something to do in what can be perceived as a shallow walking simulator by many, but in fact is an experience more than anything that demonstrates the power of procedural technology.
Although I have many frustrations with No Man’s Sky, I can’t fault it for providing a great space-survival experience that inspires curiosity and the desire to play some more. The game is by no means an action title or one that holds your hand. No Man’s Sky is an odd case that I’ve fallen in love with, and you might fall in love with it too.
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