After years of anticipation and speculation, “No Man’s Sky” is finally out in the wild. People have been playing it for several weeks now, taking off into space, thoroughly exploring planets and discovering bizarre new alien races.
But as fantastic as this all sounds, the game couldn’t live up to my expectations.
I booted up the game, picked up my PS4 controller, and watched as my first planet materialized before me. My ship was crashed and I needed to wander around this strange planet to gather resources and repair my ship.
At first, I was engulfed in a sense of wonder. Here I was, standing on a planet that I could walk around freely. It would take me countless hours to see every inch of its rocky surface, but I could still explore it. But I tried not to get too distracted early on and began hunting the resources I needed to repair my ship. After about an hour of firing my mining laser at rocks of different shapes and colors, I had built the necessary components to lift my ship from the sphere of rock I stood on.
I fitted the components in, clambered into the cockpit, lifted off from the moss-covered rocks and pointed my nose towards the stars. A couple of seconds later and the red-tinted expanse of space filled my vision. Several planets surrounded me. A space station floated gently in their midst.
After looking around in bewilderment for several seconds, I faced towards an undiscovered planet and rocketed towards its surface.
My mind was filled with hopes of lush jungles, towering beasts and rolling hills covered in strange vegetation. What I was met with was another rocky planet with the familiar looking minerals and a couple of abominations prancing around.
The surface was similar to the first one I encountered. There wasn’t much to do other than find relics that taught me alien words and hunt down monoliths – these strange altars that presented choices with the possibility of a reward. These were nice distractions, but the planet still didn’t capture my attention.
After pointing my laser at more rocks, I went to back to my ship and sauntered back into space. There were two more planets in my vicinity and I didn’t have the parts I needed to build a warp drive and leave the star system I was in. So I flew down to the next mysterious planet. Only, it wasn’t as mysterious as I had hoped, because it was another expanse of rocks and minerals. So far every planet I had visited had been pretty underwhelming. But I was still optimistic.
I finished with the final barren rock ball and popped over to the space station. I talked to a bizarre robotic alien, got a warp drive, rocketed back into space, and set course for another star system.
Streaks of green light flashed across the screen for nearly a minute as I left my starting areas and emerged in an entirely new star system. But there was only one problem: Nothing had really changed.
And this is my biggest complaint with “No Man’s Sky.”
As fun as it is to explore planets, discover new aliens and planets, fight off robots designed to defend these closed ecosystems, upgrade my gear and engage in disorienting battles among the stars, I kept doing the same things over and over again.
After leaving the first galaxy, I was just going through the motions, collecting enough material to move on to the next star system. And while there was some guidance in terms of which systems I should visit depending on what my end goal was, for the time being, the minute-to-minute gameplay never really evolved.
This wouldn’t be a problem if I thought everything I was doing was incredibly fun and engaging, but there are moments of “No Man’s Sky” that come off as very passive.
Flying to a planet can sometimes take more than a minute real-time. All you can do is sit and wait for your ship to enter the atmosphere so you can start exploring. When you point your mining tool at a chunk of minerals, you have to wait as you slowly extract all the precious resources. Everything is a waiting game.
Your character starts out moving at a sluggish pace on planets, so wandering too far from your ship just means you’ll have to take just as much time finding your way back. The thrill of exploration is constantly deflated by the actual act.
The story moments are few and far between, and can’t break up the monotony. It’s a game about exploring and making your mark on a massive universe, but all of this is buried under the guise of a subpar survival game.
Resource management is key. If you don’t continuously pump your suit full of minerals, you’ll waste your charge and be left vulnerable to the elements. Every planet holds the resources you’ll need to survive and leave, but you may have to poke around for a while, especially if you find yourself stranded on a particularly barren planet.
This may sound a bit strange, but this is the kind of game I would play with something else on in the background. I often turned on a podcast or a YouTube video while I played “No Man’s Sky.” The gameplay loop was so repetitive I needed to distract myself while I flew to a planet, harvested minerals or jumped to a new star system.
I know I have spent the majority of this article complaining about “No Man’s Sky,” and there is a lot to complain about. But the sense of wonder glimpsed from early trailers is still present, it’s just buried under layers of gameplay systems that only serve to complicate things and mar the experience.
I’m not done with “No Man’s Sky” just yet. The game still has plenty to offer me; it’s just going to be more of the same that it has already offered me. The experience can still be built upon to reach the potential that everyone thought it had, it just isn’t there just yet, as sad as that is to write.
This Week in Geek by Matthew Herst
Matthew Herst is a Carleton University communications student, video game journalist and Sudbury.com’s resident geek writer. Yeah, this guy loves video games. Besides Sudbury.com, you can also find his work on TheNerdStash.com. Follow him on Twitter @supergurst.