Before you go any further I want you to know I have not played No Man’s Sky. What I have done is viewed more streams of other people playing it than I care to remember. Like many of you I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is and if that appeals to me enough to warrant a purchase! What follows is the impression I’ve come away with while viewing No Man’s Sky until my eyes burned. (Puts on flame suit and injects himself with the H8 vaccine.)
Before I get into the more critical stuff I wanted to mention a specific live stream that left quite an impression on me. Rocking his usual checkered button up with an unkempt beard, dark circles under sleepless eye and stressed to the max the ever camera shy Sean Murray looked more nervous than usual. After all, even he couldn’t predict exactly what was about to happen in his own game! As he began to play his expression slowly shifted to the kind of satisfied grin you see cross the jaws of musicians, artists or even athletes when they enter a state of zen while performing their task. He reminded me of a child calmly staring off into the clouds and I couldn’t have been happier for him.
Sean said it himself, No Man’s Sky is a “very chill” game-harsh climate survival planets excluded. Watching him I got the sense it was his escape to a world where stress gave way to blissful repetition and never ending new visuals but is that enough for the rest of us?
I went into my streamfest thinking no two streams would look alike but as I watched stream after stream a definite pattern of gameplay emerged. It went as follows; gather resources, use them to power your stuff. Use your stuff to get more valuable resources. Take those resources to a space station and sell them for better gear and/or ships or upgrade them, then fly back out and do it all again. The core gameplay looks fairly simple, not bad, just not overly complex and highly repetitive. Some of us will find a certain Zen in it, others will likely think it’s boring. What breaks up that monotony? The planets of course!
Every planet has a waypoint, every waypoint scans the planet and gives you points of interest to investigate. It’s simple but in a game based on exploration it gets the job done. Surprisingly from what I saw the biodiversity of an individual planet looks pretty limited and none of them were overly lush. Unlike our own pale blue dot planets in No Man’s Sky tended to have one biome. The climate, animals and general look of the terrain was the same no matter where you went but the physicality of the terrain itself differed greatly. I was impressed to see several giant canyons and massive caves streamers were drawn to albeit not for long.
I believe due to the lack of biodiversity players tended to cover a few miles, the planet got repetitious, and they left. That might sound terrible, but when you have near infinite planets to explore you really don’t need any of them to be diverse, the diversity comes from each new place, not from any single planet.
Outside of most planets was a space station with an alien awaiting your visit. The aliens in this game are extremely lazy. They build space ports outside undiscovered planets then kick back and wait for us to do the dirty work! Much like the animals I saw the alien NPC’s seemed pretty simple, if not in some cases (like the empty bars) unfinished. I want to note there is a bit of a mystery to communicating with aliens and it’s a nice addition for lore junkies like me.
The animals are diverse in appearance but very similar in behavior. I have yet to see anyone find a planet teeming with life. They generally encountered a rat sized animal, a deer sized animal and on a rare occasion a horse sized animal, all with basic A.I. I never saw anything even remotely close the number of animals in the screen shot above or from the E3 2014 trailer where that shot came from.
Come to think of it I never heard or saw a few things from that trailer. Could it have been because all new player planets are comparable with more diversity to be discovered the further you get? I hope so. If not, I understand. Many things change in 2 years of development and to Hello Games credit the later trailers are as close to what I’m seeing in streams as any game in recent memory. (Writers note, that old trailer still gets me, as beautifully as it is majestic.) That said I am a bit frustrated multiplayer recently went from being “like Dark Souls and Journey” (which never really made sense to me anyway) to pretty much none.
Space flight and combat seemed simple but enjoyable. I didn’t see any fancy moves but all the ships I saw were pretty low level. Maybe more advanced ships offer more maneuverability? I did note several streams trigger similar events at similar points doing similar actions.
As I rubbed my burning eyes an ironic observation struck me. A game that I expected to be infinitely random is in many ways quite repetitive, at least in the beginning. Its layers of fairly simple mechanics all based around one incredibly fascinating one. It’s an explorers dream and it has a very, dare I say, Nintendo 64 charm both in aesthetics and said mechanics. It’s also an incredibly fun game to watch other people play!
Maybe Sean said it best “It’s a weird game, it’s a niche game and it’s a very very chill game.” Maybe for its audience that’s all it needs to be. Maybe someday that will appeal to me. Maybe, but for now I’m going keep enjoying the streams while I wait for something a bit more...MMORPG.