Ah, No Man's Sky. This game was hyped far past the point of over-hyped before release, which is always a bit dangerous. I let myself get taken in by it, drooled over every new trailer and Sean Murray interview, but I've ridden hype trains before and I know the risk of getting overhyped. I managed my expectations. I didn't think it was going to be the god of all games, and the last game I'd ever need. It has problems but not a ton. In short, I really like it. REALLY like it. I might even love it.
It isn't all rosy, though.
The first few days, I couldn't start the game. It would just crash on the "Hello Games" logo. It seems not a lot of QA was done in the final days before release, and tons of AMD users and some Intel users were stuck at the same place. This wasn't the only launch issue either. Luckily, in a week or so, Hello Games had fixed most of the crashes and gotten people playing.
Once I finally got into the game, I was smitten. For a few hours, my mouth may have been stuck open, I was so amazed. This game is beautiful. Some planets are duds, no flora, no fauna, very little other than gray, but you can still find beauty there. I'm not a screenshot-taker, but I have taken about 50 in this game. That's an incredibly small amount when compared to others.
You get thrown into the galaxy with no memory and vague goals. You know you have to travel, and you have a goal to get to the center of the galaxy. A mysterious entity named Atlas wants your help with something and promises to help you as well, but past that you aren't sure what it's all about. You're free to ignore one or both of these goals, you can do whatever you want. You're entirely on your own. You don't know the alien languages and have to learn them, and your friends can't help you. Yes, it's entirely single-player, and I'm actually really glad they took out (or never made) the ability to see other players. It's a more meaningful experience that way, I think.
Plot is intentionally vague, but you can piece things together. That mystery is one of the best parts of the game for me. Having completed both of those paths, however, I'm still not sure of how some of it fits together.
After those first few hours of jaw-dropping amazement, I got hit with a sense of "ok, now what?" I realized I wasn't really playing toward any goal, just riding on the beauty of the game and seeing what I could see, but now I needed something to do. I was hitting a wall in terms of inventory, so I decided to bump that up. This was a nice change. It gave me a few goals on top of the Atlas and Center paths, so I had a clear sense of what I wanted to do while seeing all these amazing planets.
And that was great. The "grind" to get a 48 slot suit, 48 slot ship, and 24 slot multitool didn't feel like a grind at all. I got lucky on my first few jumps and ended up making so much money that I never really had a problem with affording anything I needed, but I almost wish that I hadn't. Gathering resources to sell so that I had enough money to upgrade my suit and buy new multitools would have added some depth to those goals, rather than just finding them and buying them. But finding new awesome looking multitools and especially ships was really fun. Even after finding that perfect 48-slot ship that you decide you'll keep forever, there's always a better ship. I have gone through four forever ships.
But once I had all that, and had built all the tech I wanted, I hit another wall. In terms of goals, all I had left was the two paths. The achievements in the game match up to in-game Journey Milestones, and I had hit level 10 on all of those by this point as well. I finished up the Atlas path quickly, and didn't really have a ton of fun doing it, because I didn't have anything else to fill my time on that path. Then I worked toward the center of the galaxy, jumping from black hole to black hole, and therefore I had to land more often to find resources to repair my ship, and that alone gave me more to do, making the trip to the center a really fun trip.
A note about the ending, with no spoilers. It's another thing people are hating on pretty hard. I didn't mind it, but I thought it could have been better. I suspect that they will add to it in future releases, but even if they don't I'm fine with it.
After the end, I hit yet another wall. I don't even want to give you minor spoilers, so I won't tell you whether you can continue after the center, or if I started up from my last save but I did keep playing. No goals, practically infinite planets to explore, but no further progression to make, really. I still haven't quite gotten over this wall.
The exploration of the game is fun, very fun. And it's breathtaking in places. Every planet I saw was something new, created by the algorithms just for me (generally). But once you see enough planets, you see the same things repeated. You see the same weird bear face on 100 different creatures on planets spread throughout the galaxy. Each planet has the same buildings, with aliens that ask you the same questions. It's a new configuration of very familiar elements, and when you have literally no goals other than collect plutonium and titanium to charge things up, the sightseeing doesn't carry the game. I mentioned in the last Roundtable that I was afraid of this happening, that the content would run out too soon, and that's what happened.
But at the same time, having absolutely no goals also changed the game yet again. I still hop in and play some, just not as much. It's like listening to music or watching your favorite movie. It's relaxing. Just hopping to a planet, getting out and taking in all the sights. After the goals and progression were gone, it became the anti-game for me. More a hobby than a game, if that makes sense.
That said, I hit that point at about 64 hours. Even if I had stopped there, that's a lot of fun for a game. My idea of what to do for fun kept changing throughout the game, and that's a good thing. It provides variety. But the variety isn't deep enough yet. I'm greatly looking forward to the content updates that Hello Games will be releasing.
I have a few specific complaints that don't really fit the narrative above. All but the first are pretty minor:
- The sentient alien species all feel shallow. You only ever see one at a time, usually sitting or standing behind a desk. There are trading posts where there could (and maybe should) be more activity. After you've learned a few words you've maxed out your reputation with them and it's near impossible to lose it. There aren't really any factions in the game, but you do get a sense that the species don't like each other in some cases. There's just nothing to do with that. Even when you get the rare opportunity to help one species hurt another or warn the other species, you only gain standing with one, you don't lost standing with the other.
- The UI leaves a lot to be desired:
- The galaxy waypoint system is easy to break and doesn't allow many waypoints (though Hello Games is working on a new system for this), and there's no easy way to revisit planets.
- When you get a Journey Milestone it blacks out half your screen and puts text over the other half, and won't let you interact with most things.
- Uggghhh why do I have to hold E to do anything, just let me press it!
- When a conversation with an alien starts, you have to wait a crazy long time for all the text to pop in. It's definitely a form-over-function situation. The effect looks nice but after you've done it 100 times you just want it to get out of your way.
- There's no way to clear on-planet waypoints without actually going to them, and beacons frequently give you the same location multiple times.
- The combat capabilities of your multitool are rarely needed. Actually this is just a subset of...
- As a kind of survival-light game, there's very little danger. Even without many multitool upgrades you can easily take out hostile sentinels, and as long as you have one of a few very common elements you can keep your hazard protection going without ever upgrading for specific element protection.
But those are really minor, except for the first one. More robust alien interactions could give the game more content.
Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The Steam rating was at 48% shortly after launch, mostly due to the issues many had in the first few days. I thought it would go up, but it's gone down. It's currently at 37%. I really don't understand that, at all. I certainly understand some of the complaints, I even share many of them. I just don't know how you can use those complaints to say it's a bad game.
It has a hefty price tag for an indie game at $60, but I think it's worth that amount. Some of the vitriol may have been avoided if it were priced lower, but I personally got my money's worth, and will get even more value with more content coming in the future.
I'm not even going to attempt to give this a numerical rating. It's like nothing I've ever played. It scratches an itch that I didn't even know I had before playing it. I just want more of it! There's a wide variety of things to do, just not enough depth to them. "Wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle" is a phrase I've seen a lot, even from people who really enjoy this game. It's hyperbole, sure. It's not THAT shallow, but the sentiment is valid. It has some problems, some major and some minor, but Hello Games is working hard to fix them and to add more things to do and more ways to do them.
It isn't a game for everyone, Hello Games has even said that. It will never have the wide appeal that some games get. But for the right kind of gamer it's fantastic, and should only get better. Even if it stayed the same as it is right now, I would replay it often.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play it for a bit.