So, No Man's Sky is out. It's a thing now. Shirking the traditional Early Access route of many recent indie games, No Man's Sky launched in early August 2016 as a full-fledged game with an AAA price tag.
We can't help but read a bit of hesitation in reviews of No Man's Sky; it's like reviewers are reluctant to show the full extent of their disappointment in something they'd already invested so much in. And a quick glance at Steam's user reviews shows more than one top-rated review starting off with “I really wanted to like this” followed, invariably, by the ever-ominous “but...”
And who could blame them?
We really, really, really did want to like No Man's Sky, guys. We really did.
But here are just a few of the many things that went wrong for us.
1. There's... Really Not Much To It
Granted, No Man's Sky never explicitly promised craftable bases or ships, but it was hard not to infer such a functionality existed from pre-release screenshots featuring gorgeous futuristic observatories and planetary outposts complete with docking bays for your spacecraft.
As it is, the only things you can craft are consumables, upgrades for your exosuit, multi-tool and starship, and components used in crafting other items. No starship customization, no base-building.
And most noticeably of all? No player customization. In fact, some players are beginning to question if there's even an in-game player model at all. More details below.
2. It's Not Really Multiplayer
No Man's Sky is effectively a single-player game, and it appears to be that way by design. There's a story that's been circulating about two streamers who went to a lot of trouble to meet up on the same planet, only when they did, they could not see each other. Hmm.
When asked about this mystery, programmer and mouthpiece for Hello Games, Sean Murray would only comment that he wasn't expecting players to have found each other quite so quickly in a universe as vast as the one they'd designed for No Man's Sky, and that “the game is still in its early stages.” Hmmmmm.
One thing's for sure, while No Man's Sky is labeled as a multiplayer game, you can't really explore the galaxy with your friends. You're more likely to be running into signs that other players have been on a planet, rather than the players themselves.
3. Planets Begin Looking the Same
With reportedly 18 quintillion planets to explore, the universe is vast and expansive, and, wait why does the ground look the same? And hold on, I've seen that animal before – or, no, wait, that animal's just a composite of parts from two other animals I've encountered a couple planets ago. How... novel?
At first, you'll find there's a wide disparity of planets, some are utopian paradises replete in resources, others are toxic wastelands infested with tentacles bursting out of the earth. But once you've run the gamut of about a dozen different planet types or so, the magic wears off quickly.
Part of the problem lies in the procedural generation algorithms that determine the characteristics of the planets you'll land on. Everything from the planet's appearance, environmental hazards, to its native flora and fauna are randomly generated from mathematical algorithms that splice together disparate components into a random whole.
But planets aren't comprised of just one giant ecosystem: mountains give way to rugged lowlands or jagged cliffs, beaches open up to oceans, dense forests are dotted with clearings and meadows.
And you'd expect the flora and fauna to match their environment in logical ways, with larger, heavier herbivores roaming wide open grazing areas, while nimble and sure-footed beasts preferring more rugged, mountainous climes where their mobility allows them an advantage over predators.
No Man's Sky's algorithms just grab everything, shake them up, and sort of vomit it all out in a jumbled up hodgepodge of obviously-Frankensteined parts and presents it to you in a style that's a little too reminiscent of a first grader's classroom doodle.
It's like Spore on a galactic scale, except the creatures in Spore actually sort of had to work on at least remotely biological standpoint to survive, since that was the whole point of the game.
On the whole, planets are a little too random, a bit too lacking that unquantifiable human touch that makes an experience memorable.
4. Hark, A Hamster Wheel!
While the first hour or so of No Man's Sky succeeds brilliantly in capturing the feel of being stranded in a classic science fiction universe, this illusion is quickly shattered by the realization that all you've climbed into is one giant treadmill.
The game begins with you waking up a few feet from your crash-landed spaceship, and your onboard AI thingy guides you on your first steps exploring the planet with the goal of gathering resources and making repairs.
Once you've mastered the basics of mining and harvesting and keeping your exosuit in good condition, you'll probably have gathered the necessary supplies to make your ship spaceworthy again.
So you fire up the thrusters, bid farewell to Noobsville, and lift off... only to land on another planet where you get to repeat the entire process all over again. Yup.
Space travel, heck, doing anything consumes a vast quantity of resources, so you're continuously mining, harvesting, crafting, repairing. Grinding. And grinding. So you can grind some more.
At some point, you'll either find or unlock additional storage space for your exosuit and your ship. And if you're lucky, you might even stumble upon a whole other abandoned spacecraft, ready for a new pilot. Good news: you get more storage space to grind some more.
At some point, you'll encounter intelligent aliens (with repetitive dialogue and tasks) and be thrown at some random (very complicated) logic puzzles to decipher. But the grindfest is so, so distracting, and so obvious, that it immediately erodes whatever charm the exploration part of the game might've had to offer.
Apart from Atlas' increasingly grating and oddly passive-aggressive barbing, there's no real drive to push towards the center of the universe or pursue the main story arc.
5. Feels Like an Early Access Game, Except for Its AAA Price Tag
Unfortunately, that sort of sums it up. No Man's Sky seems like a solid enough foundation on which something amazing could still be built, but a foundation. You'd expect this out of an Early Access title, but instead, the game has been made available as a fully-fleshed-out release... which doesn't bode well for future updates. To say nothing of its price tag, which is about as hefty as the price of a big-budget, major studio release.
I know nobody wants to do this, but let's back up a bit and connect the dots here: we've just paid AAA prices for a game with just barely enough features to qualify for Early Access. Let down doesn't quite begin to describe it.
To players who've been following the game's development with baited breath for the last 2 years, it's inevitable that a bit of disappointment would seep in amid the initial awe and the gushing.
After all, the reality of technology limitations, design changes, programming practicalities and other last-minute complications mean no game could live completely up to anyone's expectations.
But when it comes to fan expectations, the longer we're made to wait, the more hype fans self-generate, and the more hype fans self-generate, the greater the expectations. Unfortunately, it's the fastest hype trains that hurt the most when they crash-land.
And so it was for No Man's Sky.Product images sourced from Amazon and Steam product pages.