The hype surrounding No Man’s Sky is almost as large as the 18 quintillion planet-filled universe waiting to be explored within the game. There’s been a whole lot of buzz over No Man’s Sky since its original reveal back in 2013. But does it live up to said lofty expectations? After 20+ hours of exploring the game’s massive universe, I can say this is one of the most impressive survival sandbox games to date, even if it does have some major flaws.
Let’s get one thing straight: there is an objective in the game. While some of the messaging from Sony and Hello Games may have been confusing, your objective is to reach the middle of the universe by exploring procedurally generated planets and gather materials to aid you on your daunting trip. There are even some story elements sprinkled in to keep pushing you towards the ultimate goal in what is basically a single-player experience (there’s almost zero chance you’ll bump into any other player). It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s important to make that clear. What makes this title so intriguing is not only the scope of your journey, but what you can do during your cross-universe trek.
The minute-to-minute gameplay has you jumping from planet to planet using your ship (yes, you just hop into the craft and take off) to go search for materials. On the planets you’ll have to use what is called the Mining Beam to mine for different types of materials scattered throughout the surface once it’s revealed with your scanner. Each planet also has multiple points of interest, like a monolith that’ll teach you alien words, or even a spot where an intelligent being is at that’ll reward you with goodies. The only issue is that every planet I encountered featured the same types of points of interest, and never seemed to differ.
Unfortunately, that’s where one of my biggest issues with this game comes from. Despite most of the planets looking gorgeous, many of them feel too similar because of the repetitive nature of these points of interest. Even the space stations located in each system look nearly identical to one another in terms of the interior. But at least the planets themselves vary in terrain, and most importantly they all look absolutely stunning. My favorite type of planet to find is a forest-filled one, because everything looks lush and so bright. The art direction of the game makes every color pop, and adds to the science fiction feel of the experience.
That said, when you do stumble upon a planet rich with Emeril (which is an incredibly valuable resource), you’ll want to spend hours mining the everliving crap out of it. Not that I have any experience with that (don’t judge me, I want to buy an extravagant ship). Depending on the terrain, some planets are more abundant with certain resources, so be on the lookout for rich minerals that you can later exchange for currency.
As for space travel, it’s actually rather simple. You just hop into your ship and fly in whatever direction you’d like. Once you’ve gone airborne, you can go into deep space to see what wonders are hidden among the stars. And if you’re lucky enough, you can even speed through a black hole! Heck, you’ll even find yourself fending off baddies while in space. Making it out of these encounters unscathed will require precision with both your blasters and flight maneuvers (aka barrel rolls). The simplicity of maneuvering your craft is rather impressive, and most importantly intuitive.
There’s something magical about traveling through space in No Man’s Sky, it just does such a great job of capturing the vastness of space.
How about when you’re walking around on foot? Well first, finding new wildlife and staying alive on treacherous planets is actually a blast. Part of your exploration mission is managing your resources to stay alive. You have several bars (like a life-support one) that deplete when you’re simply walking around, which means you have to make sure to have Carbon and other materials on you to keep in good condition. Each planet also features hazardous climates in select areas, so you have to make sure to not stay put too long.
Then there’s the upgrade system that makes you a more efficient space explorer, which enables you to outlast even the wickedest predator. One of the rewards you get from going to points of interest on planets are blueprints for new gear (like a stronger Mining Beam). So then the vicious cycle continues with upgrades being the carrot at the end of the stick. This game gets the survival aspect right. So, so right.
But one of the best things about this game are those moments where things go sideways. One moment you’re cruising through space minding your own business when space pirates crash your party, and then you’re in a dogfight for your life! Similar scenarios play out when you’re on a planet. One moment you’re mining some sweet carbon, and then the sentinels (floating robot eye police things) come speeding towards you because they’ve decided enough is enough. It’s this randomness that brings a splash of excitement to the at times monotonous grind.
There’s a sort of Minecraft-aspect to this game. While there’s an end-goal, there really isn’t any restriction on what you can do. If you have the means, you can go to whatever piece of rock you’d like. You can spend your time trading rare goods, naming planets, finding wild life (and naming them), upgrading your tools, or simply enjoying the gorgeous vistas that surround you. The possibilities are endless.
Despite there being plenty of wild animals/creatures, there isn’t much interaction going on with intelligent beings, making it that much more special when you bump into an alien. Like I mentioned before, you will be learning alien words, so this is when you’d put that information to use. Whenever you engage in dialogue with one of these intergalactic peeps, they speak a different language, and you’ll have a chance to make a choice on what to do depending on the choice. If you make the right choice, you’re rewarded. This too is a special moment because of the loneliness you feel during your play-through.
I should also note that you can name anything you discover and upload it online. Yeah, it never gets old. So if you run into Bambi Doggo Planet in the Doggo System, you’ll know I’ve been there.
With all of the good and bad that comes in this game, there’s still something incredibly special about it. When playing it, you will feel small and alone. The scope of the universe is awe-inspiring, and terrifying. No Man’s Sky brings to life what most of us can only imagine is out there. The sheer size of the game doesn’t hit you until you look at the universe map and realize that each dot of light (in which there are thousands, if not more) represents a system with its own planets.
Recently, Hello Games’ Sean Murray said that whether you think the game lives up to the hype, he hopes that “For one small moment, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a sci-fi book cover”—which it definitely accomplishes. While No Man’s Sky isn’t perfect, its very existence is impressive.
This was completed using a PS4 copy of No Man’s Sky provided by Sony. The game hit shelves on August 9, 2016.