This is probably one of the harder reviews I’ve had to write. The game for me is equal parts brilliance, with almost equal parts frustration. The procedural generated universe is a masterstroke, but at the same time having this has allowed many teething issues to creep in, especially on the PC version.
Sean Murray, the lead in No Man’s Sky has said recently that:
We want people to feel overwhelmed at times, we want them to feel a little bit lost at times, we want them to feel like they’re on the frontier of exploring space, and that’s what the game’s about, and so we want to explore those ideas.
I can safely say that the average gamer probably will feel a little overwhelmed to start with, purely because they will be fighting game stopping bugs and not really given any tutorials at all to start with on how the game mechanics work. It is one thing to have the gamer explore a world for the first time but quite another when that same gamer has no idea how the various game mechanics are meant to work. I didn’t mind discovering things for myself but other gaming friends have found this incredibly frustrating and have quit playing after just an hour.
What is really interesting is that No Man’s Sky will be compared to Elite: Dangerous quite a bit. I think this is definitely a fair assessment in some respects but amazingly the price point for No Man’s Sky is the price of a AAA game. Personally I think this was a bit of a stretch and instead of paying $60 US for the game (PS4 and PC) it may have been better received if it had been priced in line more with Elite: Dangerous ($30-$40 US). The launch state that the game was released in (just over a week ago) has copped a lot of negative feedback across various social media outlets. I think this is quite justified based on the amount of issues many gamers have had even loading the game. I feel the PC version in particular could have been delayed a couple of weeks to sort out the multitude of bugs (there have been four or five patches, including experimental, released in the first week of release on PC).
It feels like a catch 22 situation for Hello Games. Is this another case of releasing a beta so that your target audience can assist in fine tuning your product or did they honestly believe it was ready as a finished product via the in house testing? I realise Hello Games is a small team and I should cut them some slack but you have to wonder (if the Metacritic user reviews are anything to go by) if it wouldn’t have better to not push it out so quickly on PC. Personally I played it fine for two days on PC before inexplicably it refused to load. I had to completely wipe the game folder and reinstall before I could continue playing.
Despite these shortcomings the game is still actually really enjoyable, especially if you like open ended space exploration game play. You start stranded on a desolated planet (randomly selected for you) and the first order of business is to get enough elements and isotopes to repair your damaged ship. Depending on what planet you start on, this can be quite easy or incredibly difficult. I’ve started a couple of games now and found the first time I played a lot of the resources I needed were nearby and repairing was quite painless. When I started another game however I was on a much more desolated planet with a slightly more aggressive sentinel level. Sentinels are effectively robots that aggressively rule over the galaxy. Part of the plot is for you to uncover how they came to be.
I think as long as you go into this game knowing it is about building up your Exosuit, Multi -tool and purchasing or salvaging new ships while discovering new lifeforms and planets then you’ll enjoy the game. If you are after a complex and detailed single player story experience I would hesitate on purchasing this because the “Atlas” story-line is pretty uninspired and very run of the mill. As far as exploration goes though it is quite enjoyable in the 30 odd hours I’ve already pumped into the game. It is a game you can generally just chill with (as Sean Murray has said), particularly once you’ve built up your multi-tool with some added blueprints (you find these via aliens and damaged ship components found on planets).
The graphics are very well done considering the whole game is procedural generated. I am quite amazed and the level of detail, in both variety and style this game can produce. It is a testament to Hello Games that I am still finding new and interesting things to explore on all the new planets I seek. The seamless way you transition from planet to space is certainly a huge leap forward than Elite: Dangerous‘s well disguised jumping out of super cruise. This does come at a cost though because the planet’s surface generates quite visibly in front of you. Seamless yes, but not the most attractive look in the game. On the planet while you are on foot (you’ll spend a fair bit of time on foot) it fairs much better and on a high end PC you’ll hardly see any pop in at all. PS4 users have reported sizeable object pop in though.
Walking around on foot and using your jet pack (which can be upgraded) is pretty awesome though. Obviously No Man’s Sky does this much better than Elite Dangerous, where you are restricted to piloting ships and vehicles. The game is about survival as well. There was one time where I was six minutes walk from my ship and a sudden radiation storm enveloped the planet. My radiation gauge dropped dramatically and I had to quickly find a cave to try and ride out the storm. Managing to find one I noticed I had taking damage from radiation and had barely made it to the cave alive. It is these sort of wonderful randomly generated events that help give No Man’s Sky its life.
By the way if you do happen to die you can return to your grave and retrieve all the hard earned resources and items you had gathered. The two times I have died so far have been in space trying to find off space pirates from stealing my cargo. It makes you wonder if Hello Games was going to make this a MMO to start with (it was certainly advertised when first announced) because it seems this death mechanic is geared up for a human player to steal your stuff.
Sound and music is also excellent. The music changes depending on the events occurring and the original score is a big plus for the game. There are guttural sounds coming from the different species and aliens you come across but all language is done via text. Discovering the different alien languages via artefacts and ruins is also a really nice touch. At first you won’t have a clue what the alien is saying but as you discover words you’ll start to understand them and what they are after. There is a surprising amount of NPC and AI action occurring when you are roaming the galaxy. You’ll see ships flying into trading ports and fly overhead while you are searching for resources on planets and all of these are NPCs. It is very well done. You can also offer to buy any ship from a NPC alien as well and there is plenty of variety in the spacecraft design.
No Man’s Sky is an ambitious title. The seamless travel, the amazing variety in the flora, fauna and planets is very well done. The terrain generation engine is a bit rough around the edges and I had hoped it was a bit smoother but considering it is being generated it is an impressive feat. I only wish they had provided a bit more guidance in the form of a tutorials (having you do some virtual training before crash landing on the planet would have been a much better start). I think this lack of guidance at the start will put quite a few players off. I also wish Hello Games had done some more closed betas on PC for the game to further refine the huge amount of bugs on release.
I’ll be very interested to see what Hello Games does with the No Man’s Sky universe in the future, once they have fixed all the launch issues. I’m not convinced it is worth the money as it stands, it definitely has an indie game feel about it (to be fair Hello Games is a small team though) so if you are on the fence I’d wait until it is on sale, if they announce co-op multiplayer or it is better optimised for PC. This is definitely one of those games where flying around with your friends would really elevate it. I can imagine trading, buying and selling resources with real players would be excellent also.
It has been described by other gamers as a “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I tend to agree with this sentiment, particularly for the ship to ship combat (which is not nearly as good as the combat in Elite: Dangerous). It does do the on foot exploration really well though, so that helps offset the average parts. No Man’s Sky is a good game, but not a perfect one. However, it is a good start and it will hopefully develop into the truly AAA class product we all want it to be.
One more note – on PC the two main platforms to buy this on is Steam and GOG. I saved a few dollars by buying in on GOG but in terms of the multitude of patches already released GOG is way behind. At time of writing Steam already has 1.04 patch (same as PS4) but GOG users are still on an experimental patch. I’m not sure if this is the DRM free nature of the platform but it is a little annoying to be so far behind what Steam users get.
Reviewed on PC via GOG platform. PC spec is 3rd gen i5 running at 3.8GHz with 16GB DDR 3 memory and a 760 GTX video card with 2GB of video RAM. I played the game on High settings (after the three experimental patches) at 1080p.