No Man's Sky

Flawed, mis-sold and hated by many; yet the exact experience that I was looking for

7th September 2016

An awful lot has already been written about Hello Games' procedurally generated sandbox game, and with very good reason. It's proved to be extremely divisive due to a fairly extreme case of Molyneuxism. It is, in a sense, a victim of it's own marketing success – without the huge build up, unrealistic promises and constant media focus, No Man's Sky would undoubtedly have been accepted as a brilliant hidden indie gem.

There seems to be a very distinct lack of middle ground on the debate. One the one side there is nothing but hate and vitriol, and on the other, blinding praise and love. But is it really deserving of either?

I had the advantage of coming into No Man's Sky without following the build up too closely. As a result, I went into the game expecting exactly what I got – a chilled out sandbox game with a stupid amount to explore, perfect for winding down after a long day, when sometimes competitive gaming just stresses me out more. It's an incredibly therapeutic experience – and I think that's the thing here, you have to think of it as less of a game, and more of an experience.

That being said, had I bought the game for what it was promised to be in the months leading up to release I would be pretty furious – even now the trailer on the Steam page for the game could surely be tantamount to fraud. But, I'm not going to focus my thoughts right now on what Hello Games said would or wouldn't be an option – I'm going to talk about the game in its current state, and how it can be improved.

What we have, is a blueprint for potentially the best game ever. The procedural generation – in terms of creating realistic planets – is absolutely mindblowing. In my mind, you could take this algorithm and build almost any genre of game on top of it. Although a sci-fi MMO is the most obvious, I think it would be awesome if you could play stupidly large Civilization-inspired strategy games.

Following this train of thought, I've been thinking about what my ultimate game would be. It would be a hybrid of NMS, Age of Empires, Dungeon Keeper, Civilization and SimCity – hear me out.

You have a procedurally generated galaxy. You start at the bottom of a tech tree in a similar vein to Civ, with nothing but a town centre, like AOE. In real time, you create units – workers, soliders, etc. These can be instructed to build and maintain improvements, like Civ, but the actual improvements are closer to that of SimCity – so you have to maintain a city's water, housing and food supply, power later in the game, and so on and so forth. Most of the game would be played in a top-down style view, but you can take control over one of your unit's in DK posession-style to get things done more quickly or give your combat units a bonus. This would let you see your creations in a first person view.

But I digress. No Man's Sky is none of these things and I don't expect it to be. However there does need to be something else to do - you have a huge amount of planets to explore but apart from mine minerals and try to upgrade your ship there's not much else. It does get quite repetitive quickly. The Base building update they have announced is a good start but in that case they need a better way to travel to planets you have previously visited so you can designate a planet to be your home.

I'd also like to see a view more objectives in the sandbox mode - nothing major, but it would be good if you had to hunt down and destroy cargo ships for the Vy'keen, or go and research a particular species of animal and return findings to the Korvax. Hell, even some basic mineral fetch quests would be good - you enter a galaxy and go into a space station, meet the alien there and he says "gib Iridium" or something and then you have to scour the systems planets until you find some.

This only works if the rewards are good too, though. Right now you can only really spend gold on buying ships and multitools. What if you could build your own ship and buy individual parts? That'd be neat. And then when Base building comes in you could get building blueprints as rewards for quests.

Another problems is that the factions are utterly pointless. The Gek, Korvax and Vy'keen never really come into contact with one another, and being on good terms with any of them doesn't much effect on anything - and being on bad terms is next to impossible, so I don't know what would happen, but I'm assuming they continue to sit in their chair doing nothing. Why no communication between them? Why no consequences?

All that said, I do very much like No Man's Sky. It definitely hasn't lived up to its potential, let alone any promises, but it's still an interesting, fun and relaxing way to kill an hour or two, exploring one planet at a time before moving on to the next one. I'm quite happy to take it slowly, so I don't feel like I'm going to get burnt out any time soon, especially if they do carry on with the free updates.

I suppose the golden question is: is it worth the £50 price tag? I suppose that depends on your definition of worth - for me, I have already got 25+ hours out of it, so for £2/hour, yes I feel I have my money's worth. But if you're stricter with your ideals and you want more content for your money then you're best off going somewhere else because the game is as wide as an ocean but as shallow as a puddle.