No Man’s Sky is a survival game with a focus on crafting and exploration. There are many games that fall under this category but No Man’s Sky distinguishes itself by offering a practically infinite universe of 18 quintillion planets. Every single planet, every single ship, every single animal, and every landscape is procedurally generated. This incredible achievement is what prevents No Man’s Sky from being a total failure but the other parts of No Man’s Sky can’t live up to its infinite universe.
You start in No Man’s Sky with a broken ship and a basic multi tool and are tasked with repairing your ship and making it off of the planet. Though No Man’s Sky will try to push you toward the center of the universe you are not obligated to go anywhere or do anything. I spent almost 20 hours on my first planet building up my relationship with an alien species, learning their language, and mining resources to upgrade my exosuit multi-tool and ship. After about 15 hours I made my first foray into space to travel to a space station and see if my goods would fetch a higher price there. It is incredibly satisfying to take off of from a planet and be able to seamlessly fly into space and land on a space station. After selling my goods I went back down to the planet and mined some more before I saved enough to buy a better space ship. After 20 hours spent in a single system on a single planet i decided to use my hyperdrive and journey to a new system and the process started all over again. This is when the problems begin for No Man’s Sky.
By far mining is the largest gameplay component of No Man’s Sky. It is a pity then to say that mining in No Man’s Sky is a horrible experience. Mining in No Man’s Sky consists of walking up to huge pillars or spheres of material sticking out of the ground (think of a four story pillar of gold or aluminum and you will about have what the mineral deposits look like) and pointing a beam of light at them as small chunks disappear from the whole and float to you. It is incredibly repetitive and boring but worse it is also broken. Many of the pillars of minerals have a column at the center (that although it should be) is not mineable. This creates incredible frustrating situations where you are try to mine everything possible from a pillar but you don’t know what you can and cannot mine. On top of that as you mine into the ground the geometry of the game is frequently broken creating tear in the ground that you can fall through dropping you into an ocean (well an invisible ocean) below the planets surface that you cannot fly out of. This made me lose several hours of mining on multiple occasions and becomes very frustrating when what you spend most of your time doing is mining. Another frustration with the mining system is the inventory management. The inventory management system is practically a complete ripoff of Destiny (which is not a good thing) and lacks the simplicity you would want to see in a system that you spend so much time using. To make this worse when you start the game you have almost no inventory space and upgrades to your ship or exosuit permanently take up one slot. So what do you do with all of this material you have collected? You craft. But crafting is little more than superficial. You can craft upgrades for your ship, exosuit, and multi-tool but all of these just change stats and don’t really have any significant impact on any of the gameplay elements.
Despite the fact that mining is the most abundant gameplay element, No Man’s Sky is at it’s heart a survival game. So at least the survival elements of the game should be good right? Wrong. In No Man’s Sky you are never really in any danger. Carbon which charges your mining laser and resupplies you life support systems is ridiculously abundant. On top of that all types of environmental hazards use the same bar and require oxides to renew your protection (which are also ridiculously abundant) or you can simply venture into a cavern to escape and your protection will recharge. Even if your life support systems or environmental protection systems completely run out of charge you don’t die. You don’t even start dying quickly. First it must burn through your shield (which can take over a minute) and then it must burn through your health. This makes the survival elements of No Man’s Sky trivial. All of the survival elements are consequently little more than annoyances which will periodically distract you from your real goal.
Another huge component of No Man’s Sky is exploration. This should be one of the more interesting and rewarding activities in No Man’s Sky especially because you have an infinite galaxy to explore. This however is not the case. The first and most prominent problem is movement. Your character moves painfully slow. Even when sprinting you still move along at a tediously slow lope, and don’t expect to be sprinting too much because your stamina bar does not last very long and takes entirely too long to regenerate. Ok you would think the solution would be simple hop into your ship and fly wherever you need to go. Well first of all flying your ship is not fun (but more on that later) and the ship has a very punishing fuel system. Every single time you take off in your ship it uses 25% of the fuel in your launch thrusters. To refill these you need to go search for plutonium and mine it then head back to your ship. This makes flying your ship instead of walking a hassle and discourages exploration while in the air. Another aspect of exploration in No Man’s Sky is the scanning and categorizing of different plants and animals. To do this you pull up a visor and focus on the plant or animal in question to add it to your database. The only problem is this system doesn’t work work well. There would be many occasion where the game would fail to realize that I was trying to scan a particular plant or animal and consequently I thought that that plant or animal could not be scanned. In most cases however, I found out later after trying several more times that it could be only making the whole situation more frustrating.
The final gameplay components of No Man’s Sky are combat and space flight. As I mentioned earlier flying your ship is generally not fun. When you are in space the controls are incredibly floaty and it is impossible to bring your craft to a stop. You will always be moving forwards or backwards which makes mining in space incredibly frustrating. When you are flying in the atmosphere things are even worse. To be completely honest you don’t even really have control of your ship as it is impossible to crash and you cant fly close to the ground. This makes choosing where you will land incredibly difficult because the entire landing sequence is automated and usually the game will just set you down wherever it pleases. Unfortunately combat is not any better. Whether in space or fighting sentinels on the ground the combat is unimaginative and monotonous. There is an aggressive auto aim feature that takes away any possible challenge and on top of that the AI seems to have the IQ of a head of lettuce. In most cases I was able to completely avoid their fire by simply stepping behind something solid. Then they would just mindlessly fire into whatever was between me and them instead of moving so that they could actually hit me. This all might be excusable if the guns actually felt good to fire and use. This however is not the case. All of the weapons felt and sounded insubstantial and using them was as monotonous as using the multitool to mine. On top of that it can take over a minute of sitting still and doing nothing for a sentinel force to actually make it through your shield and kill you. Space combat is similarly bad but for a different reason. Because the controls are so floaty and seem so unresponsive it isn’t fun at all to dogfight in space. Your lasers on your ship lock on if they are even pointed in the general direction of an enemy which again removes any need for skill. This removes all sense of accomplishment from dog fighting.
Lets start off with the soundtrack of No Man’s Sky. Put simply the soundtrack is incredible. Really you should just go and listen to it for yourself. It can be found on soundcloud and youtube. The music can make you feel like an alien on a strange planet or can make an otherwise dull battle with the sentinels seem almost epic. Really the soundtrack serves as an incredible backdrop for the all of No Man’s Sky elevating some of the more mundane moments to something just a little greater. Though there are some misses this greatness also extends to the sound design of the animals. There were points where the music and the sound of an animal created a genuinely creepy atmosphere making me wonder whether or not I was safe in that alien environment. All of this greatness however is diminished by the horrible sound design for the weapons and mining laser. I had the sound turned almost all the way off after the first few hours because I could no longer stand listening to the horrible hiss of the mining laser as I tried to collect materials. This meant that I was no longer experiencing the fantastic score.
For reference I am playing No Man’s Sky with an I7-4790k and an R9 Fury X with 16 GB of RAM. Despite having a very powerful PC I constantly had horrible frame rates and stuttering. On top of that the game crashed on me more than any other game I have ever played (it crashed over a dozen times over the course of the 30 hours i have spent with it so far). That being said the scale of No Man’s Sky was stunning and more times than not the procedural generation of the planets worked well and created some incredible vistas. Do be warned however the graphics do not stand up to the trailers and gameplay released prior to launch. Just look below to see what I mean.
Besides frame rate issues I experienced tearing in the environments and there was always really bad pop in whenever I flew over a planet with a space ship. It was not normal pop in however there was a weird shimmering effect over the landscape and then the new texture would pop in. Despite all this I was still regularly stunned by the beauty of No Man’s Sky. Overall the Graphics are a huge plus and are incredible considering the scale of the game.
I am not going to ruin anything here but suffice it to say there is not much story in No Man’s Sky. What’s there however is interesting and leaves a lot up to the imagination of the player. Mostly though the story is what you do and the way you choose to interact with the universe.
Ultimately No Man’s Sky is an indie game disguised as a AAA title. This means that player’s expectations for the game left them feeling like they had been cheated because ultimately No Man’s Sky is not a good game. It may then sound like I didn’t enjoy my time with No Man’s Sky and that the infinite universe it offers is not worth exploring but that is not true. Despite all its problems I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with No Man’s Sky. I think that again despite these problems it is a game that gamers and science fiction lovers alike should experience (just maybe not at the price of $60). It is somehow more than the some of its (admittedly bad) parts and it presents a lot of promise that may be realized if Hello Games continues to patch and improve it. I will continue to play No Man’s Sky and I will continue to watch the updates and will update this review accordingly. At this point however I give No Man’s Sky a 5.5/10.