No Man’s Sky [early review]
Words by DrJohnGalt
No, this isn’t the game I wanted. It’s not even the game I expected.
But it is the game that I got, and despite a frustratingly boring first hour, in part because there’s no tutorial and in part because most of my time was spent just trying to survive, things eventually clicked and I started having fun. By the end of the first day I was really enjoying myself; I could already feel the NMS addiction worming into my brain.
Honestly, I don’t really know what I expected. Maybe something more like Minecraft in space. But that’s not what this is at all. This feels like more of a survival title than anything. Sure, I’ve been crafting new gear and repairing and upgrading my ship and suit and the tools in my pack, but my eye never strays too far from my vitals on the HUD, and I’m constantly scanning for threats and shelter and the resources that will keep me alive.
So after my first week of gameplay here are some early reactions:
Graphics: Not too bad overall. I really like the style; it works well with the theme. The environments are great, but creatures? Less so. And there is definitely an issue keeping the planetside horizon populated as you zoom across the sky.
Sound: It’s mostly ambient noise with the occasional pew-pew of a blaster or a ship launching, a creature braying in the distance, or the garbled language of an alien race, but there isn’t much more than that, which adds nicely to the sense of loneliness and isolation of space exploration.
The 65daysofstatic soundtrack fits the game nicely and adds to the experience.
Gameplay: The controls are solid. Both vehicle and foot movement feels smooth but slow (even with sensitivity adjustments). Cameras are sharp and responsive. My big complaints are the lack of any type of tutorials and the clunkiness of inventory management. I’ve painfully learned how most things work, but (because I have tried to avoid any online guides, cheats, or exploits) it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find out what works best.
Fun Factor: For the right people this will be a fun game. If you’re looking for action, aside from a few space dogfights, this isn’t the place to find it. But if you’re into resource management and exploration, this might be worth a try.
But the more hours I’ve logged, the less sure I was whether I liked the game or hated it. It was a tedious grind for an hour until I discovered something new, then it was fun and exciting for a few minutes. Then it was back to the boring grind until the next small discovery. Then back to the grind again…
I’m wondering just how long this pleasure/pain cycle will be enjoyable.
Despite everything being completely random (the flora and fauna, the planets, the encounters, the loot, and everything else), the game feels disappointingly dull. The exploration is great, and (so far) I’ve enjoyed the challenge of hitting that 100% discovery mark on each planet I’ve visited. But even this probably won’t hold my interest for much longer; I see myself eventually skimming planets for the essentials and hopping across the galaxy as quickly as possible toward the end.
There are two big sticking points in the game that will probably kill it for a lot of casual players:
Inventory management. This is probably the biggest downer so far. What do I keep? What do I drop? I’m learning, and figuring out what to do is part of the fun. But why is it so hard to swap inventory items? Why do I need to have an empty slot just to initiate a conversation with most creatures? Shouldn’t ship-to-ship transfers be automatic? (Yes, I’ve lost cargo more than once when jumping into a new ship). And why do gear upgrades take up valuable inventory slots? I understand it’s all about making tough decisions, but it seems to be so much of a focus it takes away from the game, especially early on before additional slots are added.
Resource gathering. I constantly needed to collect resources to power my ship, or my suit, or the life support system, or my tools, or… you get what I’m saying. I don’t mind a little resource management, but like inventory management, this seems to be too big a part of the game. In fact, early on it’s the ONLY thing to do aside from stay alive. And staying alive requires, you guessed it, resources and inventory management.
And yes, I know RPGs and survival titles have always been about inventory management (whether it’s slots or weight) and farming and grinding, but never has it been 95% of the game.
A few things that would make his game even better:
More story. What little story there is doesn’t really get warmed up until later in the game. Give me a reason to care right away and offer something to work towards.
A dedicated camera mode. Something along the lines of Pokemon Snap. Instead of just scanning for new lifeforms and running a quick analysis, why not allow the player to take an actual picture with the creature info imprinted? Something we can put into a digital scrapbook, or share online?
Uniqueness! Creating a logo and planting your flag on every planet you discover would be awesome! Only the first player to each planet could plant a flag, mind you. It’s the little things like this that would go a long way…
Give me more to do! Something besides harvesting resources, analyzing lifeforms, and blasting from planet to planet. Build! Interact! Some defined goals would be nice. I think those rare occasions I came across a crashed ship and had to repair it to get off the planet were some of the more enjoyable parts of the game, simply because I actually felt like I had a purpose.
The ability to build a beacon to summon other players from my friends list for some co-op adventures would be fun. I think the loneliness of exploring desolate planets will be what eventually leads me to put the game down. Why not make it possible to call in a partner?
Building a settlement (either a planetary base or a space station) in each system might be a neat idea. Someplace to store loot, or craft new ships and gear, or to trade, or whatever. I know there’s been some talk of establishing a “base” in a future update, but how far will it go? And once you hop to the next system, will you lose everything or might it be set up to continue to operate (and maybe even earn you income) without you micromanaging things?
Building a ship from the ground up. Let me pick the size, shape, and specs. Full customization! Please?
Finally, I’d like to see more intelligent life-forms. Humans or tribes of humanoids or something with a bit deeper interaction than the beasts and bots and odd aliens I’ve seen so far. Maybe people actually living in their villages, not just ruins. And something a bit more earth-like, something I can relate to.
For now, I’ll stamp No Man’s Sky with a C+ grade. It’s more than the average game, and while it does some things right (and even a few exceptionally well), the experience feels more like a good idea that didn’t get fleshed out before release. Others have said NMS is more like an alpha build than a full release, and that might not be wrong. Does this live up to the hype? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, just like the fact that it’s so addicting doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good game. The concern I’ve got is that most of the planets already feel the same. Well, as much so as randomly-generated planets can be. Barren (but beautiful) worlds. Maybe some cool creatures. Maybe not. Do a little mining, find a few ruins. Trade a few relics. Blast off to the next planet and repeat.
As it stands now, if I do stick with it ‘til the center of the galaxy, I don’t see much replay value. If this is your type of game, maybe it’s worth a $40 purchase. Maybe. But can I recommend it for the casual player? No. And certainly not at $60.
But if you’re only just curious, wait a bit and grab it at half that.