I think that in some way all of us have a need to explore, some more than others. With science fiction movies and TV shows feeding me vast arrays of alien worlds, I have gotten quite the space exploration bug. If I had been smarter when I was younger I may have tried to become an astronaut. Alas, these days video games have been the closest I've gotten to that youthful dream. Now No Man's Sky has come along to feed that dream with a huge promise, the ability to explore 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets. Let's just round it down to 18 quintillion. Quite the number and each planet is different. Let's blast off to the stars and check them out.
"Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival.” - Neil deGrasse Tyson
You can think of No Man's Sky as the biggest sandbox style game currently available. Jumping into that sandbox you are dropped on a random planet and given a simple choice: follow the path to Atlas, a race for the center of the universe, or ignore both and just wander aimlessly doing your own thing. In truth, you sort of end up wandering around a lot even if you follow Atlas or race for the center. Funnily enough, when I started my game I wasn't given the choice. I found out later that there was a specific item you were supposed to interact with to get the choice. I just missed it. Then again I was also killed within the first six minutes of playing.
After respawning I set out to explore. First order of business, repair my ship. Seems I crash-landed on this planet. Second order of business, figure out how to keep my exosuit’s shields charged up. The planet I crashed onto has alkaline rain and the acid is eating away at the shields. It turns out to be a simple matter of collecting the right elements. For my shields titanium or zinc work fine, while my exosuit’s life support requires carbon. All of these elements, plus more, can be found on the planet in some shape or form. The plutonium that I need to fuel my ship can be found in angry looking red crystals. Zinc can be found mostly in yellow plants. Titanium I get mostly from the robotic sentinels that guard each planet’s ecology, so to speak. If you harvest too much of one element or start to kill off a lot of animals then the sentinels come looking for you and attack. That is what happened in my first six minutes, without realizing it I harvested too much carbon and iron, so they attacked.
The sentinels can be bothersome but easily dealt with. If you are quick you can destroy them. If you are not quick they will radio for bigger and badder backup. That bigger and badder backup can also radio in monstrously bigger and badder backup. Don't want to fight them? You can run away. If you run long enough they will give up chasing you. Alternately, if you are near a shelter you can just run inside to hide and they will give up after a few seconds.
When you aren't being chased by sentinels the main things you will be doing is exploring, scanning plants and creatures, and improving all of your equipment (your multi-tool, exosuit, and spaceship). Scanning plants and creatures nets you "units," the in-game currency. Submitting those scans give you even more units. You can even rename them. In fact, you can even rename the planets and the galaxy you are in. Myself, I mostly stuck with renaming the planets I landed on. Coming up with new names for everything seem like a huge task. Once renamed other players if they land of those planets will see your names and that they were discovered by you.
"A lot of the films I like are more than fantasies - they're movies fascinated by the technology of space exploration, and they try to honor the laws of physics. I watched the Gregory Peck movie 'Marooned' over and over when I was a kid.” - Alfonso Cuaron
Since I brought it up, let's talk about other players. One of the things the developers, Hello Games, talked about when No Man's Sky was first revealed was the possibility of running into other players. They said it was possible, but with over 18 quintillion planets, very unlikely. Enter the players. Within 24 hours of the game being released on the PlayStation 4 two players "met" on a planet. Well, sort of met. They were on the same planet at the same shelter at the same time, they just couldn't see each other. Hello Games hasn't addressed the issue fully, but with the amount of servers needed to run the game player theories are that they may have been in different instances of the planet. So multiplayer isn’t really a thing you can do in No Man’s Sky for now.
No a lot of what you'll be doing is exploring, scanning, and creating upgrades. For many people, this might be a let down from what they thought No Man's Sky would be. Not me. It is pretty much what I imagined it to be. Exploring new worlds, seeing new creatures and meeting alien races. There is so much to explore I could write a book, almost. But there are some downsides.
"I've always been interested in the idea of space exploration. When I was younger it was just a dream, but the theory of rockets being able to travel through space was very much alive. I found it very exciting.” - Gerry Anderson
A game as big and as ambitious as No Man's Sky, it is not surprising that there are some bugs and glitches. Luckily so far in my own play through, it's been minimal and minor. I have had one major game freeze where I had to restart my PlayStation 4. I have had mostly graphical hiccups, such as floating boxes. There is a certain amount of graphic pop-in too. That’s usually more noticeable if you are flying your ship over the surface of a planet. I have also encountered it while walking where a large gold deposit that I completely mined would reappear if I got far enough away from it.
Another problem is parts of the actual game elements; all of the alien races that you meet are static. They are like quest givers in other games, only they never move from the spot they are on. No Man’s Sky gives the illusion that these alien races are doing things by having ships fly overhead while you are on a planet, but when they do land nothing comes out of them. To interact with the pilots you have to go to the ship and select it.
Your inventory is another limiting factor that causes a constant juggle of what you need versus what you want to sell for units later. You can send things back to your ship’s inventory, but that too is limited in space. Your inventory on both can be improved, but those cost money and in the case of your exosuit’s inventory, found. I get that there should be some inventory management in the game, but this seems to be more hassle than it’s worth.
Lastly, it's things to do. As much as I enjoy the exploration, the crumbs of the story for No Man's Sky leaves a lot open to interpretation. Finishing the path to Atlas or getting to the center of the universe takes time, lots of time. In between things get a little repetitive. Land on planet, find minerals you need, scan and catalog, improve things, craft and stock up on fuel for your ship, and make the jump to the next galaxy. Rinse. Repeat. To be honest I still haven't made it to either one yet. There is a lot of space out there.
Even with its faults, No Man's Sky does deliver on that promise of space exploration. In that aspect, it is a great chill out and relax game. Many of those faults will be addressed over time. Hello Games has been constantly working on updates. There is some combat that can interrupt the relaxation both on the planet's surface and in space (pirates do roam the galaxy), but it's not the focus of No Man's Sky. Exploring is rewarding with the beautiful visuals. Sunrises, sunsets, the creatures, they are all visual treats. Some of the creatures do look pretty funny and odd, but that's what happens when you have everything in the game procedurally generated. If you take your time with No Man's Sky you can partake in its beauty and fulfill that explorer in you. No Man's Sky might be the biggest niche game ever made.
No Man’s Sky may not be the action game you want, but it certainly is the exploration game you need. I give No Man’s Sky a 4 out of 5.
No Man's Sky is rated T for Teen for Fantasy Violence by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
For more information see the official No Man's Sky website.