No Man’s Sky: Nearly a Year Later

No Man's Sky_20170531174033This time last year I waited with much anticipation for No Man’s Sky which eventually released August 9, 2016 (NA) on PlayStation 4 and PC. If you haven’t heard of it, and the ensuing backlash in particular, I don’t know if you’re incredibly fortunate or were sleeping under a rock for the year.

Last year on my old blog I wrote about my excitement for No Man’s Sky and how a childhood fantasy was potentially coming true :

As a kid, I read voraciously from Asimov to books about the Milky Way. Once upon a time, I even wanted to be an astronaut or an astrophysicist. My mind took me to wild places after watching Star Wars, Star Trek, and Stargate. I have always possessed an infatuation with space. So now that one of the most ambitious games of more recent years is on the verge of its release, I can’t help but be filled with anticipation.

To briefly sum No Man’s Sky up, it is an open world survival game where players can explore everything they see in a universe created through procedural generation. The premise was great, but the game suffered from extreme, uncontrollable hype and a lack of solid communication and clarification from the game’s developer, Hello Games. For the record, while I eagerly waited for No Man’s Sky and openly have some critique of the game, I do not hate No Man’s Sky, Hello Games, or Sean Murray. Those that got carried away with the hype and did not properly research before making a purchase only have themselves to blame.

Ahem. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way. I’ve recently had fleeting thoughts about the game, though I’m not sure why since I have been happily occupied by several games lately. If I had to guess, through August into September of 2016, I probably played around 90+ hours at least. I played it a lot and got that platinum trophy despite a few bugs. After that, I maybe loaded up the game once or twice after a few months passed and some updates were released. But I have essentially thought little of No Man’s Sky since.

I don’t think No Man’s Sky is a bad game. It suffers from predictable randomness. For a game who’s major selling point was procedural generation, this is not a good thing. While it is true that every planet is different, every planet is also the same. Landscapes may differ, but players will eventually notice the same nodes, forms, and creatures sharing similar features. Players are also limited in that the actions they can perform never change. You can collect resources, craft, trade, upgrade gear, expand storage, buy bigger ships, fight pirates, and, of course, explore. These actions aren’t functionally bad, they can just get old after the 50th planet.

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Some find the game ugly and dull, but I think those that enjoy No Man’s Sky are different from many gamers. For example, I play a wide variety of games including first-person shooters, open-world adventures, RPGs, simulators, and strategy games. I don’t always need a strong narrative to direct my play. In fact, I’ll sometimes create my own narrative and objectives when playing games with stories as I did with Breath of the Wild. I enjoy games like Minecraft and No Man’s Sky because I can sit back and relax, there is no pressure in the form of competitive play, and that feeling of seeing something no one has ever seen or creating something all my own can’t be beat. These games are open enough that I can (practically) do whatever I want at the pace I want.

By the time I got platinum in No Man’s Sky, I was feeling burnt out. I felt like I would never reach the center of the galaxy, I knew what resulted from that path anyway, and I was feeling some disappointment in the Atlas story mission. I felt that, as it was at the time, I had experienced what the game had to offer, and I moved on to something else. But I did not regret the time I spent with No Man’s Sky.

With thoughts of the game back in my head, I decided to revisit No Man’s Sky. Months had separated me from the game and both the Foundation and Path Finder updates were alluring. So I turned on the PS4, downloaded the game, and was soon looking at alien faces, exploring planets, and playing around with the creative mode.

One of the first things I noticed about the game, and that brought me back to my initial hours of play, was the soundtrack. Say what you want about No Man’s Sky, but the soundtrack is amazing. 65daysofstatic did a perfect job of capturing the vibes needed for a space-faring explorer. Damn, I missed that music.

Before trying out base-building or creative mode, I started by getting used to the controls. I left the planet I had stopped on during my last play session and paused on a few worlds long enough to check the landscape and look for resources. I was immediately reminded of the harshness of some environments and the necessity to stock up supplies for fuel.

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After messing around for a bit, I tried building a base that ended up looking rather ugly, only because I lack design skills. Oddly enough, the building mechanics remind me of Fallout 4 in that they are similarly clunky and took a bit of getting used to. If you look online, you’ll find some pretty impressive bases from people with a lot more skill. I can see building a base and calling a particular planet home for awhile sapping up a lot of my playtime. I also think that I would get caught up in selecting just the right planet before seriously calling one home.

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One of the aspects regarding No Man’s Sky that may be a saving grace for some is the fact that there are four game modes offering varying levels of difficulty and creativity. I’ve only played “Normal” and “Creative” and will probably never have the ambition to play in “Permadeath.” I could see myself trying out “Survival” eventually.

The new vehicles (Nomad, Roamer, and Colossus) from the Path Finder update add an element of fun to the game while improving ease of planetary exploration. Out of the three, the Roamer is my favorite. The addition of these vehicles is long overdue considering how frustrating navigating planets could be with only the use of a ship.

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Just as I didn’t regret my initial time spent with the game in 2016, I also don’t regret revisiting it. No Man’s Sky isn’t every gamer’s game, and that’s okay. I will say that the price ($59.99) is still too steep for most gamers currently. But hey, if you’re curious, I recommend waiting to pick it up during a flash sale or during one of Steam’s sales.

A year later I still got that happy sense of exploration playing No Man’s Sky. There is something incredibly captivating about setting out in a little ship to explore the universe. For being just a game, No Man’s Sky allowed me to discover new creatures and worlds and allowed for some mindless escape at times. I experienced some magic last year because of it.

No Man’s Sky is unique and, if anything else, it’s development and use of procedural generation will hopefully push the boundaries of game development and result in some awesome game projects in the future.

I’ll end with one of my final thoughts from last year’s post:

I feel as though I will lose at least a solid month of my life to NMS, though I am hoping it will become one of my summer-long adventures of 2016.

It has indeed been an adventure.

15 thoughts on “No Man’s Sky: Nearly a Year Later

  1. Interesting to hear an opinion on this game from the opposite side of the spectrum! All I’ve read is hate and it’s a pretty bad sign for the industry when hype does this to a release. People act psychotic sometimes!

    I haven’t played NMS and probably never will, but it sounds exactly like what I thought it sounded like: a procedurally generated universe to explore. There need to be some expectations attached to procedural generation. Sure it’s impressive technology, but will it be interesting after the 50th planet? Like you said, probably not so much. Random can only be so random. That is the nature of computers! it can only be random with data that the developer feeds it.

    1. While No Man’s Sky is not all that it could be, the hype definitely went too far on this one.

      From day one I viewed it as a galactic playground where I could explore and set my own goals, and it let me do exactly that. As I said, my hope is that the technology will be pushed even further with projects like NMS. The future of gaming should be exciting!

  2. I did a piece about NMS during the backlash, and I very much agreed with the whole ‘making your own narrative’ thing. In a way, it was a sandbox game in its purest sense, and for a while there, I thought that was genuinely quite breathtaking.

    For sure, it isn’t necessarily a game you’d reasonably call exciting (or not with a straight face anyways) but actually, as somebody who also loves old-school Sci-Fi, I think it hit exactly the same kind of notes that the early pioneers of speculative Science Fiction hit, and for me at least, that was exactly what Sean Murray had promised me!

    Also, I agree about 65Days…..My friend’s close to the band, and he told me when they were in negotiations with Hello Games, and I spent a lot of time praying to all known Gods that it’d actually happen! 😉

    1. I couldn’t agree more! There are many magical moments to be had playing No Man’s Sky if you come at it with realistic expectations.

      And that’s awesome that your friend is close to the band. The soundtrack is one of my favorites from video games. I even listen to it when writing at times.

      Thanks for commenting, and I’ll have to read your post.

  3. It’s a pretty cool game and I really enjoyed exploring the planets. But I won’t lie; when I spent over two real-life hours traveling between planets, the game did sort of lose me, especially since I couldn’t put it on autopilot because I had to watch out for randomly-generated asteroids.

    I loved the idea of it, and actually planned on doing a small series on my about my journeys – because you’re right, making up a narrative in a game can be great fun! – but with so much travel time between worlds I just…. I couldn’t get past the two hours of “playing a video game” that involved me having to stay within eye-sight of the television while I read a book, drank some tea, and proof-read my thesis.

    But otherwise, I agree with you here. It’s a very beautiful game and has a lot to offer to its players. Maybe I should give it another chance now that it has a bunch of updated content and things…

    1. When NMS was released, I started a kind of journal where I documented my play sessions and then turned them into a fictional account of a space miner on Tumblr. It may sound corny, but it was a lot of fun writing up those posts and shaping a narrative.

      That being said, I can understand finding the space travel frustrating. I spent a lot of time on various planets just exploring and gathering resources.

      1. That’s really cool. That was sort of my idea, having a “Captain’s Log.” So I don’t think it sounds corny at all! Like I said, maybe I’ll give it another shot and see if I fare a little better 🙂

  4. This was an interesting post to read. I haven’t read a lot of player feedback on the game, thought I knew it didn’t live up to the hype it had generated. When the game first came out, I refrained from buying right away, and wound up never buying after watching my brother play it for a bit. It does look like a lot of fun, but it also seemed a bit clunky overall. Your comparing the kick-back-and-explore sensation in this game to that of Minecraft was pretty compelling, though. I can lose several hours at a time to that one…
    Overall, I remember thinking that the game still seemed really good and that their marketing strategies combined with the resulting hype did not serve them well. I wonder if the game would have enjoyed more success if this been done differently. It is pretty exciting still to think about the implications this game has for future games, though!

    1. If the game was priced at the $20-$30 range, which I realize maybe(?) wasn’t feasible from a development standpoint, I think the conversations players had at launch would be slightly different. It’s a game like many others in terms of flaws, but it is functional and not the broken piece of crap some will say it is. However, NMS isn’t a 9/10 or even an 8/10 for me. That said, it does have something to offer for the right player. Seeing some of the vibrant and pretty awesome screenshots posted online daily proves that NMS does fill a very specific “want” of some players. I can’t claim to be so dedicated. Hah. If that player isn’t you or me, there’s plenty of games out there. 🙂

      I’m curious, were you or are you interested in Elite Dangerous?

      1. I also thought a different price might have helped their growth, but that it probably wouldn’t have been feasible compared to development and running costs.

        I haven’t heard of it, actually!

      2. I haven’t kept up with its development in probably a year, but if you’re looking for a space adventure/simulation game, Elite Dangerous might be an option. I believe it releases on the PS4 at the end of the month and it’s already out for PC and Xbox.

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