Review: No Man’s Sky – In space, no one can hear you yawn
No Man’s Sky is a proper name because when you think of something you’d like to do, the answer is “No”.
No Man’s Sky is an interesting… thing. I don’t really want to refer to it as a game, because chores aren’t games, at least not the good ones.
Before purchasing the game, I did some research to find out where the heart and soul of No Man’s Sky really was, and while word of Sean Murray laughing and giggling while telling media things that weren’t true was all too common, I thought I figured it out. I figured that No Man’s Sky was at the very least going to capture that feeling of hunting down that rare mineral somewhere in the universe, but it really doesn’t even do that right.
The game starts the same way for everyone. You wake up on a planet with a broken ship and debris all around you. Your first goal is to repair your ship so you can leave your planet, while there’s a thing called an Atlas that will offer guidance. You can use it to “direct you” or not, it doesn’t really matter all that much for the next steps of your journey.
I took it with the hope that there’d be some sort of story to go with it. I’ll talk more about it in a minute here, but I want to give you an idea of the game first. So when you get into space, you’ll find space freighters you can attack for rare minerals. There are also other planets, moons, space stations and anomalies. There’s a few different anomalies you can find and those are probably one of the more interesting aspects of the game.
Once you have finished out how to create a warp-drive, it’s a matter of going one place to another so you can build antimatter to fuel it as you jump from galaxy to galaxy as you get closer to the center of the universe. Now that we have an idea of what you do in the game, let’s actually talk about gameplay.
When I started the game, I was attacked by the Sentinels. These guys are the primary threat within No Man’s Sky and range from small scouts to big AT-AT mechs. With the nearly 20 hours of gameplay I have under my belt, I’ve only saw the two stronger forms of Sentinels at this point. This is because Sentinels call for help after a bit, but they aren’t hard to kill if you know what is going on and how to stop them.
I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a space-based D&D campaign where the DM was drunk and forgot their campaign three minutes in, so they were winging it.
So these guys show up and eventually kill me because I didn’t understand that my mining laser could kill them easily. I came back to life from my ship and was able to recover the items I’d mined from my small time alive. Sure enough, the little pricks came after me again, the big guys showed up and I hid in a cave where I learned the AI was broke and I could stand on the lip of the cave’s entrance while my enemies spun in silly circles. This is the last threat the Sentinels ever posed to me.
I needed to get some rare minerals for my jump drive for my ship, so I ran five minutes away to this large obelisk of the element and I took it all with me. I noticed there seemed to be elements under ground but couldn’t get to them, I figured it was because I was still weak. Turned out you can’t actually dig and it must have been a glitch.
No matter where I went, rare minerals will sell for tons.
After figuring out how to fly the ship, which doesn’t handle great, I took off into space. Here I found a space station that was empty. I was disappointed because I thought I’d get some NPCs to interact with. Turns out they show up as ships and when you look at the ship you are prompted to a text scene with the alien inside. You never see these aliens going about their business in the world and the NPCs you do meet in settlements are always stationary, they are basically ugly furniture that you can interact with. I threw away my stuff because I hadn’t figured out how to sell stuff yet.
Eventually, I figured out how to sell stuff, I also figured out that no matter where I go, rare minerals will sell for tons, which meant I got rich quick. Suddenly, I wasn’t having to scavenge for coolant and trying to fight space battles to steal valuables from freighters, I could just hang out in spaceports and stuff to buy what I needed.
A few times, I got so bored that I tried to throw myself into the abyss of space without my ship.
Before I did this, I threw caution to the wind and named my planets, galaxies, animals and locations on the planets something disparaging about the game. Because after a few hours, I was already over it. In the full-time I played the game, I visited 45 planets or more and ended up visiting 5 Atlas anomalies. visiting these anomalies were cool at first, you are given some brief story which essentially says your character is scared but these Atlas orbs are telling them to dig deeper.
Unfortunately, the deeper I went, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a space-based D&D campaign where the DM was drunk and forgot their campaign three minutes in, so they were winging it. A few times, I got so bored that I tried to throw myself into the abyss of space without my ship, but I wasn’t allowed to do that.
My choices felt inconsequential. I left no mark on these worlds. I got Atlas Passes and bolstered my inventory but all that did was improve the amount of crap that I could hold. I got these Atlas Stones, which felt like really important items, and I had five of them. I ended up having to buy a bigger ship just so I could get the storage I needed. I developed a pattern because it was only way to advance in the game. Visit a planet, get gold, aluminum and emeril and then go and sell it at an outpost or space station. Take a picture of the goofy looking fauna and name it for money. Find the monoliths on the planet for a bit to learn a bit more about alien languages. Fly to outer space and look for anomalies or black holes. Try to find or buy a bigger ship and bolster my inventory. Move on from there to the next galaxy and then repeat.
My choices felt inconsequential. I left no mark on these worlds.
Every planet is basically the same. The planets are all basically carbon and iron-based, it’s not like you go to a special planet that is made of freaking gold or something. The animals are all different amalgamation of different heads, bodies and feet. Basically, if you remember the children books from when you were a small child where you could make a horse-pig-duck, this is just a fancier more advanced version of the same concept. The game stops being an adventure and a visual lesson in patterns and formulas. I started seeing less beautiful planets and more floating set pieces and weird stuff like landscapes within houses that blocked access to trading stations or atlases.
The game stops being an adventure and a visual lesson in patterns and formulas.
I came to the realization that the game is an ocean. Points of interest are far apart, up to 10 minutes or so. In between these areas are asteroids with the same element throughout the galaxy (which happens to power your thrusters). Unfortunately, this ocean is as deep as a rain puddle though. As soon as you find something perceivable as depth, you’ll soon find the game throws it at you over and over ad nauseam. Upgrades to your ships, suit and multitool give an illusion to progress and progression in the game. As you step back and take a look at it though, it’s simply a fancier skin on the surface. If you try to go below that surface, you are already at rock bottom. Therein lies the depth and meaning of No Man’s Sky. Simply put, there is none.
I do want to say a few nice things about the game because I feel like putting $60 into this game has put me in a dark spot. For starters, the worlds may be vast but you will find the occasional pretty one. There are some interesting plants and fauna that pepper the planets and sometimes it was neat to find them. I found some solace in discovering the alien language, although it was only useful in that pseudo text-adventure that accompanied the NPCs. The soundtrack can get pretty neat at times and it can break up the tedious nature of the game. Honestly, your first time doing just about anything in the game will feel pretty cool, there really is a solid concept hiding behind all the fluff.
That’s probably why I am so disappointed here, No Man’s Sky fails to be a fun survival game and an uninspiring space game. Hello Games promised a universe that was so vast that you wouldn’t know what to do. The issue here is that the same eight things are the only things you CAN do. There’s nothing to back up a $60 price tag here. There simply isn’t enough game to call for a full-priced sale. As of this point, you are better off to take advantage of Humble’s Survival Bundle and wait for No Man’s Sky to be 75% during the next Steam sale or be on PlayStation’s PS+ free offerings. There’s no reason to venture throughout the universe because
SPOILER: It turns out the ending of the game means that you birth a new universe which you start over in. It’s a lesson in repetition.
I’m giving this game a 5/10. I’d like to rate it less but there isn’t anything fundamentally broken about the game. It works (most of the time) and it can be pretty or sound cool, but there’s nothing at all to make me ever want to return to playing the game. I called where I bought the game at to see if there was some loop-hole that would allow me to get my money back, the rep on the phone asked if this was about No Man’s Sky because they had already had so many calls about it. Take it as you may, this really may be your cup of tea. I mean, some people like socks for Xmas, or fishing. This simply isn’t a game I can recommend to anyone without feeling like I’m trying setting them up to waste their money. Sorry.