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I’m over 20 hours into No Man’s Sky‘s deep, dark universe and I’m still as lost as I was when I first started. I’m perfectly fine with that.
No Man’s Sky is a space exploration game that allows you find countless galaxies, and over 18-quintillion randomly-generated planets. Your main mission of the game? There isn’t really any, but you are chiefly encouraged to find the centre of your galaxy.
No Man’s Sky isn’t a game that will baby you with tutorials but offers you just enough help to not feel like a newborn. The game’s beautiful and vast world truly makes you feel like you’re a lone explorer, but visually and tonally is where it sadly stops for me.
I believe that if you’re setting up No Man’s Sky under the banner of indie and then charge a ridiculous AAA price for it — 0n both the PlayStation 4 and Steam — it should deserve AAA scrutiny. So here goes.
I’ve never been one for survival games, but I found the grind to be somewhat satisfying, for the first 15 hours at least. Thereafter I found myself growing tired of exploring. As much as Hello Games and publisher Sony hyped the game’s random generation process, adventuring through the game’s world never felt like a new experience.
Learning more about the game’s four main races was one of its few B-plots. I found the histories of the Korvax, Geck and Vy’Keen incredibly interesting, yet I encountered nothing on the Sentinels. These robotic beings are the guardians of planets and space. They attack without warning and rain hell on you until you manage to escape. But that’s where it stops, there’s no lore or explanation of why they’re there.
This left me wanting to know more about these odd autonomous robots. Why were they on almost every single planet? Under whose authority were they operating? What the hell is the point of their existence?
Interacting with these species always piqued my curiosity for their languages, to communicate more intuitively and to ultimately unlock new blueprints or essential information.
But something left me feeling empty here too. My interactions with these NPCs were basic at best. There wasn’t any real depth, feelings of doubt or critical circumstance surrounding these interactions that plunged me into the story. The possibility for interaction is just there. I just enjoyed what I learned.
Combat and inventory systems
Most reviewers have hammered No Man’s Sky‘s combat mechanics both on planets and in space, calling it clunky and pedestrian, and it is. I did enjoy my ship’s strength in aerial battles, though, allowing me to overpower almost all pirates who dared attack me. No Man’s Sky isn’t filled with riveting space battles, but it’s always fun to encounter stronger and larger ships, especially when you progress further in the game. My biggest peeve with the combat was the useless, unnecessarily confusing and inconvenient inventory management system.
As you’re wasting time recharging your shield, you’re getting destroyed by enemy ships
During space-combat — when I was being hammered by enemy ships — I was often forced to recharge my shields. That meant opening the inventory menu, selecting the shield icon, holding X to then select the element, and finally refuel the shield. All this during combat.
As you’re wasting time recharging your shield, you’re getting destroyed by enemy ships.
The inventory management system is something else.
Instead of using a weight-based system, Hello Games has opted for slots. Each element in your inventory occupies a single slot, so carrying the necessasary resources, and other items of value, is damn near impossible.
No Man’s Sky also doesn’t make it easy to upgrade this system. To add slots, you’ll need to find upgrades and pay for them.
Once you’ve upgraded your inventory slots on your exosuit to the maximum number of 48 slots, you’ll find that it’s still not enough.
You’d think that a similar system applies for your ship, well it doesn’t. The only way to upgrade your ship’s inventory slot is to find or purchase entirely new ships. You’ll also need a free slot if you intend to craft any new item, or even talk to an NPC in game.
Mining for minerals
Mining is your be-all and end-all of No Man’s Sky.
Minerals like Plutonium or Carbon double as fuel to your life support system and ship, while other elements like Iron and Thamium9 powers ship shields and some life support functions. Without these element, you can’t exactly travel through No Man’s Sky‘s universe.
Finding these elements aren’t difficult at all though. It’s not a challenge, it’s just a monotonous slug. The game also forces you to mine if you want money, selling rare minerals at trading posts or to other NPCs.
Mining is straightforward enough: point and shoot your mining beam towards minerals and wait for them to explode into neat little packages you can magically absorb.
Finding these elements aren’t difficult at all though. It’s not a challenge, it’s just a monotonous slug
Hours into the game, it’s easy to grow frustrated. All I was doing was mining for resources. But I needed the resources to reach an anomaly floating in space which would likely push me closer to the centre of the galaxy.
Besides searching for advanced life or crashed ships on a planet, It was always fun when I found an indigenous element that I wouldn’t find anywhere else in the system such as Gravitino Balls that can be sold for a good price or be used in crafting certain ship or exosuit advancements.
When I eventually arrived at the black hole, I found the surrounding planets particularly interesting. As I entered the atmosphere of a nearby planet I noticed how barren it was, but something was different. This was my first time I encountered a planet with extremely harsh conditions. Acidic rain and heat storms battered my shields mercilessly (I had to engage that wonky inventory system again to stay alive) but the resources they offered were the things traders dream of.
After my third black hole jump, subsequent jumps were the same. Yawn.
The game does sport incredibly rare minerals that you might not find on planets, but that you’ll get as a reward or bounty from engaging space pirates.
After my third black hole jump, subsequent jumps were the same. Yawn.
The pride of any miner is the wealth they can carry, so you’ll need to constantly find bigger ships with more storage slots available. The larger storage space the ship has, the better your chances of making a decent amount of units (the game’s ridiculously unimaginative name for currency).
That being said, you can also find ships that’ve crashed, repair them, and commandeer them. Finding a crashed ship with storage space over 20 slots is difficult though, while purchasing a ship with more than 20 slots will cost you an arm and a leg. Sadly, most of the slots on the bigger ships will be packed with upgrades already installed. So in reality, the free number of slots will only increase by three or four.
If you’re like me — a warrior — you won’t care much for the ship’s boot size. Your exosuit will become your most important possession, and primary storage system. Upgrading your exosuit’s carry capacity involves carefully scouring planets for downed capsules containing purchasable exosuit upgrades. The more upgrades you purchase, the more expensive they’ll get; you can only upgrade them one slot at a time. Currently an extra exosuit slot costs me over 120 000 units.
At present, there still seems to be no way to increase your ship’s storage capacity without finding or buying an entirely new ship. But I’ve grown attached to my little destroyer.
No Man’s Sky’s Graphics on PlayStation 4
Oh boy, where do we start? As mentioned earlier, the visuals are beautiful.
When exploring a system surrounded by planets, space stations and asteroids, I feel totally alone, floating in the vast open space between myself and my surroundings.
When you enter a planet’s atmosphere, the game tends to let down some players a bit.
Random environmental pop-in, a low draw distance and texturing is completely disconcerting, and ruins the immersion. I might be a filthy console peasant, but games as beautiful as No Man’s Sky don’t deserve such treatment on the PlayStation 4. Sometimes structures were popping out of thin air causing my ship to suddenly spiral upward and even out of the atmosphere again.
This is a likely symptom of the procedural-generation system, but it’s unlike any other game available at the moment.
No Man’s Sky has the potential to be more, so much more
This is also an aspect of the game where I tend to have very mixed feelings. At times No Man’s Sky‘s procedural-generated worlds would get it completely right, creating an entirely new layout of visual aspects, land features, flora and fauna. But over time, the content on each planet began to look incredibly similar. I happened to stumble across a red palm-like tree on one planet light-years away from another I’d visited earlier.
There’s so much that I want this game to be, and I see so much potential in it that I’m hoping Murray and his team develop the game, adding additional content in upcoming patches.
Besides the more common wishes of multiplayer and terrain vehicles, I wish No Man’s Sky had a better story, a purpose for doing all this grinding. I want to know that there’s more to it than reaching the centre and birthing yet another copy-paste galaxy of your own. I want there to be more in-depth interactions with the characters I meet.
Hello Games should also explain to consumers why gamers are unable to meet other players in game, even after promises were made. A tweet about a simple server problem isn’t instilling confidence in Hello Games as a developer, or No Man’s Sky as a game.
Release Date: 9 August 2016 (PS4), 12 August 2016 (PC)
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Genre: Survival, action-adventure
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 (review platform)
Price: R899 (PSN)
Industry Average Score: 71/100
Verdict: No Man’s Sky has the potential to be more, so much more, but it’s not worth its AAA price tag. It’s not as awful as some claim, but it’s not particularly awe-inspiring either.