A Sideways Glance at No Man's Sky

A Sideways Glance at No Man's Sky

Postby Arnold Sideways » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:51 am

Since No Man’s Sky was first revealed it has become one of the most talked about games of recent times, with director Sean Murray doing the rounds on various chat shows and games expos and conventions. Throughout the game’s development, Hello Games kept fairly quiet about what the game actually was. What did you do? Could you encounter other people? After the initial hype (which for me lasted for about a year) I reigned myself in and toned down my expectations. Some people didn’t, leading to angry outbursts of lying on the part of the developers (possibly justified in some cases), and angry internet people screaming at reviewers and websites who give the game a bad review (see, for example, Jim Fucking Sterling Son, who got DDOS’d by a bunch of angry little kiddies). You go, internet.

No Man’s Sky takes place in a procedurally generated universe. A ‘seed’ is fed into some code and suddenly 18 quintillion planets emerge, all with their own plants and wildlife, their own structures and rock formations. The creatures, the plants and everything in the game is procedurally generated, so you will see slight variations on species as you travel around in the game, and the music is also generated in the same way.
Upon starting up the game (possibly multiple times – this game has hard crashed my PS4 more times than the rest of my games combined) you wake up on a random planet with a crashed ship that needs repairing. This is very much the tutorial part of the game, where you learn how to craft things, how to make repairs, how to mine for resources and so on. You’ll encounter your first creatures (possibly) and scan your first discoveries, giving them sensible names before uploading them to the server. That way, if anyone happens to visit the planet that you were on, they’ll be able to see that you called that timid plant crab thing “Jimmy Saville’s Toe Fungus”.

Anyway, after repairing your ship and constructing the pulse-drive needed for faster interplanetary travel, you will see a red orb next to your ship that you can talk to. This orb gives you the choice of following Atlas, an in game AI, or forging your own path. I chose to forge my own path because I’m a strong independent indeterminable species (who may not even have a physical body) who don’t need no weird computer freak. Upon leaving your first planet your next task is to obtain and create a hyper-drive, which allows you to travel to other star systems. Then you are given the objective to “push towards the centre of the galaxy”. And from then on it’s up to you to move freely and leisurely towards to centre.
If you easily get pissed off by not knowing what to do or by being unable to open doors, then for the love of God take the Atlas path. Having read a number of articles and threads on the internet it appears that you are able to get certain items faster while on this path, not least the Atlas Pass item, which allows you to open certain doors and which I still have not found on my own path. Joining the Atlas path doesn’t lock you in either, so you’re still free to do whatever you want.

Unfortunately, this lack of clarity about the details of the Atlas path (even whether or not it locks you in) in something which persists through the rest of the game. I found that I was never really quite sure what anything did.

For the rest of your journey to the centre you’ll be requiring materials to fuel your hyper-drive, your pulse drive, your launch thrusters, your mining tool… Basically everything will cost resources or units, and the best way to acquire these is to explore the planets and moons, and this will form the main part of the gameplay. It could have been predicted that during your travels you would encounter some planets which looked very similar to previously encountered planets, some wildlife would look similar to some of the other animals seen on other planets in different planet systems. This unfortunately happens far more often than it really should. I’ve regularly encountered slight variations on the same design of animal, particularly one variety of small aggressive animal. For a game which threw around numbers like 18 quintillion planets, I would have expected some more variation. Maybe having fewer planets and more variation would have been more beneficial. Surely seven billion (enough for one per person on the earth – if there were 7 million players, that’s still 1000 planets each) would have been more than sufficient? It feels like scale was more important than variety to Hello Games.

Traversing the planets is mostly fine. Your suit has a limited life support meter which you should keep topped up with resources form planets, but by exploring the planet you may be able to find new crafting recipes to allow for a better life support system. Some planets have extra hazards, such as low temperature, or high levels of radioactivity. Again, your suit can deal with these, but only to a certain extent. Sometimes the hazards are enough to make you leave a planet without really exploring. I encountered one with atmospheric conditions described as “incendiary dust”. Three minutes after landing there was an extreme storm. I scarpered pretty quickly after that. With 18 quintillion plants there are going to be ones that don’t want to kill you straight away. Hello Games were also aware that with a game of this size they couldn’t guarantee that you wouldn’t get stuck in a pit somewhere, so they’ve taken the phrase “Skyrim up that cliff face” to a whole new level, allowing you to infinitely jet pack up a vertical cliff face.

The planets themselves have some pretty parts to them, but also some fucky looking bits. You get structures which you’re supposed to be able to enter being embedded into rocks and some floating over empty space. There are also some planets which have a lot of water, and exploring these isn’t terribly interesting either. The planets are large though, so it’s easy to just fly away from less interesting areas of the planet and go to another. Flying on planets is janky as all hell though. The draw distance on planets is a bit short, it sometimes takes a while to load things in properly, and a couple of times the performance on water heavy planets really suffers with massive slow-downs and a terrible frame rate. You also sometimes get caught on invisible air objects while flying around planets. Landing is also more than a bit dodge, with the game sometimes landing you about 30 seconds walk away from where you pressed the button to land and sometimes just straight up refusing to let you land at all.
There are some things to see on planets that are good to do in order to earn blueprints and resources. My favourite thing to do in the whole game revolves around languages and conversing with the alien races which you can encounter in Trading Posts and other structures. Dotted around the landscape are various Knowledge Stones, Monoliths, and Pillars, which not only serve as sources of lore regarding the alien races, but also teach you parts of the languages, meaning that during dialogue with the alien NPCs (who totally don’t all look nearly the same as each other) you can understand more of what they’re saying, and select the dialogue option which will maximise the gift you get from said NPC. There are also Drop Pods, which contain valuable Exo-Suit upgrades (inventory expansions), and crashed ships, which you can fix up and claim as your own. This is a good way of getting some blueprints, as some of the ships will have really good tech which you may not have found during your travels. If you can fix it up, you can use it! This could be something simple, like procuring a small quantity of iron. Or, it could involve wandering around planets for three hours trying to find 800 units of Nickel. Or flying through multiple planet systems screaming at the lack of aluminium.

Flying in between planets is alright. Sometimes you can encounter other ships who will try to shoot you, but the combat’s a bit weird and doesn’t feel great. Definitely felt better in older games like Battlefront II. Annoyingly, dying in one of these battles means that a part of your ship will break. Last time I died in space, an upgrade to my hyperdrive (a bloody good one too) broke, meaning that I couldn’t skip as many star systems to speed up my journey to the centre of the galaxy. At this point I bailed on the game as nowhere had aluminium, which was what I needed to fix the blasted thing. Ultimately I got bored (hence the lack of images in this review – might add them at a later date) of searching around planets to try to find this one resource so that I could very quickly speed through the galaxy ignoring almost everything, which I feel was not the point of the game.

No Man’s Sky will divide opinion. If you like crafting and exploring with no real purpose, and get your thrill out of seeing things, then this is possibly a game for you. If not, then you may be better off elsewhere. Ultimately, Hello Games is a small studio of 15 employees, and I think they deserve credit and congratulations for making a game of this scope and magnitude, and for committing to expanding and introducing gameplay mechanics in the future, even if they did backtrack on the whole “updates will definitely be free” thing. Unfortunately, the game right now lacks any sort of narrative (even less than Destiny did on release), and despite the fact that each planet is different the flow of gameplay remains the same and is fairly repetitive, especially with no multiplayer option (assuming that one doesn’t exist – maybe no one knows how it works yet). I got bored fairly quickly (even with my tempered expectations), and don’t feel any desire to go back to it when I could be playing Overwatch and having more fun instead. Also there’s no photo mode in this game like seriously come on some of it looks really nice like it’d be a perfect wallpaper if you could just get rid of the goddamn HUD elements.


Score: 5/10. Unless it improves dramatically through updates or you love crafting things and mining resources, I’d only buy it if it goes on sale.


Remarks: I have skimmed over the whole “No Man’s Lie” thing as there are other resources out there which cover the information much better than I ever could. I’d recommend videos by Jim Sterling
Spoiler: show
or typing the phrase “One Man’s Lie” into Google and following some of the video and forum links there if you want to get up to speed, although each of these obviously come with their own biases.
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Re: A Sideways Glance at No Man's Sky

Postby Lieutenant Fatman » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:25 pm

Great review, thanks Sideways. Certainly is a fascinating one this, so much hype and it seems to have crashed and burned a bit. I decided to wait for reviews in the end, more due to the time of its release than anything else. So glad I didn't pre-order.

I tempered my expectations a bit as well, but on reading what the game is actually like and seeing some game play videos I am dissapointed. Your review reinforces that, the variety and choice the game offers really does seem to be seriously lacking. And the dishonesty from Hello Games, I'm glad some are looking into that, seems to have been widely ignored by many.
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Re: A Sideways Glance at No Man's Sky

Postby Musashi1596 » Thu Aug 25, 2016 10:54 pm

Awesome read, seems like a nice and balanced review. It's a genuine shame that this game seems to have severely underdelivered; it really had a lot of potential. I did have concerns from the start that it was going to focus on size above all else, but not quite to the extent that they have. Variety really is king and it's so often neglected. I do hope Sean Murray is held to account over the clear deception with which this game has been sold.

Also quite fond of some 'fucky looking bits', very Bubbles of you.
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Re: A Sideways Glance at No Man's Sky

Postby Lieutenant Fatman » Fri Aug 26, 2016 11:39 am

It's funny, a lot of the stuff that was promised in No Man's Sky but never materialised is actually in Rebel Galaxy, a game we were just given for free.

You can focus on being a trader if you want to, mine rare materials and search for a trader or space station for the most competitive prices, you can be a pirate, a mercenary, you can side with specific factions if you want to. There are different ways to play the game. And unlike NMS, the combat is a lot of fun.
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