No Man’s Sky is simultaneously relaxing and stressful.
No Man’s Sky is simultaneously exciting and dull.
No Man’s Sky is simultaneously engaging and unrewarding.
After almost 35 hours with No Man’s Sky… I really don’t know how I feel about it. So let’s talk a little about my typical experience in a solar system in No Man’s Sky.
I’ll typically land on a planet as soon as I arrive in a star system, generally flying low over the world until I see an interesting location to land. I might pick a place to land based on geography, technology, or resources I see while flying overhead, or I might just pick somewhere that looks pretty.
In my experience, these planets have all been varied enough to remember and describe later across my nearly 40 hours of play time. They’ve included a snowy planet inhabited by furry mammals and rich in minerals but low in plant life, a desert planet with floating rock formations and dinosaur birds where I found Iron everywhere, a lush green planet much like earth but with a higher amount of water, a purple and pink planet with steep mountains that required me to walk near-constantly sideways and rivers that allowed me to avoid radiation damage, a cold and desolate grey wasteland of flat dirt inhabited by incredibly hostile robotic life, and a planet covered in alien monoliths and giant overgrown carnivorous praying mantis creatures, just off the top of my head.
Typically I would scour these planets on foot while searching for specific resources, many of which were identifiable from a distance. Others were harder to track down. Usually, I would be collecting these resources to work toward a specific aim, like creating warp core fuel, raising funds for trade, or upgrading my ship. Anything new I saw would be scanned, named for credits, and logged away. Resource management was usually minimal enough, with plentiful enough resources that I could explore the worlds at my own leisure.
From there, I would usually fly up to space, harvest some minerals from the asteroids, and head for a trading outpost in that galaxy to sell anything I didn’t need, or purchase anything I did. While flying through space I might have spotted distress beacons, landmarks, or even have hostile ships come into view. If I had enough money, I might have looked into buying new ships that could fly me further, or carry more supplies. I’ll possibly run into some aliens, the designs of which are pretty awesome and varied amongst members of a species, and try to muddle my way through an alien language conversation with the limited words I have learned.
From there, I might have headed to another planet in the system to repeat this process, but often I made use of any fuel crafted and headed onward through space, toward one of a number of different goals I had laid out among the stars for me.
Early game progress was incredibly slow. From building up the resources needed just to hop around the galaxy, to finding the blueprints needed to make faster progress with upgrades, everything felt slow. Many of the upgrades that controlled my progression did not show up until almost 15 hours in, which made a big difference to how the flow of gameplay felt.
Honestly, I don’t know how I feel yet about the pacing of No Man’s Sky. At times it captures the addictive “just one more try” nature of The Binding of Isaac or Euro Truck Simulator. I’ll lose hours to mindlessly doing tasks, enjoying the scenery and always feeling like there’s another small and manageable goal I can do before stopping for that play session.
Other times, I find myself frustrated at my inability to stop playing. There’s always another small task to be done, meaning I struggle to find a satisfying moment where I feel accomplished enough to stop playing. I never feel like I have finished doing anything. The early parts of the game in many ways feel overwhelming and directionless, which is great for giving a freeing sense of exploratory scope but terrible when you are lost, unsure of mechanics, and unable to work out what to do or where to go.
I also got frustrated the time I found a cool new ship, flew off planet to get repair materials, then realised there was no system for leaving permenant markers in the world and had to resign myself to never being able to relocate the wrecked ship.
Many aspects of the game feel incredibly polished for an indie game, like the sheer unbridled scope of environments which contain no obvious load times or invisible walls. However, many other aspects feel unpolished for a full price AAA release, like the six console-restarting crashes I have experienced in three days of play (post-day one patch). In a game with no manual save feature, those crashes are a big issue.
I also feel that my three days of non-stop play of No Man’s Sky have dampened my experience immensely. While 2-3 hours of play is great, just short enough that I remain enthused about creatively naming discoveries and not rushing to make progress, full-day play sessions become slogs to progress, rush and stress. This is not a game to binge in a week, it’s a game to play leisurely over months and months.
Ultimately, I already feel like I have gotten a full-priced PS4 game’s worth of value out of No Man’s Sky. Sure, quest lines stretch on aimlessly and long play sessions leave me exhausted, but I’ve already also lost days to obsessively exploring, fighting, flying, learning, documenting and trading my way across space.
No Man’s Sky isn’t going to be for everyone, I’m not even convinced it’s always for me, but it’s certainly something unique and special.
I wish I did not have to leave for a cool awesome work trip in the morning. I want to keep playing this game.