An Interstellar Journey
"Alright, alright, alright" said Matthew McConaughey as he took to the stars in 2014's Interstellar. Okay, no. No he didn't actually say that. But, as films like Interstellar and Gravity flung the ideas of space fantasy back into the front of the minds of many people in the form of films, there were also video games beginning to pop up to reignite that fire. Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, many smaller indie games that were hits and flops, and one highly enigmatic hype machine that’s known as No Man's Sky.
A game that promised the infinite, a game that garnered something more than a hype train. It took to space on a hype ship. It landed to mixed reception on the PlayStation 4, starting to crumble in the atmosphere of a distant world. When it deployed on PC a few days later, the results have been much the same. It appeared that many were taking to the life pods while they still could; but I stayed on board. Would the ship break up around me? Would I find the game that was promised? Just how many possibilities are there for the outcome of No Man's Sky as a game?
A Grind In The Most Addicting Sense
Readers know by now that my opinion on grind-centric games is that when they're done properly, they can stand with ease on their own two feet. Entice a player with something in such a way that they are both having fun, and quite possibly gaining an addiction to the grind, and you could have a game that will keep players hooked longer than you'd expect. You can look at the Diablo series, any number of loot-based roguelikes, or even Minecraft as examples of how grinding can be disguised if you give the player something to shoot for.
The grinding in No Man's Sky takes form in the discovery of new... well, everything. It's always exciting to find a new planet, with new species of plants and animals, new landmarks, new words for alien languages, new monoliths of ancients. There's resource grinding for upgrades and fuel as well, but they take a backseat to the thrill of discovery. Finding, and being able to name, your new discoveries knowing that one day a player may stumble across them (even without a true multiplayer component) really helped drive home the feeling of being a trailblazer among the stars.
Upgrading your suit and ship is fun once you actually receive the upgrades, but the grinding to achieve that end is just a little less exciting. Mining resources is as simplistic as pointing and shooting at a resource, as is the slow paced and rarely seen combat. Space combat is also a bit clunkier than I'd like, but I'm still not entirely sure if that's just because my upgrades for my ship aren't the greatest yet. Plain and simple, I'm addicted. I will keep pressing on into the galaxy, and into the "infinite possibilities".
When you boot up No Man's Sky for the first time, you find yourself dropped into a random world at the edge of an unknown galaxy. You've survived a crash, of no explanation, and are left to your own survival in a sandbox of 18 quintillion worlds to potentially visit. There is a single, overarching goal for the game; proceed to the center of the galaxy, for vague reasons. What little narrative there is for an overall story, is weak. But moment to moment narratives, in the form of what the player experiences, can carve stories that have chapters of intrigue, and chapters of boredom: but very rarely chapters of excitement.
Now let me be clear; I actually quite enjoy No Man's Sky but the flaws are very apparent. For example, infinite possibility has an asterisk because what it really translates into is infinitely different landscape possibilities, flora and fauna, using finite (but admittedly, very numerous) resources. The same is true of gameplay; while you can literally go anywhere the amount of what you can do is in itself, finite, and in contrast, much more limited. Fun, but limited. The amount of worlds and creatures I saw was enough to sate my explorer’s appetite, but if I had come into this game expecting evolution in combat and survival, or a story of epic proportions, I'd be sorely disappointed. But as it stands, the exploration and discovery aspect of the game has kept me hooked thus far, and I think it'll keep me hooked quite a while longer.
I've not run into any major glitches, though a slew of smaller ones such as creature-clipping in the environment and not receiving resources on certain nodes now and then. The biggest flaw with No Man's Sky actually came from the mouth of developer Hello Games itself. With a game that garnered the sort of self-sustaining hype that No Man's Sky gained from the first trailer onward, it did no favors boasting of things far too big deliver, as well as being caught in a tangled web of little lies that ended up accumulating into a large storm of controversy when it was discovered that the reason the chances of meeting other players was unlikely was because there isn't an actual multiplayer component in any sense of the word.
Not Everyone's Sky
In the end, No Man's Sky is an addicting grind fest of a game that can successfully lure players looking for a relaxing experience of discovery further and further into the vast unknown. It's not action packed, nor is it story intensive. At times it is an intriguing push forward, at others it is a slow burn of slow travel. No Man's Sky certainly isn't for everyone.
The constant discovery grind is addicting, a relaxing gaming experience
Many promises left undelivered, gameplay options extremely limited, reason to proceed to the center of the galaxy lacks a narrative that pushes the player other than basically "just because"