Every now and then a game comes along to review that just completely stumps you. There aren’t many of them but No Man’s Sky if definitely one of them. With a near limitless amount of Systems & Planets to explore, so many ways to play and explore, I sat down to do this review with a question race through my mind, Where do I start? I’ve got no exact answer on how long I have spent playing No Man’s Sky but the best estimate would be between 45-50 hours. To go with all that exploration time I have been sitting on this review for a good 4 days trying to figure out exactly how to coherently gather my thoughts into a review that flows in a way that you’d traditionally expect. It got to the point where I realised I had to through the traditional approach out the window and just go for it, so here goes.
I don’t usually like games that are a grind. There is something about just exploring the same world over and again scavenging for loot and resources that just bore me. Don’t get me wrong I can do it in short bursts but after a while it get’s the better of me and I find myself going back to games that are more action packed and get me caught up in a storyline that draws me to an end point. No Man’s Sky is definitely a grind, it isn’t particularly action packed and there isn’t much in the way of a true storyline on offer, yet in near 50 hours of gameplay that has involved a couple of marathon 8 hour sessions I still find myself coming back to No Man’s Sky. Somehow, everything I’m doing just doesn’t seem like a grind. Maybe it’s because I’m grinding all over the Universe, captivated by the thought of discovering a new system and pondering what I’m going to find on the planets within the system. Whatever it is I just can’t get enough and that’s even after I take into account that this is a flawed game.
For anyone picking up No Man’s Sky be aware that the learning curve is steep. Whereas a traditional game generally has a tutorial to get you used to the mechanics of the game, No Man’s Sky starts you off on a desolate planet with a busted ship that is in desperate need of repair and gives you nothing more than a multi-tool, your go to device for everything from mining resources through to combat and analysing Flora and Fauna. Figuring out what you need to repair your ship, how to do it and what you should actually be doing is left entirely up to the player to figure out for themselves. It’s a daunting prospect and even after I figured out what I was meant to be doing to get off the planet it was still about 5 hours before I really felt like I had a grasp of what I was meant to be doing in this infinite universe. If anyone is going to give up on No Man’s Sky I’d say it is during that initial grind phase.
Stick with the game though, get through the initial grind and upgrade your ship’s hyperdrive and that’s when the potential of No Man’s Sky really becomes apparent, although I will say that if you play for more than an hour at a time be prepared for unexpected game crashes. It doesn’t matter how much you play, upgrading what you have, be it your ship, multi-tool or exosuit, is one of the primary reasons to continue on. In fact I’d say it’s the pursuit and desire to upgrade that becomes a more compelling goal than trying to get to the centre of the universe.
The pursuit of upgrades does bring in to play one area of the game that is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had with a game, that being the use of the inventory system. Navigating the inventory system on PS4 is a bit of a chore given that navigating around it isn’t as free as the likes of Destiny where you can use the analogue stick to move in any direction you want, here you are forces to move left and right, up and down. I can live with that side of it even if it is a bit of a chore, it’s the way inventory needs to be constantly monitored that is the most frustrating part of the inventory system. Sure upgrading your ship and multi-tool will open up more inventory slots but no sooner have those slots been opened that they quickly become full again. I always feel like it doesn’t matter how many slots I have available, they will never be enough. Part of the issue for me has to be the way certain items, like parts can’t be stacked whereas mineral resources can be. At one stage I had to clear 7 inventory slots because the item I needed to make required 4 of one item, one of another and one of another. Essentially 4 slots were taken up by one item and when you then need a free slot to build the item, it just seems like finding the space isn’t worth the trouble of making the item. I really hope that Hello Games are working on a fix for this because a better inventory system would make the whole experience a hell of a lot better.
Exploring the universe itself is a lot of fun, however after a while it does end up feeling a bit same same. Sure there are more systems and planets to explore than you’ll ever have time for and sure each of them all have their own unique ecosystem which is a testament to the procedural generation but at times there isn’t much to distinguish it all. A rocky planet in one system feels like a rocky planet in another, and a new species on one planet often feels like the same species I encountered hundred’s of thousands of light years away. Yet for reasons that I can’t quite grasp there is still something about the exploration that makes me spend countless hours exploring new systems and planets. Yes things feel the same at times but somehow I always enjoy it, perhaps it’s because every now and then the game throws up things that are genuinely unique and interesting.
There is so much to see and do on a planet that it can be very daunting early on. Finding species and plant life, discovering outposts or monuments and gathering the core resources you need is VAST. The planets are massive and don’t expect to see all of it unless you want to spend hours upon hours upon hours to take in a planet, even then I doubt you’ll have seen or discovered every last thing there is to find.
Getting from system to system, does highlight another weak point for the game, that being navigating the stars. Once in space you can call up the universe’s map which will give you options on how you want to explore further. You can go into free mode which let’s you explore pretty much wherever you want as long as your hyperdrive can get you there or you can follow a waypoint to get to a significant point in space. These significant points are usually, getting to an Atlas station, finding a black hole to help you fast track the path to the centre or you can take the scenic waypoint on the way to the centre. Moving around the navigational map could not have been less intuitive. Panning around, zooming in and out just feels broken and makes for a disjointed way to figure out how to get to where you want to go.
I took the Atlas path as opposed to trying to head straight to the centre and I must say it was a really enjoyable pursuit. When I was able to upgrade my hyperdrive and jump further through the universe I had a few occasions where I could jump straight from one atlas station to another which was incredibly rewarding. It meant that I didn’t stop by in a system to check out the planets they had to offer but I was OK with that because gaining knowledge from an atlas station and obtaining those highly valuable atlas stones was of far greater value than sightseeing.
A lot has been said online about this not being a multiplayer game. No Man’s Sky has copped a lot of flack for not being multiplayer and I feel like that is unfair. Early on there was talk of a multiplayer aspect but Hello Games became vocal that this isn’t a multiplayer game so anyone expecting that should give up, it isn’t part of the game, nor is it likely to be included at a later date. No Man’s Sky is all about our individual pursuits through the galaxy and given the player the freedom to explore in any way they see fit. I’m completely comfortable with that but I will admit that it is quite a lonely universe out there. There are aliens to encounter but there isn’t any real interaction other than brief encounters where you decipher what they are saying and then get a reward if you do that correctly. Even encounters in the atlas station are over before they really begin.
No Man’s Sky is bold and it’s ambitious. It had so much hype that there was no way that it could have ever lived up to the hype. That’s not to say No Man’s Sky is a bad game, far from it in fact. Sure there are flaws like the inventory system and star map that can make the game more frustrating than it needs to be but for a game that is all about the grind it delivers quite a rich, rewarding experience. There is so much to see and do and freedom given to do it any way you see fit. No two players are going to get the exact same experience out of the game because we will all encounter the game in a different way. For me personally I was worried I’d go bored of it or that after a week or so I’d stop playing. Alas even though it is flawed I am still playing every night, often for longer than I should. I am completely and utterly captivated by this universe and the couch-astronaut in me just wants to keep going to see what secrets I can uncover. For some the flaws will be too hard to overlook, for some the grind will get them, but for others (like me) this game will captivate and consume you and for those people, Your Universe Awaits.
- Limitless Exploration
- Freedom to play anyway you want
- Doesn't feel like a grind even though it is
- Inventory Management is Frustrating
- Star Map is unituitive
- Game crashes are too frequent