No Man’s Sky GAME REVIEW
For all its hype, for all its ambition, for all its endless possibilities, actually playing No Man’s Sky is perhaps the most deflating experience gaming has served up in years. Not inadequate, not poorly made, not humiliating, but sad in unexpected ways.
Waking up on a strange, randomly picked planet, you set about repairing your starter spaceship and equipment by harvesting the local resources: different compounds and oxides, which can be culled from the many different rock formations and plant life in your vicinity. Pretty soon you’ll be able to scan objects and animals, put your own name on things and get paid for doing so.
Each planet is huge, and scanning every little corner is pointless once you discover how to warp to other star systems, and uncover more of the quintillions of planets created by Hello Games’ glorious mathematically generated universe. Each new world promises a new look, new creatures to befriend or fight, alien languages to slowly learn.
It’s when you land on another planet for the first or second time that the great exhalation begins. Yes, you’ve traversed the skies, but what No Man’s Sky boils down to is a sadly cyclical series of tediums, a random generation system that makes this seemingly endless universe infinitely smaller.
What’s most galling is that this was meant to be about exploration. And while that is what you spend time doing, the truth is that it’s just the background to the true meat of the experience: balancing what meagre things you carry with you. The game really should have been called No Man’s Inventory Management to accurately reflect its shockingly narrow focus. The crippling routine of its demanding focus on managing overwhelming resource requirements leaves you constantly at the mercy of how little space you have. It often leaves you incapable of being able to plan for more than one event at a time.
This survival game mentality isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it does force you to focus on what’s important, and over time you’ll slowly acquire a little more room to store things. But it’s such a narrow and demanding set of requirements that it has had a profound effect on the design of the universe. You constantly need to be harvesting a series of basic requirements, and keeping an eye on not having too many that it wastes too much space. So, every single planet will have them.
Having so many easy-to-find, easily identifiable resources showing up consistently across every single acre of the quintillion planets makes everything less significant, less dangerous, and makes the mathematical seams of the randomly generated universe shine through the illusion of there being a galaxy of wonders to discover. There are no truly “unique” planets; nothing so spectacular your jaw can drop; nothing to show your friends. Because chances are they’ll have seen something similar too. Everything’s a predictable variation on a theme, cold and calculated, with nothing exceptional in any single corner of the universe.
While there is a central narrative you can choose to follow or ignore, No Man’s Sky gives you absolutely no way to author your own stories and experiences beyond literally renaming all the plants, creatures and planets you find. You can find or buy new ships, upgrade and improve systems, but it’s not as well structured or creative as other survival games’ ever-unwinding crafting systems. Where are the epic faction space battles that were promised? Why is there no job system to give you something different to do? As No Man’s Sky unravels, it will deflate and disappoint.
Every jump to a new system feels like abandonment, not a brave new expansion. Returning to worlds you’ve visited before is actively discouraged, because what purpose would it solve? You can’t build anything; there are no jobs or rewards to gain for doing so, no one else to meet but static NPCs. You don’t move on to new systems because there’s something new to see: you move on because that’s literally all there is to do.
The universe Hello Games has created is beautiful on the surface but empty underneath, capable of mesmerising you one minute and sending you to sleep the next. With a dearth of bespoke content to wrap yourself up in and a soul-crushing resource management system, No Man’s Sky is an isolating, wearily small-minded experiment that offers up an endless nothingness. It will take your breath away for all the wrong reasons.
Review by Martin Wharmby