Parent Talk: No Man’s Sky has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of fantasy violence. There’s no blood, but you do shoot at enemy ships, creatures, and machines.
Plays Like: Harvest resources in order to craft supplies, and occasionally shoot down enemy ship, kill hostile creatures, or those pesky sentinel droids. You do all of this in a procedurally generated open universe that is filled with countless planets.
Review Basis: I played the game for nine hours before the repetitive nature of the game took its toll. In order to see some of the near end-game, I went over to a friend’s place who has logged in 47 hours and counting. The gameplay I saw was identical to what I had experienced in the first 9 hours, so I figured this review was appropriate, however I wanted to be as open and transparent with all of you.
Going into No Man’s Sky I had virtually no expectations. Sure the trailers looked interesting at E3 and other game shows, but I never really paid any attention to what the game was actually about. When Sony sent me a review code, I gladly accepted it and jumped right into the game. About an hour and a half later though, and I was ready to move on to something else. I hung on until about 9 hours, then I just couldn’t continue. So what was it about No Man’s Sky that turned me off almost immediately, and will you feel the same? That’s what makes reviewing this game so interesting, as your experience will be vastly different than my own. What I offer you here is perspective on my experiences with the game and how the core fundamentals work, and my thoughts on them.
The procedurally generated open universe is a thing of beauty. Every new planet you explore is rich with its own unique wildlife and plants. The graphics and animations are top notch, and the textures are nice and detailed. When you combine all of this together, you’re left with an absolutely massive open universe that looks and feels different every time you step out of your ship and onto the surface of a new planet. There’s absolutely no way you can’t be impressed by the sheer size of the universe. Discovering new planets and solar systems is truly unique, and naming them something witty never gets old.
- No Man’s Sky was built upon four pillars, exploration, survival, combat, and trading. Exploration is the best of the four by far, as each world is so unique. While you’re in space or on a planet’s surface, you have the ability to scan for new goodies to seek out. These can be resources, or they could be unidentified areas. The unidentified areas are the most exciting because you never know what you may find. There might be some fallen space debris, or perhaps an alien mining facility. These surprises are an absolute blast when they occur, and it’s the unknown that keeps you pushing forward.
- Unfortunately the other elements of the game are problematic. The survival pillar means regardless of what you’re doing, your resources are constantly whittling away. Take your space suit for example, over time it slowly but surely will lose life support systems and shields, so you need to harvest resources in order to recharge it. The same is true for many elements of your spaceship. The shields use resources to remain charged, all weapon systems use resources, and well, absolutely everything in the game uses resources that will slowly deplete over time. In order to mine resources, you have a special weapon that acts as a gun and a mining tool. Guess what, yup, you need to mine resources in order to even use the mining tool, and to craft bullets for the gun mod. It often feels like there’s just too much resource gathering for no justifiable reason.
- When you’re in combat taking down sentinel droids or hostile alien animals, the last thing you want to happen is to run out of ammunition. Remember this isn’t an action game, so there’s no ammo lying around. The only way to create new ammo is by harvesting resources and crafting ammo. Thing is, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to craft new ammo right in the thick of battle. Once that happens you start to ask yourself if there wasn’t another way this could have been handled. Combat as a whole isn’t anywhere near as tight as a modern FPS, and neither is the space fighting. Ultimately combat feels secondary to all the harvesting and crafting you’ll be doing.
- So that’s three of the four pillars, what about trading? You can sell and purchase items from aliens, at space stations, and all over the place. While the system works just fine, the inventory management system is a pain. Each of your three primary pieces of tech, your mining tool, space suit, and space ship all have separate inventory slots available, but they fill up quick. Not only that, but as you start to upgrade your equipment, you run out of space as one upgrade costs one precious inventory slot. One could argue this was done for strategic purposes, but when absolutely everything requires resources, why put such limits? I understand trying to decide whether to increase the rate of fire of your gun or keep that spot empty for more resources, but again, the restrictions are simply way too tight.
- The menu and inventory interface uses a reticle system, which is cumbersome on the PS4. Sure it works, but it’s not as fluid as it should be.
As problematic as some of these gameplay systems are, the worst thing about No Man’s Sky is the repetition. It doesn’t matter if you’re one hour in, or twenty hours in, you’re always doing the exact same thing with regards to resource management and harvesting, crafting, and trying to inch your way ever closer to the center of the universe.
No Man’s Sky has some incredible tech running it, and is an extremely ambitious game. The wonderful surprises that occur every now and then are a delight, but when the first hour and a half of the game play out exactly like the next ten, you know something’s off. It almost feels like for every step forward on a bold new world I took, resource gathering and crafting items pulled me backwards by about a light-year. So while I progressed, I never felt like I was truly going anywhere. Your millage may vary, but I think this is one of those games that shot for the stars, and wasn’t even able to reach the clouds.
Final Score: 6.2/10