From the moment you start No Man's Sky, you feel the astonishing power the game has behind it. The opening sequence sees you hurl past probably millions of stars, some named after being discovered by other players, before being unceremoniously plonked onto an undiscovered, procedurally-generated planet of your own. This sets the tone for the rest of the game, with No Man's Sky firmly refusing to help you beyond vague goals or targets.
Graphically, No Man's Sky is both a marvel and a misfire. Firstly, the technology behind the game's generation procedure creates anything from wondrous wastelands to picturesque pastoral landscapes. Furthermore, this seemingly infinite variety is seen in the flora and fauna of each planet and in the sentient alien races you encounter. Outside of the planets, space and travelling through it is a revel of isolation, darkness, and the reflected light of the cosmos. Breathtaking is too simple a word for it. You would expect this fascination to wear away, but it doesn't. You constantly feel the need to see what the next celestial entity has to show you. However, the game can struggle to keep up with the player's speed. This is especially clear when flying your starship just above the planet's surface. The textures have a tendency to pop-in and layer over digital frames like adverts for VR products in the early nineties. Just when you are in wonder over what you can see, this drags you back out.
In terms of sound, No Man's Sky absolutely nails it. Spacecraft noise, animal grunts, exploration effects, and the speech of aliens sound just right. They work fantastically to place you right in the game. I want to highlight this praise as this area is so often overlooked in producing a first-person game.
Much like the graphics, the gameplay is a bit of a mixed galaxy. There are huge amounts of tasks for you to complete such as finding monoliths to translate alien languages word by word, collecting materials to improve your ship, character, and weapon, through to becoming a legendary space pirate. The universe really is your oyster here, something I personally loved.
Unfortunately, this open-the-world-and-discover approach is also No Man's Sky biggest failing. There is a distinct lack of guidance as to what you should do, and what the results of your actions will be. The game will highlight points of interest for you if you scan for them, but will not prioritise certain ones or suggest which would be the most productive. The game may also be one of the worst examples of tutorials in history in so much as there isn't one. At all. Nothing. The game will instruct you to collect minerals with no explanation of how. Sean Murray of Hello Games has stated this is by design which, in my opinion, only doubles the error. Example: The game hampers you with an incredibly limited inventory to begin with, and this is a real problem. The game makes no effort to explain how to improve this but leaves you to discover this. This is No Man's Sky's approach to all aspects of it's gameplay; essentially "You figure it out". For some, this total discovery style will massively appeal. To others, and I suspect the majority of modern gamers, this will be too much of a barrier to enjoying the game.
Similarly, the gameplay will become rapidly repetitive for many people. The game has no obvious narrative thread to it, making all your actions seem empty and effectively fruitless. There is a narrative in the game but it is hidden deeply behind layers of expositionary text when exploring locations or talking to aliens. There is also no obvious "end-game" or overall goal. Getting to the centre of the galaxy is the stated goal, but this is a bit like saying that winning the league is the goal of a sports game or killing the villain is the goal of an RPG. There appears to be no reason for your journey. Again, it is there but under layers upon layers of lore.
The repetitive gameplay loop and lack of narrative clarity turn this game into more of an experience. Something that should be placed on a pedestal for truly innovative and beautiful production is undermined by a lack of appeal to gamers. If you enjoy survival, gathering, and crafting games like Minecraft, Subnautica, or Ark: Survival Evolved then you have no excuse not to play this as I feel it is superior to those. If those types of games have never been your thing, this will not change your opinion.
I love No Man's Sky for the freedom it offers, but it is all too clear to see that many will find it stifling. I believe No Man's Sky should be considered a platform. As time goes on and the game is patched, and DLC released, I feel that the highlighted issues will be fixed. As it is, both stunningly crafted and woefully lacking, it is too divisive a game to recommend (even though, as stated, I loved it). Think of it like space Marmite.
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No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy available now on PS4 and PC. PS4 version reviewed.