No Man’s Sky Review – Falling Skies

Goodbye, Moonmen…

01

Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Sony
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Released: August 9, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

No Man’s Sky effectively portrays the loneliness of space by providing so little for the player to do that it’s tempting to flush one’s self out of an airlock just to break the tedium.

Not that you can do that. That would be too interesting.

After all the hype, all the promises, all the boasting of procedurally generated wonder and dynamic encounters, Hello Games’ “ambitious” spacefaring game is little more than just another crafting and survival experience, more about performing mundane, repetitive tasks than providing unique and exciting encounters.

If you’re not sick of the hundreds of survival games out there already then No Man’s Sky, with its endless resource collection and irritating inventory management, might be for you.

For anybody else, the allure of hopping from planet to planet just isn’t all that intriguing – once you’ve completed a long and dull journey from one world to another, you’re going to touch down and basically do what you did everywhere else.

02

The game’s biggest feature – that no one planet is the same – means very little when your interactions on each one are practically identical.

Yes, there are dry planets, watery planets, cold planets, stormy planets – but they all adhere to the same simple rules. The major difference between a poison planet and a nuclear planet is the fact you’ll get a different logo next to the timer that tells you how long you can stay outside.

The animals, mixed and matched quite obviously from a pool of recycled body parts, can be fed to uncover rare materials, but you can’t do much beyond that. Aside from the few that are hostile and prone to attack, the animals are just there to look weird.

Upon encountering a large, dinosaur-like creature, I proceeded to use my shitty jetpack (and boy is it shitty) to ride on its back. I thought that would be fun. Instead, I just fell through its back because it had no solidity, leaving me to sigh and return to yet more mind-numbing resource collection.

My disappointing experience with the dinosaur has come to exemplify No Man’s Sky‘s biggest problem – everything is so obviously faked, so unabashedly illusory. The universe is devoid of credible, tangible life. For as much as the game promises dynamic adventures, everything is scripted, static, held in place like cardboard cutouts in a fairground ride.

Sentient aliens met along the way are never found just wandering the land. They remain stood or sat in place like static quest givers in an MMO – without the quests. Every now and then, other starships land nearby, but nothing ever gets out of them. To interact with their pilots, you must interact with the ship, at which point a character model pops up and you can have a text-based conversation with a pop-up character model.

The world of an average Elder Scrolls game may be far smaller than No Man’s Sky‘s galactic sprawl, but it’s inherently more meaningful, vivid, and lively, because it actually has stuff to do and people to meet.

03

No Man’s Sky is indicative of a big problem the games industry has – conflating the size of a game’s world with the quality of its character. It’s yet another game that pushes scale above everything else, but when it comes down to actually playing the thing, sheer landmass doesn’t account for much.

I simply do not care that I can explore a universe when that universe contains animals a mere window dressing, lifeforms that stand affixed to one spot, abridged visual novel confrontations, and an endless need to shoot rocks and trees to continue micromanaging every banal detail of my character.

The endless collection of resources needed to refill multiple fuel sources is a total drag, but it’s really the best bit of substance the game has to offer. An incessant journey from planet to planet, zapping carbon and iron out of plants and stones so you can journey to more planets in order to zap more plants and stones.

This constant feeling of chasing one’s own tail for the sheer sake of it is found in many survival games, and it’s just as prevalent here. Everything is a chore, everything needs some special sort of fuel source, and there’s not enough room to carry it all. You start out slow, unable to sprint for long, with a terrible jetpack for a modicum of enhanced travel.

One’s abilities can have upgrades crafted for them, but upgrades share the same restricted inventory space as everything else, meaning you need to choose between being able to sprint for an acceptable amount of time or being able to carry more things. This becomes less of a problem when you buy bigger starships to carry more loot, but it remains an annoyance and it makes the early game an uphill battle against crushing ennui.

04

Breaking up the “enjoyment” of filling your tiny (if slowly expandable) inventory with materials are frequent attacks from Sentinels – robotic annoyances that seem to be everywhere and further drive home the uniformity of this allegedly varied universe.

Combat with sentinels consists of firing one’s mining microtool (or switching to weapon mode if you have one attached) and trying to keep focused on them as they buzz around like flies, peppering you with bullets.

When a sentinel shows up, you’ll be expected to drop everything and deal with them, lest they call for support. Planets with a heavy sentinel presence might as well be called Worlds o’ Harassment, since you won’t be able to stay out of your starship for half a minute before one of the little shits shows up.

Every now and then, “elite” versions might appear, but they’re actually less irritating to fight since they stand still sometimes – the game’s sub-par FPS mechanics really aren’t suited for fast-moving fodder. Guns feel weak and aiming on the PS4 is sluggish even with the sensitivity turned up to maximum.

Both on land and in space, combat is the absolute lowest point of the game, seemingly included just to make things more “gamey.”

At least they move, though. At least they have some sort of direct interactive element. Despite being serial tormentors that infuriate with their presence, the robotic murderous Sentinels are about the only form of believable life in No Man’s Sky‘s universe… and that’s really sad.

05

Planet surfaces are riddles with waypoints to find, and that comes to represent the only major objective on most worlds – scanning the surroundings for landmarks and heading to “discover” them. Anything discovered can be named and uploaded in exchange for units (NMS‘ currency), which means you can have star systems called Chungus, full of planets called Chungus, with every landmark on every planet also being called Chungus.

Naming things is fun at first, but soon it just becomes easier to upload the gibberish default names and get the cash. I can only spend so long seeing how far I can break the word filter (tip: Cumdrencher is an accepted name for any animal you might find).

Cash can be used at trading posts on space stations and various planets, but are most useful in purchasing inventory upgrades or better starships. Take my advice and work on obtaining a superior ship fast – you’ll be grateful for the added cargo space.

There’s an argument to be made for the meditative experience of cruising around space or the skies of a world, scanning for locations or simple taking in the scenery – and scenery can be beautiful in its own bizarre, garish way. Landscapes of eye-searing purple and green may not be to everyone’s taste, but I find some pleasure in just how dazzlingly colorful things can become.

Free of the crafting and the terrible combat, one could see how No Man’s Sky might have made for an interesting airborne “walking simulator” of sorts. With its other gameplay elements feeling like half-measures, the game truly is at its best when one is simply floating around the empyrean void, observing from a distance.

This is when I’ve found myself actively enjoying the game – when I’m practically doing nothing. Once there’s a location to get to, an objective to reach, travel becomes excruciating. Once I need fuel and supplies, the hunting and gathering becomes meddlesome. Once I attempt to continue with the dreary text-based story on offer, the whole thing becomes ironically robbed of any meaningful point.

06

Oh, and as weirdly pretty as the game can be, things are marred by aggressively grainy pop-in, as textures and environmental details bubble into existence, pixel by pixel. It’s overwhelmingly ugly and happens on every single world almost every time one is flying through it.

There are also hovering buildings, floating off the ground like bad Unity projects, some of which end up “built” into mountains and hills with no way to enter their half-buried doors. This is not deliberate, mind you – the buildings quite clearly lack some collision detection when they’re haphazardly plonked into the surroundings.

I’ve seen so many planets, met so many aliens, and mined so much goddamn carbon and not once have I been surprised. Not once has the game thrown me a curveball. Every new location is just a different colored home for the same old routine, and the procedural generation means that things feel far less diverse than they could be – when randomized pools replace handcrafted designs, the lego bricks piecing everything together are far too obvious.

Like Spore before it, No Man’s Sky is a game that promised far more than it could ever deliver, but I can’t even blame my tepid reaction on hype. I did not for a second believe Hello Games’ vaguely described spacefarer could be anywhere near as varied and expansive as promised.

Even with my expectations guarded, however, I did not expect just another survival/crafting game that used randomization as a crutch to the point of losing all potential personality.

And I at least expected more to fucking do.

07

I’ve seen things you people would easily believe. I’ve not seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched no C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. There are no moments to lose in time like tears in procedurally generated rain.

Time to Sky.

5/10
Mediocre

Turi
Guest
Turi
Oh NO! You used the evil word. “Do you not know that this is not random” will they say. “It is procedural, which is totally different” will they say. To which i say: No it is not you wankers. Yes from a math or development standpoint there is a difference. But the user there is non. I can not predict the outcome of the world algorithm, so i see a pseudo random result. And there is actually not even that big a difference from an IT standpoint. Random numbers in your PC are also produced by a procedural algorithm. Just… Read more »
/▲◖ ฿€₦₮/
Guest
/▲◖ ฿€₦₮/
I’m only a few hours in. I waited to purchase it until after I read a handful of early reviews that made it sound like just the kind of exploring experience I enjoy…just enough (potentially annoying) survival elements to keep you wrangled in and on your toes. So far…I mostly agree with the review. At least I can see it eventually getting to the point of “why bother.” But right now I think I’m still enraptured with at least the IDEA of limitless possibilities. And it is an awe inspiring, beautiful game and it is indeed most enjoyable to relax… Read more »
Alexi Mikhailov
Guest
Alexi Mikhailov

The more I hear about this game, the more I wonder if it’s just going to end up being a template on which game developers build better space games.

Siddartha 85
Guest
Siddartha 85

I would actually love that. Somebody could focus on one thing and make that thing amazing.

bort118
Guest
bort118

Incoming comments about the incoming comments….

Michael Peterson
Guest
Michael Peterson

This definitely tempers my expectations but part of me still wants to check it out. I do kind of find mining and resource management to be zen like and calming. Approaching it from that angle I could see buying this when it goes on sale.

Greaves
Guest
Greaves

Exactly what i expected to be honest. I don’t know why this game got so much hype after Elite: Dangerous is proof that massive explorable worlds which aren’t handcrafted can be extremely boring. Though it looks like this game is even magnitudes worse than Elite.

Mark Patten
Guest
Mark Patten

What this game has in scale, it lacks in substance. I can just hear the fans now, if you thought the Mad Max fans were loopy…

diamond
Guest
diamond

Hell if anything Jim will come to appreciate Mad Max more after playing this, at least Mad Max feels lively.

Michael Toomey
Guest
Michael Toomey

Unfortunately this is exactly what I expected after how the game was marketed. Glad I held off.

Andrew Mills
Guest
Andrew Mills

That’s what I feared might happen.

I’m sure the game will have its’ share of fans, but everything you’ve listed here means it very much isn’t for me.

Justin Graham
Guest
Justin Graham

This review really lines up with my fears about the game. Gigantic universe to explore, but a limited variety of ways in which it can actually be interacted with.

Edward Turvey
Guest
Edward Turvey

Nicely written review, Jim. I too was not drawn into the hype train, mostly due to confusion on my part and the continued vagueness of what the game was about. Now I see that the vagueness was most appropriate as the game still seems to be unsure of what it intends to be, and as void of content as space itself.

Even Luck
Guest
Even Luck

I can see this game getting enough support to warrant financial success, but I think it’ll be forgotten within a year or two, with only a small amount of dedicated fans continuing to play it.

Duncan Parker Newton-Gaines
Guest
Duncan Parker Newton-Gaines

I’m glad you compared this to SPORE, because I posted on twitter the other day that No Man’s Sky just looks like people visiting all the planets people made in SPORE back in 2008.

Arma
Guest
Arma

Good to see that this generation will have it’s own “Spore” under the No Man’s Sky brand. Because apparently a lesson about ambitions and expectations needs to be re-taught every dozen years or so.

El Minotoro
Guest
El Minotoro

Quite often I ask people if they’re playing minecraft, they tell me no, they’re playing a survival crafting game where you explore an enormous procedurally generated worlds and discover new kinds of places and you have to build everything.
Minecraft classic, 2d Minecraft, hand drawn minecraft, dinosaur minecraft, high fantasy minecraft, 2d space minecraft and now 3d space minecraft.

El Minotoro
Guest
El Minotoro

Zombie minecraft, post apocalypse minecraft, medieval minecraft

NicholasDTC
Guest
NicholasDTC

Actually no. NMS doesn’t have any type of base building or enviromental interaction and true sandbox/survival stuff like minecraft does. I don’t understand why people are comparing the two. NMS is not even 10% of what minecraft is (and I already find minecraft too shallow).

Aerokii
Guest
Aerokii

A proper construction aspect might have made this more interesting- not necessarily for planetside bases, but even if they’d just added highly enhanced space ship customization, or a home (space) base to properly store resources and not worry about survival for a while.

El Minotoro
Guest
El Minotoro

All survival crafting games are Minecraft, I made that pretty clear

Youabra
Guest
Youabra

Everytime i saw a new trailer of this game, there was one question that always pop in my mind. ‘Okay, so you can visit thousands of planets, with differents animals and flowers. And there’s nothing else to do?’
So, i ignored this game, and it seems i made the right choice.

Oh, and before i forget, let me put this anti-hate shield for you, Jim. I think you’re gonna need it.

asdfghjkl
Guest
asdfghjkl
Something tells me his video on No Man’s Sky is going to make alot of, F U N. Make that shield triple layered, he’ll need it. But in all seriousness though, a world you can’t interact and change, or exploring the experience of frontiermen in dangerous and unknown environments, or just have incredibly bizarre locale, none of that happens. For surviving, I would play Oregon Trail, if I was looking to play e lego, I would pick up Terraria/MineCraft/pop up photoshop and make my own thing, if I was looking for a “gotta scan them all”, why am I not… Read more »
RWDY
Guest
RWDY

Sad, but this is pretty much what I feared.

Dingoberry
Guest
Dingoberry

Yeah, I pretty much ignored everything about this game and its hype from day one, and I am not surprised that it’s this tepid experience. Good call on the Spore comparison, as the hype level and delivery of the actual game are acutely paralleled.

Tom Page
Guest
Tom Page

I enjoyed this review, Jim. I think you articulated your frustrations well, and they’re admittedly concerns of mine too. I’m still gonna take the plunge though. It’s just the sort of thing I have to see for myself. And hey, Steam refund policy if worst comes to worst. Thank god for you, mate.

JayPi3
Guest
JayPi3
I bought the limited edition and PC version at a discount, i’m still looking forward to playing this, but the score disappointing, but i can respect it, I’d take honesty over hype anyday. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it either way mostly on the PC, i might end up selling the PS4 disc alone just to keep the collector’s stuff. Hoping the PC version will benefit from the higher framerate, better FOV, precise controls, mods, better visuals, and so much more. I get a feeling this is one of those games that were held back by the… Read more »
diamond
Guest
diamond

I doubt it, this game looks so fucking boring I don’t see any amount of mods fixing it.

Turi
Guest
Turi

Oh, i could see mods to awesome things with a base game like that.
But as far has i understood this game has no mod support and never will. One universe that is online and the same for everyone does not lend itself to mods

R.Hoffmann
Guest

Some gave it 5/10 scores, others gave it a 9/10.

Seems it can be a great game for some people and a mediocre boring one for others.

Xanco Gaming
Guest
Xanco Gaming

Damn… That’s a shame… 🙁 Could have been great – probably if it wasn’t so ambitious.

AussieEevee
Guest

TLDR: Don’t bother, overly repetitive and not enough to do?

Which is a shame, because it sounded like the best game ever in the lead up to the release.

John Mianda
Guest
John Mianda

TLDR would be closer to “enjoyable as a chill, meditative “walking simulator”, repetitive and tedious as an actual game”

JayPi3
Guest
JayPi3

Here’s hoping some quality of life patches makes it a little more enjoyable in time.

Dizzy
Guest
Dizzy

Damn… I would have bought it as well if it had better space combat D:
I’m glad that the PC release wasn’t on the same day now or I might have fallen for the hype too.

Trevor Steen
Guest
Trevor Steen

I’m calculating the mass amount of hate that will appear in the comments from No Man’s Sky fanboys who either love the game or have not played it yet, but still want to love it due to being delusional.

Jim Sterling
Guest

I’m expecting people to dismiss the review for being up “too quick” but since I’m already seeing recycled content and spending more time with it is making me resentful, I think calling it while I’m still bored and not actively loathing the thing is the right move.

Rashed Mokdad
Guest
Rashed Mokdad

Did you manage to reach the center? Heard the game has a big WTF moment half way through.

HighBrow
Guest
HighBrow

Yeah, you spend somewhere between 20 and 2000 hours and then this happens!

Themostunclean
Guest
Themostunclean

Problem with procedural generation is that can happen to some people but not all will have the same experience. I’m about 9 hours in and just had my first encounters with insect carnivors and flying organisms. Those were amazing moments of discovery to me. “Mileage may vary”, I guess.

Za_Docta
Guest
Za_Docta

Some guy is above claiming that the review is clickbait because it was the first one, and when everyone called him out he’s trying to backtrack and say he didn’t mean that as a criticism.

JWL1092
Guest
JWL1092

incoming nerd rage from people that haven’t played the game

Daniel G.
Guest

You’re a hero for making this comment. It would have been too easy to say something substantial about the actual review. No, you went out there and make the difficult decision to repeat what countless others have said in other comments sections about the possibility of people angry over review scores.

Thank you, JWL1092, for your service to our country.

JWL1092
Guest
JWL1092

Thanks mate, I try my hardest to please.

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