No Man's Sky Impressions
It's a Cold Lonely World Out There...
As I stand in front of a Korvax monolith, an relic left behind by the alien race, I am posed with a riddle. The monolith itself has turned into a shifting column of magma, at least that is what the text tells me. Inside the swirling magma I can see materials that would aid me on my journey. I am faced with a choice, reach in my hand to grasp the materials or wait to see if another option presents itself. I choose to wait. The ancient builders of the monolith respect my patience and grant me aid on my journey. It is moments like these that push me forward into No Man's Sky's much talked about procedural universe. After about 30 hours of playing I can safely say that the universe is just as big as Sean Murray and Hello Games promised it would be....although it requires much more plutonium to navigate than I could have ever imagined.
As all good stories do, I should start at the beginning. Stranded on Planet X with a busted spaceship and seemingly no way out is a great way to start a space odyssey. Your craft is in a smoldering heap and next to it is a glowing red orb called The Atlas. I talk to it and choose to follow its path, mostly because I have no idea what I'm doing and this red orb seems to want me to follow it. The tutorial planet charges you with the initial mission of getting your ship up and running. This tutorial is appropriately paced, giving the player direction while also allowing time for exploration. You need to fix your ship. You need materials to fix your ship. Gather resources, craft items, the game does a good job teaching you the layout of the inventory screens, which is good because you will spend a huge chunk of time in this game inside the menus. After walking around for a few minutes, it becomes very clear to me that inventory space will be a big issue in this game.
You start the game with a multi-tool, an exosuit, and a spaceship, all of which have separate inventories that need to be managed. So, I take my multi-tool, a combination mining laser and pistol that you use constantly, and head out to get the materials necessary to fix my ship. With this tool you blast rocks and pylons, plants and crystals, and pretty much anything that isn't nailed down in order to gain resources. The game is directing me towards the materials I need to fix my scanner, fix my engines, etc. Once the scanner is fixed, I start scanning everything. I notice early that by scanning wildlife, plants, and rock structures, I am rewarded with units, the game's currency. While I am doing this, Planet Zuestra, as I have promptly renamed it, is impeding my work by being a frozen planet that is constantly stressing out my exosuit systems. About every 5 minutes that I spend outside my alarms will start going off and I will need to repair my thermal protection and my life support systems using a combination of isotopes and oxides. Between these materials that I constantly need to repair my suit and the resources I need to fix my ship, it becomes very clear that I do not have enough space in my inventory to support my efforts.
Inventory space, as has been talked about at great length, is a huge problem at the beginning of this game. Between my ship and my suit, I only had 8 free inventory spots to start the game. I had to use these spots to collect all the materials I needed, plus I needed to keep one spot open so I could use it as my empty shell to craft new items into. To make things more difficult, when you are away from your ship, you can freely transfer items from your suit to your ship, but you can't transfer items from your ship to your suit. So, if you have transferred Heredium to your ship and you need it to craft something, you have to walk all the way back to your ship to access it. Also, if you pick up a trading or treasure item, those items do not stack in inventory slots, so it becomes a commitment and a burden to hold onto them. In a sense, the beginning of No Man's Sky is a bare bones survival game that requires you to hold onto only what is absolutely necessary. The day one patch, 1.03, addressed some of this by increasing starting inventory size, but hopefully they fix this further in the future by making adjustments such as allowing the stacking of treasure items.
The good news about this starting area is that everything plays very smoothly. Movement is liquid and simple. Zeustra was populated with flora and fauna that I could scan and rename. Ships routinely zoom overhead, giving the player a sense that they are both alone and part of a community all at the same time. The environments are pretty but simple. yet they give the true feeling of being on an alien world. Now once you've managed your inventory woes and made the adjustments to your ship, it's time to head out into deep space.
Space - It's Really Frickin' Big
This is where the scale of the NMS universe takes shape. In a word, it is massive. It feels massive when you thrust out of the atmosphere of your homeworld and see the size of the planet you just left. When I aimed the reticle over the nearest planet, the icon informed me that, at my current pace, I would arrive at the planet in two and a half hours. Whether or not this impresses you is irrelevant. It is simply gigantic.
I was directed to a space station in the center of the star system. The inside of this station is a mirror image of the station that creator Sean Murray showed off in the demo. There is an ornery merchant who needs carbon for something or another. There is a terminal where you can buy and sell anything you'll need for your travels. All of these were gameplay elements that I had anticipated from the demo. As I went to leave the space station, I noticed that there spaceships regularly entering and leaving the docking area. If these ships are interacted with, you can trade with the captain or you can offer to buy his ship. This is where I saw the first real opportunity for upgrade. The first captain I wanted to trade with was a Gek Emissary who had a spaceship with 25 inventory slots, a huge upgrade compared to my ship, which only had 11. However, it cost 1.4 mission units and, considering I only had 20K at this point, I had some work to do.
Before I went back planetside to start the savings account for the astral yacht I had my eye on, I tested out the space combat. I am not someone who has played a lot of dogfighting and space combat games, but this combat felt a little boring. I attacked one of the ships that was entering the space station and I chased it around for a while before I realized that the best strategy was just to sit still and follow the enemy ship with my right stick until it was in range to attack. Once I had downed the first ship, the Sentinels, the quasi-sentient robot beings that act as the galactic police department, sent ships after me and, after besting two or three, they pummeled me into oblivion. The screen went dark and a T. S. Eliot quote informed me that I done messed up. I respawned at the space station with a new icon on my map that said "Grave." I sailed back to the site of my demise and found all of my inventory neatly packaged and waiting for me, WOW style. At this moment, I already had the notion that I had seen the majority of what space combat had to offer and, curiosity sated, I blasted off to the nearest planet.
Planets....They're Big Too
The new planet I arrived at was a toxic planet and my environmental protection started decreasing. As far as I can tell at this point, the environmental damage affects the player in the same way regardless of what type of damage is being taken. Heat, cold, and toxicity all have the same effect on the exosuit. What seems to matter more is the severity of the environment on each planet. I've visited 20 or so planets so far and the difference in each climate has varied, with 3 of the planets having very extreme climatic conditions that only allowed me to leave my ship for a couple of minutes at a time.
So, you arrive on a new planet...what do you do? Fortunately, with a repaired scanner, you can scan the planet for resources, alien artifacts, and points of interest. Points of interest hold the greatest reward to the player. Marked with a "?" on the map, these points of interest essentially represent save beacons with interesting materials located at them. The locations vary between colonial outposts, crash sites, alien monoliths, drop pods, supply depots, and trading outposts. At each site you will either find information to learn new alien languages, credits, or blueprints. Blueprints are one of the most important items in this game because these allow you to make upgrades to all of your systems. There are a staggering amount of blueprints in this game, each of which focuses on one specific aspect of your suit, spaceship, or multi-tool. Upgrades for your mining laser, environmental protection, and hyperdrive are all on the horizon; you just need to go out to these points of interest to find them. There is good and bad news about these blueprints. The good news is that they do not take up inventory space so you can collect as many blueprints as you want with no repercussions. The bad news is that once you craft an upgrade from a blueprint, it needs to be installed in a vacant inventory spot, taking one of the highly coveted spots away from your use. Blueprints can also be found from interacting with aliens you meet and interacting with monoliths and alien relics.
These points of interest are all worth checking out. I found Drop Pods to be particularly useful because each contains an additional slot that you can add to your exosuit inventory, for a price. Finding these drop pods became an initial focus for me because I wanted the extra space. After 30 or so hours, I now have 27 exosuit inventory spots as opposed to the 12 I started with. This has made the game infinitely more enjoyable for me and has allowed for multi-hour expeditions outside of my ship.
Aside from mining and seeking out points of interest, you can also spend your time scanning and uploading plants and wildlife. There is usually significant amounts of life on each planet and you receive a lot of units for each discovery. There is also a HUGE bonus for scanning all life on a planet and uploading it. This can be a little buggy as scanning flying creatures appears to be completely broken, requiring you to shoot them down before you can scan them. You can also scan and rename all plants, animals, locations, waypoints, and mineral deposits, which is why that there is a Derpasaur herd near waypoint St. Elsewhere on Planet Zeustra. Because of the units involved in scanning, fully exploring a planet can lead to significant wealth. I have been impressed with the diversity of life on each planet, even though the landscapes tend to be a little muddy and boring.
Despite how impressive the scope of the project is, No Man's Sky is an unfinished project with many issues that need to be addressed. The first and most problematic of these are the hard system crashes. I have been playing NMS on PS4 and I have been plagued with game crashes. No game is immune from crashing issues, however I have yet to see a major release with as many crashing issues as NMS. In 30 hours of play, my game has crashed upwards of 20 times, with 5 of these being hard PS4 crashes that required me to unplug my machine and plug it back in to restart. That always makes me super nervous because I don't want anything getting corrupted. Also, nothing takes you out of a sprawling space epic like having to stop mid warp to get up and manually restart your console. Apparently patch 1.04 has addressed some of these issues so time will tell if crashing will be common moving forward.
A second issue that I have with the game is sustainability. I have enjoyed playing this game a ton so far, but I'm also the guy that likes collecting Animus fragments in Assassin's Creed. I am not sure how long I can sustain my excitement by repeating the same activities over and over again. As I creep closer to the center of the galaxy, variety in planets will become increasingly important. So far, aside from being conditionally unique, each planet has looked similar, each one having similar textures with different color palettes. There has been similar plant life, similar animal life, etc. Hopefully, I will see more diversity as I plow on but I have the sinking feeling that in an infinite universe, I have already seen most of what it has to offer.
Should I play it?
Absolutely, at least so you can form your own opinions on the experience.
Who would like it?
Fans of collecting, Explorers at heart, Space Junkies, Dudes named Dave maybe
What should I do first?
Fix your scanner. Scan you some credits, son!
What shouldn't I do, ever?
Name a planet, "Tattooine." There already has to be about 175,000 of those.
Will there be a review?
Absolutely not. Experiences in this game will vary so much that it makes me physically uncomfortable to think of how many half baked reviews will be published about this game. If you need to read a review of this game, check out Kirk Hamilton's review on Kotaku. It captures the experience the best.