There’s never been a game like No Man’s Sky before, and there might never be a game like it again. But it’s important to remember that, despite all of the hype and expectations, No Man’s Sky is still just that: a game.
It’s not the future of entertainment, it’s not the culmination of decades of game development and it’s not going to change your life. It’s a game. But it’s also different than any other game before it — subtly so in some ways, drastically so in others.
Although I’ve only spent around 8-10 hours with the game (half pre-patch, half post-patch), I’m going to do my best to explain what exactly No Man’s Sky is, and why it’s such a hard game to classify or define.
When you boot up No Man’s Sky for the first time, you’ll find yourself stranded on a mysterious planet, standing in front of a broken down ship. Your first objective is to repair the ship and get it flying again, but after a few minutes of hunting down minerals, you’ll notice that your life support meter has begun to dwindle. If you don’t find an isotope to refill it, your suit’s life support system will eventually fail, and you’ll lose all of your health and die.
Although No Man’s Sky is about exploration, survival is the backbone of the game. Whether it’s your ship or your suit or your multi-tool, everything has to be constantly monitored and refueled. This was far more tedious before the update, as the inventory was smaller and the meters depleted faster, but it’s still something you have to be mindful of at all times, even when you’re idle.
If you sit your controller down and walk away, even on a peaceful planet with an agreeable atmosphere, you will eventually die, regardless of whether or not you’re attacked by a hostile creature. I only harp on this point because I wasn’t expecting it when I jumped in, even after playing a preview earlier this year.
Once you get into a rhythm, these survival mechanics become somewhat second nature. You’ll know to have some Carbon and some Plutonium on you at all times to keep your life support up and your Launch Thruster fueled. You’ll know to keep Titanium or Iron on your ship to recharge your shield in case you’re attacked by space pirates while transporting valuable minerals.
In time, it all will come naturally. But you might not enjoy doing it.
I’ve struggled with this over the past several days, but no matter how much fun I have with the game or how many wild discoveries I make as I travel between planets, I already feel like I’ve seen a majority of what the game has to offer. Before you sound off in the comments, let me explain myself.
Although I’m sure this will change as I progress further, the vast majority of my time has been spent collecting minerals and selling them on the market. Your suit, your ship and your multi-tool all have a certain amount of slots, which can be used to either store minerals or add upgrades. But not both. My ship, for example, has only 15 slots, so I have to choose carefully.
If I want a ship with upgraded weapons and stronger shields and more effective tools, I can either sacrifice valuable storage space or I can upgrade to a bigger ship. Now, there’s a chance I’ll find a bigger ship on my travels, stranded on a planet’s surface, but I could also just pay a million units for an NPC’s ship with 25+ slots at the system’s local space station.
Although plenty of gamers will find a healthy balance between improving their equipment and leisurely exploring the universe, I’m not that player. I love the diversity of the planets, I love journeying from one outpost to the next and I’m weirdly obsessed with learning as many languages as I can, but every time I fill up my inventory or have to hightail it out of a dogfight where I’m hopelessly outmatched, I feel pressured to start “making real progress” again.
This might be more of a personality flaw than it is a design flaw, but I imagine this can be a tricky balance for many players (as many players have expressed similar concerns in their own early impressions pieces).
So when I say I’ve seen what the game has to offer, I mean that I understand the gameplay loop that I’ve settled into. I will certainly adapt as new mechanics come into play and as I become a force to be reckoned with, but it only takes a few hours to find a play style that you’re comfortable with.
But that’s not a bad thing!
As I sit here typing this, all I can think about is the planets I’ve visited and my journey up to this point. There’s something undeniably engrossing about a game of infinite size and scope, and whether or not it can hold my interest for months to come is irrelevant at this point. I want to “live” in that gameplay loop I’ve discovered, even if it’s not as exciting or explosive as a Call of Duty campaign or a Rocket League match. No Man’s Sky is the ultimate video game comfort food.
I’ll have some more in-depth impressions of the game in the coming days and weeks, but I hope that this piece puts everything else I write about it into context. No Man’s Sky might not be the future of gaming, but it’s definitely defining the present.