It's felt almost from the beginning as if the greater gaming populace has wanted No Man's Sky to be something that it isn't.
The recent furor over a player's inability to see another player is a case in point: the community has become fixated on multiplayer because they desperately want No Man's Sky to be something akin to a Minecraft MMORPG in space. Sean Murray's rather oblique comments haven't helped, of course, but Hello Games' vision for No Man's Sky has always seemed to be very different from that of the community's. Their vision of No Man's Sky is a tranquil jaunt through space with heavy philosophical and religious undertones. The fans want to live in a space opera.
To that end, much has been made of the fact that you can't build anything in No Man's Sky - an omission that has been characterized by some as a major step back from other survival games (as if you could call No Man's Sky a "survival game" when the threat of death is barely a consideration). It's been enough that Murray has promised space settlements for a future patch. Personally, I'm always in favor of building settlements; but the more I think about it, the more that I think that bases are beside the point in No Man's Sky.
That's because No Man's Sky isn't really a survival game, nor is it a traditional open-world game. I've characterized it again and again as an intergalactic roadtrip - a game where you're always on the move. The point of No Man's Sky, if there is a point, is to slowly make your way toward the center of the galaxy (or hunt for Atlas monoliths) while taking pictures of dinosaurs and musing on the nature of creation. It's not conducive at all to base-building, which is by its very nature static.
Sure, you could settle down and build a nice settlement and farm up some space cows (or to paraphrase Judy Hopps' parents: "Settle, and settle hard"), and ultimately carve our your own little niche in the galaxy. I even advocated for that much in our flagship podcast. But at its core, No Man's Sky is about looking over the horizon and wondering what else is out there. You're meant to be on a spiritual journey, not settling on some rock in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, that begs the question of whether art is "meant" to be anything. After all, once a game is out, it belongs to the player, right? There is surely someone out there who does want to settle down on the nice planet they found. And hey, if nothing else, it might be nice to build a launching point from which you can explore an entire solar system. You could maybe even have some permanent storage.
The thing is, though, even when I've found a new planet that I like, I've always eventually hit a point where I've wanted to leave. Part of the No Man's Sky experience is the twinge of sadness that you feel when you jet into lower orbit and look down on the rolling hills and Mackeysaurs that you're leaving behind. It can be sad, but there comes a time when it's time to leave. But then, I've never been one to settle in one place for too long.
Mostly, I think the desire for base-building in No Man's Sky is the product of the fanbase wanting it to be one thing when it's so clearly another. You can take issue with its execution - and I have - but it's hard to deny that it's a game of exploration - one that casts you almost a religious pilgrim in search of enlightenment. Combat, trade, and crafting is all about facilitating that journey. Ultimately, No Man's Sky is about seeing what's out there; and while it falls a little flat in that regard, it's hard to imagine where base building falls into that vision.
In that light, settlements will at best be an imperfect bridge between the expectations fans have for No Man's Sky and what Hello Games is trying to deliver. It's certainly not a feature I would pin all my hopes on.
Is there a compromise?
The question, I think, is whether there's a happy medium. Is it possible for No Man's Sky to have all the fun of base-building without sacrificing its spirits of exploration?
I discussed this question with a friend of mine over dinner last night, and the conclusion I came to was that No Man's Sky should focus more on letting you make your ship a home away from home. The image I get is Luke Skywalker snacking on an MRE near his X-wing on Dagobah, his starfighter, lantern, and droid his only sources of comfort on an alien world. Think, for instance, how cool it would be if one of the larger ships were akin to the Millenium Falcon - a ship you could wander through, decorate, and add in various crafting and trading terminals. Imagine walking through your ship and stepping out on a beautiful alien world for the first time. Imagine being able to take trophies from your favorite planets - pictures, rocks, specimens - and display them in your ship. That would do so much to drive home the sense that you are journeying through the stars.
As it is, though, you can do very little with your ship. All it is at the moment is a cockpit a hyperdrive and some weapons. You can't so much as repaint it, let alone wander through it or store mementos in it. It doesn't even have a storage compartment where you can keep excess resources and items (though you could argue the inventory slots fill that roll... I guess).
This is what I mean when I say that I find No Man's Sky foundation fascinating, but its execution lacking. Hello Games can take this so much further than they already have. I just want the improvements they make to fit in with their original vision.
But from what I've seen, what No Man's Sky actually is seems to be fundamentally at odds with what its fans want. And in their quest to make everyone happy, Hello Games may end up losing what makes No Man's Sky special in the first place.