No Man's Sky Has Turned the Tide, But It Still Has One Big Problem

No Man's Sky Has Turned the Tide, But It Still Has One Big Problem

Players are set to give No Man's Sky another chance, but will they stay?

In an ancient Aesop fable called The Man, The Boy, and the Donkey, a boy and his father are hounded by comments from passers-by as they try to bring their donkey to market. When someone mocks them for walking alongside the donkey instead of riding it, the boy climbs on top of the beast. When another person scolds the boy for not letting his elderly father ride, the father shimmies up onto the burro behind his son. "Now you're overworking the donkey!" the townspeople cry.

The tale ends with the boy and his father carrying the (likely baffled) donkey tied up on a litter between them. The litter breaks over a river, and the donkey falls into the water and drowns. The moral of the story is, "If you try to please everyone, you'll wind up pleasing no-one."

The Man, The Boy, and the Donkey, first told hundreds of years before Christ's birth, has a lesson that's still invaluable in an age where video games allow us to explore literal universes like the one contained in No Man's Sky. Before its August 2016 launch, No Man's Sky promised to be everything to everyone: A survival game, an action game, an exploration game, a space combat game, a trading game. When the finished product hit the PlayStation 4, it was technically all those things, but it didn't do any of them exceptionally well. Shortly after the launch of No Man's Sky, The Internet Got Mad.™ In trying to please everyone, Hello Games indeed pleased no-one.

If a hideous tentacled space creature asks if you're a god, say "YES."

The studio learned a sobering lesson (that's what fables are for), and it quickly resolved to fatten up No Man's Sky. If you bounced shortly after the game's release, you'll find a much more fleshed-out experience now. There's no question Hello Games has been hard at work since uncomfortable August in 2016. Despite these updates, however, No Man's Sky's initial biggest selling point—its massive procedurally-generated universe—still might not be interesting enough to keep players engaged for days on end.

No Man's Sky developer Sean Murray recently broke his silence for the first time since the game's tumultuous launch in an interview with The Guardian. He outlines the harassment he endured for not meeting gamers' expectations, up to and including receiving death threats for not including butterflies in No Man's Sky's launch build ("I remember thinking to myself: 'Maybe when you’re sending a death threat about butterflies in a game, you might be the bad guy,'" Murray told interviewer Keza MacDonald).

"You ever think about where we're headed, George?" "I was thinking of heading down to the pier to get some fries."

To the credit of Murray and his team, they "decided to double down on No Man’s Sky, keep working on it, and concentrate on what the people who were actually playing it wanted." Thus began a chain of frequent and substantial updates for No Man's Sky. The patches added story content and improved menu interfaces. They also added base building, vehicles, and improved space combat. According to Kotaku's Gita Jackson, the game was showing far more polish a mere year after launch. Earlier this spring, our Mike called No Man's Sky's gradual improvements "a testament to the modern era of evolving video games."

Today's update (and Xbox One debut) for No Man's Sky is so big, it warrants a subtitle. No Man's Sky "Next" adds multiplayer features, community events, the option to play as some of the game's alien races, and more.

It's a big universe, and we're all really puny.

It's incorrect to say "the tide has turned" for No Man's Sky; it's clear the tide has been turning for a while now. No Man's Sky Next is just another floor plopped onto a house Hello Games has been working on non-stop since August 2016. The studio deserves credit for persevering, even if don't envision a future where hundreds of thousands of players log into the game day after day. That's because while I believe No Man's Sky will always command a tight and dedicated group of players that Hello Games will happily make content for across the coming months and years, I think the game's biggest flaw is exactly the trait Sean Murray used to pitch the game to us in the first place: Its immeasurable procedurally-generated universe.

Said universe is a marvel of programming, and it gets dull quickly. Though I enjoy skimming the surface of No Man's Sky's alien planets in my spacecraft and naming animals like an intergalactic Eve, I can't forget I'm essentially naming a jumble of polygons assembled (sometimes bafflingly) by an algorithm. I can't observe these creates and determine how they evolved to suit their environment. I can't watch them interact meaningfully with each other.

By contrast, Monster Hunter World has far fewer creatures running around its single world than No Man's Sky infinite lifeforms on infinite planets, but I can spend hours immersed in Monster Hunter World's organized ecosystem while I quickly grow bored of No Man's Sky's chaotic critters. I don't know if I'm the only person who felt dissatisfied exploring these random planets filled with random animals, but something tells me if I was, No Man's Sky's updates would've already wooed a bigger and more consistent player base

I haven't played No Man's Sky Next yet, so I can't say there's no chance one of the new features won't nab me for weeks on end. I also doubt Hello Games will introduce an update that cuts its universe down to a handful of life-rich planets, which means I'm probably just going to check in with the game once in a blue moon for as long as Hello Games keeps supporting it. Nevertheless, it's good to see No Man's Sky gradually become less barren, and even though the game might never ensnare me the way Sean Murray wants, I'm happy to see it's constantly being added to. Hello Games' trussed-up donkey came close to drowning, but it's still kicking away.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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