I'm about twelve hours into No Man's Sky, and while I'm incredibly impressed with the game, I have mixed feelings about it. Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder whether I might well be one of the people Hello Games' managing director Sean Murray was talking about when he said, "This game might not be for everyone, I expect it to be super divisive," on his company's blog a few days ago.
What's clear from the get-go is that No Man's Sky is a slow-burn game. It takes a few hours to get properly started, during which time you trudge about a planet looking for the requisite resources to enable you to not only fix your ship's broken drive, but also fuel it up so that you can take off. Mining these resources is done using a gun-like multi-tool that blasts rocks and flora into elements that you can then collect. But watch out for your limited inventory – that quickly gets filled if you're not careful, requiring management of your resources between what you can store on your ship, and in your exo-suit.
Another thing you need to watch out for are sentinels. This I discovered by trial and error while happily mining resources some distance away from my ship. All of a sudden, I started being attacked by one of these floating robots without warning. I've since learned that they patrol No Man's Sky's universe and attack those who are too greedy with their mining efforts. Unfortunately for me, that resulted in my first death: My mining multi-tool ran out of fuel so I couldn't defend myself, and before I could figure out how to recharge it, I was pushing up daisies.
During the long walk back to my body (I wasn't going to let all the resources I'd collected go to waste) I spent time admiring the flora and fauna, while wishing I could perambulate just a little faster. Sure, I can run in short bursts, but overall the speed at which you move around in No Man's Sky is just a little too slow for my liking. This was further compounded when I finally located the element that I desperately needed to fix my ship with my scanner, and it was a ten-minute walk away.
Twenty minutes later I was back at my ship, finally fixing it up. But I needed more plutonium to refuel its engines, so I wandered back out into the wilderness to search for it. It took a while, but I eventually collected enough to gas up my ship, and with great excitement took off for the heavens. After flying out into space, I opened up the galactic map and picked a random location to jump to… and then watched in dismay as the game crashed on me.
Unfortunately, my last save was the point where I'd fixed up my ship, but still needed plutonium to refuel it, so I had to go and collect it all again. That definitely wasn't fun, but it did teach me a lesson: always hop in and out of your ship whenever you've collected something useful, or are about to take off to make sure you save your game. I've since had a couple more crashes, and have been thankful that I've saved often.
Over the next few hours, I slowly started getting my head around No Man's Sky's fundamentals. Resources play a hugely important role in the game: Your ship's systems, multi-tool, and space suit constantly consume them. Fortunately, the elements needed to recharge your technology are fairly abundant, but I do find the mechanics of having to collect resources to keep everything functional a little tiresome. Sure, it's realistic, but to me it feels like busy work.
The other reason to collect resources is so that you can craft new items to upgrade your tech. I'm finding the whole crafting system a little vague, and so far I'm not sure which recipes I should be using, and which ones I shouldn't. What's clear, however, is that crafting is a fundamental part of the game, and that if you want to survive extreme planets, travel longer distances, and be effective in battle with space pirates, you need to constantly upgrade your technology. Of course, this means collecting the requisite elements, which requires an investment of time and effort to do so. Words like "farming" and "grinding" spring to mind here – gameplay that isn't particularly fun, but necessary if you're going to make any headway into the game.
However, while I'm not exactly enamored with the resource collecting and crafting side of the game, I've enjoyed its exploration. I've spent a lot of time just hopping from planet to planet, following the somewhat vague breadcrumb trail that the game lays out – or at least feels like it's laying out. I've entered buildings and talked to aliens, broken into manufacturing plants, visited mysterious ruins, and generally done a lot of wandering around. I'm not sure how much of this has advanced my cause, but I've just got a kick out of aimlessly meandering around and traveling to whatever points of interest my system scans throw up.
This is one of the upsides of No Man's Sky's sandbox-like nature. You can tackle it how you want – at least initially – and while I still have to ensure that I gather resources to regularly recharge my tech, I've been able to focus mostly on what I've wanted to do personally, and that's enjoy the scenery. The quandary I'm currently in, however, is that now, some twelve hours into the game, the novelty of this is beginning to wear off. My issue is that despite the game's incredible variation in terms of landscaping and flora and fauna, alien encounters and general points of interest have all been largely similar. I'm increasing my alien vocabulary, my standing with a couple of different alien races is improving, and I'm garnering a lot of recipes, but the process of doing so is starting to feel repetitive.
This is where my mixed feelings about the game are coming into play. I really want to continue to explore No Man's Sky's extraordinary universe to see how the game evolves, but doing so requires me to engage in something that I don't find particularly interesting – and that's searching for the requisite materials to craft the items I need to enable me to expand my horizons.
Last night I bit the bullet and started to gather the materials I need to upgrade my tech. What helped here was finding a temperate planet with fairly relaxed sentinels – meaning I could concentrate on mining without constantly getting attacked. I made a stamina boost that lets me run a little further before I get tired, and generally hopped in and out of my space ship, traveling from random building to random building and then mining the surrounding area for elements. To be blunt, it was boring, but strangely relaxing. I put on some chill music and just went about my business, slowly garnering what I needed to improve my ship, exo-suit, and multi-tool.
While I was gathering, I stumbled across a pretty awesome abandoned star ship. Unfortunately it was in need of a tremendous amount of repair to get it up and running, so I ended up leaving it where it was, even though I was very tempted to take control of the ship, and turn the game into a long-term project to fix it up. However, I was concerned that I mightn't be able to find all the resources needed to mend its systems, and end up getting stranded.
It took several hours to grind the elements I needed to upgrade my ship, but that did end up paying dividends when I won my first dogfight against a space pirate that attacked me. That was a quite exciting encounter, and was basically the first real "action" that I'd encountered in the game – other than fighting off the occasional sentinel or two. Otherwise, No Man's Sky is a serene exploration and gathering game that's very slow paced.
I made a couple of longer hyperdrive jumps to new star systems and explored a few more planets during the closing few hours of my play session, but didn't find anything particularly exciting and new. Just more of the same kind of buildings and ruins, and the same sort of alien encounters I've experienced throughout the game. I just enter buildings, loot everything there is to loot, and then, if there's an alien present, talk to them in the hope that I can raise my standing with them and perhaps garner a reward or two. Unfortunately, there are few surprises happening at this point, and it's all becoming a matter of routine.
This has resulted in the game feeling like a rather repetitive loop of garnering resources and finding new tech so I can travel further to find even newer tech that I have to mine more resources to build. The process of doing this is fantastic on some levels – the whole seamlessly traveling from planet to planet is an incredible experience, and I'm constantly being wowed by the sheer spectacle of it all. But while the scenery constantly changes, the fundamental mechanics of the game don't seem to. There are ultimately a handful of practical activities to engage in, and they just feel very eked out when applied to a universe as mind-bogglingly vast as No Man's Sky's.
Because of this, I'm not feeling particularly motivated to continue playing. Instead, I think I'll turn the game into a very long-term project that I dip in and out of occasionally when I'm in the mood for No Man's Sky's particular brand of relaxed exploration and resource gathering. Maybe I'll reach the center of the universe eventually, but I'm not going to farm and grind as I have been – that's just not my idea of a good time.
To be honest, I'm really disappointed that No Man's Sky isn't for me. It's a stunning technical achievement, and I was really looking forward to exploring its universe. Unfortunately, though, the crafting and gathering fundamentals of the game are proving too much of a time sink, and are just not giving me enough of a reward to want to persevere. I just feel like I have to work way too hard to enjoy the game.