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No Man's Sky PS4 Preview: Intimidatingly Huge

We finally get our hands on Hello Games' epic space adventure - but only have 30 minutes to sample its incredible depth.

Preview by Jaz Rignall, .

What do you do when you have 30 minutes to explore an entire universe? That's what I was wondering when I sat down to play No Man's Sky earlier this week at a hands-on preview event in Los Angeles.

The demo started out on the surface of a planet named Balari V. It’s a cold place. Let me restate that. It's a VERY cold place: The temperature reads -163 degrees and my space suit's shield is slowly ticking down to what I assume will be a frozen, fatal zero. I execute a scan, which flags points of interest in my locale. Most items identified are resources that I can pick up if I so desire, but there are also a couple of structures nearby that I can use for shelter and to recharge my shield.

I slowly trudge across the snowy landscape towards them, but not before pausing to scan a couple of strange alien dinosaur-like creatures that I see some way in the distance. Apparently, I'm the first person to do this, and I'm given credit for discovering them. They're automatically assigned a name by the game, which I can change if I want to. For now, though, time is of the essence, and I need to find shelter.

Turns out that the small structure I finally reach enables me to save the game, as well as recharge my shields, and I pause for a moment while they do. No Man's Sky is an interesting game in that it's a mash-up of different genres. It has elements of a first-person shooter. You have a gun that you can use to mine resources – in the form of various elements – as well as protect yourself from aggressive creatures. Your ship is also armed, and it can be used to attack other AI ships to steal their cargo – which essentially enables you to garner more resources. However, doing so attracts the attention of the mysterious Sentinels that patrol No Man's Sky's universe, and results in you being given a wanted level that requires you to quickly run from the situation, or end up in an ever-escalating fight with Sentinel craft. It reminds me a little of how Grand Theft Auto works.

No Man's Sky is also reminiscent of an RPG in that you can use your collected resources to upgrade your gun, space suit, and ship to fit more effective technologies, such as better shields, weapons, and longer-range hyperdrives. You can also trade resources for money at space stations, as well as buy new ships and technology.

Then, of course, No Man's Sky is first and foremost an exploration game. Developer Hello Games wants you to enjoy the feeling of traveling around its vast universe discovering new planets, creatures, and plants, and generally going where no-one has gone before. As part of that, there are ancient monoliths to discover that teach you the language of alien civilizations so that you can eventually talk to the alien creatures that you'll inevitably encounter while on your travels.

It's clear that this is a huge game with many facets, and I have about 20 minutes left of my demo. Shields recharged, I leave the base I was holed up in and head back to my ship. What I want to do is travel to the planet I can see looming large in the bright blue sky. Doing so is a breeze – I just jump into my ship that's parked nearby, take off, and within a couple of minutes I've broken away from the atmosphere and am heading out into space towards my next destination.

It's impressive: Flying from the planet's surface to space is a seamless experience, and soon enough I'm entering the atmosphere of the next planet. It's a largely water-based world, and as I fly over its vast seas, I spot a few islands, and land and look around. This planet is far more temperate, so I don't need to worry about my shield, and indeed seems to be home to many more creatures than the frozen snowball where I started my journey. I scan numerous creatures - many of which are weird and wonderful - and add them to my discoveries, while looking around my immediate environment for points of interest. I end up swimming from one island to the next, and am impressed to discover that the seas are as rich as the lands in terms of flora and fauna. This is a fully-realized ecosystem that I can barely believe is procedurally generated.

After swimming for a few minutes, I reach the next island and collect resources. It seems that there are several ways to do this: there are abandoned items inexplicably littered across the landscape – crates of loot essentially – that I can open to see what's inside, and I can also mine resources from rocks and plants. I collect carbon, silicon and plutonium in this way. Looking at my inventory, I see I have a sufficient amount of them to upgrade my space suit's shield, which I do.

As I execute another scan of the environment, I see there's a nearby base, and head towards it, walking through the reddish purple grass that seems to be growing everywhere. As I approach, I notice there's a space ship parked next to it, and, when I finally enter the base through its door, there's an alien NPC present. I walk up to it, and am prompted with four different lines of dialog to pursue. I choose to signal that I want to learn more about the alien's language. I'm told that the alien slaps me on the back and bares his teeth. I don't know whether that's a good or a bad thing, but the fact that I'm still alive makes me assume the former.

Back outside, I head over to a nearby alien monolith, and when I approach it, I'm again given several dialog options. I choose to learn a new word from an otherwise indecipherable alien sentence, and one of those words changes to become "command." I'm also told that my standing with the alien race that created the monolith has increased. Quite what the advantage of this is, I have no idea, but I assume over time this will have positive effects on trading and communication, and as I learn new words, I'll be able to understand more of those otherwise indecipherable alien sentences.

I realize I've wandered a long way from my craft, and indeed don't even know where it is, so I end up walking around the environment looking at its creatures and enjoying the rather remarkable views. I have no idea how I can get back to my ship, and that concerns me. I assume there must be a way of waypointing it, but I don’t know how to, and that’s one of the questions that's left unanswered as time is called on my demo.

Playing No Man's Sky was certainly an amazing experience. Traveling from planet to planet was incredible, and flying around looking for a landing point was deeply impressive - and seamless. But having experienced just a taste of the game, I'm definitely left with questions – and not just about how to find your ship when you wander too far away from it. No Man's Sky is intimidatingly huge, with many billions of planets to discover, and I wonder exactly how progression is going to work. Is it all about mining resources and using them to upgrade items so that I can eventually make the trip to the center of the universe - which is the objective of the game?

Or is it about exploration? That aspect is definitely really interesting, and holds a great deal of appeal for me. What I've seen so far is stunning, but I'm very keen to discover just how different planets are, and how the wildlife changes from one ecosystem to another. Then there's the trading, interacting with alien species, space combat, dealing with the Sentinels, and discovering the alien monoliths. All these aspects of No Man's Sky are something that I barely scratched the surface of during my demo, and I was left wondering how deep they go.

In my interview with Sean Murray, managing director of Hello Games that's a companion piece to this article, he says, "We tell people that No Man's Sky is a journey from the outside edge of the galaxy to the inside, but how people go about that is up to them. They can do that by building up their ship by trading, or by taking out other AI and ships that are trading. They can be a space-jerk basically – or a good citizen."

Based on my short time with No Man's Sky, what that seems to translate into is very much a sandbox game where you follow your own path. How rich, interesting, and indeed unique that path will be for every player remains to be seen, but I'm very intrigued to find out when the game is released on June 21st.

Disclosure: Sony paid for my flight and travel from San Francisco to the event in Los Angeles.

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Comments 12

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  • Avatar for pdubb #1 pdubb 2 years ago
    Seems like a 1000x better version of the Mako exploration levels in Mass Effect.

    I had no idea this game even existed, but all of a sudden I am excited
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    I had been getting a bit worn out by the lack of information (!), but am totally re-engaged with this now. I cannot wait to play it! Its also one of the few games out in the next months that I'll be able to share with my daughter (Doom and Dark Souls are possibly a bit too scary...)
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  • Avatar for Ralek #3 Ralek 2 years ago
    My problem with No Man's Sky is that it seems to understand exploration purely in terms of place. What I always found more compelling though, esp. in shows like Star Wars, where the actual situations they ended up in. The people, races, cultures, relgions and so on they came across. The options of conflicts and philosophical reflection these alien "mirrors" offered. Also, the bigger picture so to speak, with different races vying for power and control. The conflict within the federation between building for war and building for peace and exploration. All these things made these kind of space-opera shows and books stand out to me since my childhood. Scale and place/location is certainly important, as is the seamless nature of it all, but in the end, what's happening inside that sandbox is most important.
    Oddly enough, it was mostly fantasy RPGs like BG2 that offered this kind of experience (just thinking about coming across the matriarchal Drow in the Underworld for example here).

    Last but not least, the actual gameplay as far as it was shown, the shooting and space-combat looks rather darn basic to say the least, and not exactly compelling either =/ All in all, I'm not ready to board the hype train on this one, it looks like a step in the right direction, but maybe more as a milestone achievement than anything I really want to play myself.
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  • Avatar for TheOldMan2084 #4 TheOldMan2084 2 years ago
    I'm really looking forward to this one! I hope it turns out as good as it looks.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #5 Mooglepies 2 years ago
    So this just looks to me like lots of other sandbox survival/crafting games but with a differentiation coming in the form of the enhanced scale.

    It's not something I have any interest in (the sandbox survival/exploration genre bores me senseless), but a few questions come to mind -

    1) is a large scale sufficient to make the game stand out from all the other genre stablemates that are out there already?

    2) How long does this genre have left in it before it's audience gets fatigued with it?

    As I said before, this isn't a genre I play, but from the outside looking in the survival genre seemed to peak in interest about a year ago (amount of news stories in mainstream games media for example). That's not to say that this game won't do well (I imagine it will) but I would be slightly concerned that its extended development time might have caused it to miss the window where it could have had the most impact.
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  • Avatar for docexe #6 docexe 2 years ago
    Yes, it looks like it will be a variant of a sandbox/survival/resource gathering game, set in a sci-fi setting and with space simulator elements. That’s not a bad thing for me though. I’m intrigued by their particular take on the genre, by the art style of the game and by the scope. Not to mention that the way it was described in this preview did remember me of some classic sci-fi, especially 2001: Space Odyssey.

    Now, the fact that it will be procedurally generated does make me wonder if their attempted scope will ultimately succeed. How much variation will there actually be in the end between the different planets, fauna, etc.? Still, I’m hopeful for the game and looking forward to playing it once I get a PS4.
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  • Avatar for Uncompetative #7 Uncompetative 2 years ago
    @Ralek

    It has all that, but to what extent is yet to be determined because by its very nature the developers are keeping as much of its enigmatic mysteries a secret until players get to discover them when they are exploring its universe for themselves. To be honest, I was a little disappointed to hear that it had alien NPCs with their own languages that you had to progressively learn through xenoarchaeology as this spoilt what would have been the utterly awesome unexpected shock of 'first contact'.

    By all means hold off on a purchase until you have read some reviews, watched some YouTube vids, seen some streams of it on Twitch, checked out what screenshots people have uploaded to various Wikis to tell for yourself if it seems sufficiently aesthetically varied and whether the crafting aspect which reminds me very much of the UI of Destiny is something you would want to grind away on.

    However, I preordered this last August on disc when it first became available and have preordered a digital copy just the other day for the sake of convenience as it means that I won't have to eject my Star Wars Battlefront disc. A lot of people have baulked at the price as with The Witness, but I feel that it doesn't matter what it cost them to make it, or how many people were employed working on it, or how many hours they worked for how many years, or how much gameplay there is in these titles as these are both unique experiences worth adding to any collection and they could charge me more money than they have and I would have still bought them as it is their product to set the price of and only be forced to lower it if no one buys it at launch which I don't see happening somehow:

    No Man's Sky is in Amazon's Top Ten PS4 games
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  • Avatar for Ralek #8 Ralek 2 years ago
    @Uncompetative I don't know about the price. Afaik the production values are there, the scale and scope is definitely there ... so why woudln't it be priced at AAA prices? I'm ok with that.

    It's just the sense that the world lacks craftmanship, or heart and soul if you will. The idea that a piece of code could do in the blink of an eye, so to speak, what artists, designers, writers and so on work months or years on creating is appealing ... but it seems to be scifi at least for now.
    Maybe it will work as a tool for you to make up your own stories as you go, and maybe that is all it wants to be - or that it can be - but if so, then I'm just not interested. I admit that is purely personal preference, but what I admire most about the scifi genre, is the chance to peak into someone else's mind, and see a glimpse of their imagination and vision of the future - and as such a reflection of their perception of the world, their dreams, hopes andfears ... all of that given form, made tangible. It's a lofty goal, I know, but the best games, books, movies, shows and comics always delivered just that.
    They were not just pretty to look at, or well acted, or big in scope or scale - "epic" -, full of gripping action ... but something alien and yet deeply human and relateable. A journey of the mind instead of just a well dressed-up distraction.
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