No Man's Sky is now finally in the hands of everyone that wants to play it, after a grueling three year wait. Yesterday saw the release of the PC build to a huge amount of players that waited for the version that allows for 4k support as well as customizable controls. The PS4 version hit shelves on August 9th. We've dug in and put a solid amount of time in and have a good feel to give, what we call.... a mini review. Join us and see if this is the game for you.
Note: While we will inevitably update our review as time goes on, this review covers what most players will experience within 5-10 hours play, which is adequate time to experience what the game is bringing to the table.
No Man's Sky starts with players stranded on a very, very unique planet that, you can safely say, no one has ever laid their pupils on before. This isn't because it's an obscure game, it's because the game produces trillions of procedurally generated planets that make up the game's universe (as I'm sure most of you have read a thousand times by now). The beginning of the game does a decent job guiding you what to do in those early moments to get your ship repaired so that you can be on your way into outer space. But, what we found is that space is really not the place to be in this game. In fact, the space portions are the weaker part of this amazing adventure and sometimes, it isn't quite clear where you're going.
Let's back up and start from the beginning moments. Upon gathering all your resources you will have all these 'head asplode' encounters as you crest a vista and see alien life running around for the first time. Or, when you notice you can blast holes in minerals and hide in there from the planet's harsh elements as your suit recovers. You actually feel like you're on another planet. It all just feels like it did when you played games as a kid; everything was just awesome. And make no mistake; awesome No Man's Sky is.
The game really shines on it's lush diverse planets that just continue to dazzle as you truck through different solar systems. The landscapes vary wildly from cold white mountainous terrain to purple and brown tubular rock formations that traverse horizontally into the distance. It's a pretty wild experience and truly does give the feeling of exploration.
As you explore around the alien landscapes, you suddenly remember you need to get some plutonium, or whatever the f*ck, because this is just one planet and you want to see them all! So, you're all set, you blast off into space.
WHOA. Now you feel like it has really begun. You fly around a little while, see a few planets and ships...then think, well okay, what next!?
Good question. That's when excitement took a backseat to confusion. What do you do? Where do I go? There's really not much of any direction. You notice you can land on another planet, so you inevitably do. You notice you can craft some stuff and you need x of this and y of that, so you get it. You notice a ton of alien life you can scan and rename... you do that too, and it's all awesome. But the question remains: what do you do?
No Man's Sky is a sandbox game to the truest sense, well if each grain of sand represented a planet... or something. The point is there so much to do, it feels like there's nothing to do. We had a hard time understanding how to get the hyperdrive doing something. Once we found that out, we hyper jumped. After hyper jumping, we realized that triggered some sort of in-game narrative that you're supposed to follow. I'm not going to lie, in a game this big, I was really relieved to have some direction because I didn't know where or what do do next. But why did it all feel so cryptic? I feel like these kinds of things should be very clear on an objectives screen somewhere (if there was, it wasn't evident and we missed it). Maybe it was by design to keep it feeling open, but it left us confused. We literally said "what do you do?"
The lack of direction is exacerbated by the, again, seemingly cryptic star map. The map doesn't feel organized as you fumble through the functions leaving you worried you're going to press the wrong thing and end up in a black hole or something to get you into literal or figurative space shit. There's little guidance to what does what and it kind of makes you want to play it really safe. After you do figure it out, it feels pretty simple in design, but it just doesn't give you enough up front for any kind of confidence. There's ALL these stars, which one do I go to? We just couldn't tell at first.
When you're not fighting with the star map or exploring beautiful landscapes, you're probably in space. In other games like Elite Dangerous, space is the big picture and planets are secondary. That is the exact opposite in NMS. You will spend majority of the time on a planet, exploring what it has to offer. I feel like it was a bit of a missed opportunity as when you're in space, you're really just looking for where to land next as all the really big points of interest are on the surface of a planet. There are some things to do in space, but here it really does just feel like the space between planets, truly living up to the namesake. There are space stations, but they feel sparse inside. When you fly into one, it auto docks you to a pad. It's always empty until some NPCs suddenly start showing up. I've never docked into a station that already was populated, which is a shame as it would make it feel like it was bustling instead of just a barren tron-looking hallway.
You won't be doing much in either space or on planets without learning some controls, not that they are really complicated (for better or worse). The controls are far from bad, but they have an arcade-y feel to them. Coming from Elite, where you have menus for toggles for each part that powers your ship, NMS might leave you wanting more. There's no landing procedure, you just press X. There's no docking request, you just barrel towards it and it takes over. I actually feel like this is the part of the game that is lacking most. It's a space sim, but not really in the spacecraft sense, more in just how it generates the universe.
It's not to say those are deal-breakers, but it's worth noting for those that are looking for a space sim or something that is pick up an play. It's kind of it's own thing, which is good! It feels like it falls somewhere between Metroid Prime, Space Quest (III), and Elite Dangerous. Meaning, it has colorful planetary life to scan and observe, a narrative and progression that feels like a true quest, wrapped into a (literal) universe that is so big that it truly feels like you're out there.
In summary, No Man's Sky is a quite a treat to behold, with stylized unique visuals that can truly make you smirk and nod with pleasure while simultaneously lol'ing at some of the abominations of creatures . It has exceptional depth in crafting, exploring, lore, and freedom that most games will never touch. Despite it's flaws, there's not much like it out there making it totally worth your time.
This review is based on the PC (Steam) release.