After years of development, legal battles over the use of the word ‘Sky’, flooding that nearly destroyed the game, and so much more, Hello Games has finally released their ultra-hyped title No Man’s Sky. To correlate with a well know quote – “We are the middle children of history. Born to late to explore Earth, born too early to explore space” – No Man’s Sky gives us middle children the chance to discover the secrets of an entire universe. And there are a lot of secrets.
No Man’s Sky doesn’t deliver its story in the way most of us are familiar with. There are no cut-scenes between romps of actions. In addition to that, there certainly aren’t NPCs who you can ask a limitless amount of questions to so you can gain a understanding of the universe and your place in it. In terms of delivery, there is very little story that is just handed to you. Instead, as you explore planets, interact with ruins or anomalies, and converse with other alien species, you are given mere tidbits of information that will, over time, provide you with a some understanding of the overall story. To be completely transparent, I have a decent understanding of what’s going on, yet I doubt I know half of the actual story. That’s exactly how No Man’s Sky feels. You will piece things together yourself, and then you’ll discover another aspect of the story that makes you re-evaluate what you think is going on. It’s not until much later in the game until you can feel confident that you understand what’s going on, provided that you paid attention throughout your journey.
The most incredible part of that journey are the procedurally generated planets and their moons. Hello Games boasts that there are 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets. That number does not include the the moons or space stations that have been procedurally generated as well. According to Hello Games‘ founder Sean Murray, “If a new planet in No Man’s Sky was discovered every second, it would take 584 billion years for them all to be discovered”. To put this in perspective, redditor SnowboarderZX shared some statistics based on Sean Murray’s approximation. The most mind boggling stat is that after discovering one planet every second for one-thousand years, you still have over 99.8% of the universe left to discover. So calling this game ‘massive’ still feels like an understatement.
Being procedurally generated, each planet/moon can take on a wide variety of aesthetics. There are planetary bodies that are barren, hosting nothing but small weeds and dirt, and then there vivid planets whose color pallets look like they were torn right out of a Dr. Suess book. The geology of the planets each take on their own form to complement the look of the planet. Some have only mountains or flatlands, while other have spiraling rocks floating above the surface or even rocky structure that just hang in the air. At first, this felt very Minecrafty, but it’s much easier to believe that this can happen in a space setting where gravity acts differently based on the structure of things, like the planet’s core. Plants adopt the same color scheme as the planet itself, but have color, shapes, or appendages added to them to make them stick out against the planet. You will see a repeat of certain flora, especially the ones that you can harvest Zinc or platinum from, but that doesn’t cause the experience to feel unauthentic. Plants that are common to the planet are the ones that show the most variety. Since they are also procedurally generated, each time you visit a new planet, or moon, you’ll be surrounded by new and exotic plant life. On the rare occasion, there are plants and tree that look to egregious to actually be real, but that’s most likely to assert the fact that you really are on an alien planet where things are, by human standards, weird and abnormal. This being said, even though they can some times feel strange and unfitting, 99% of the time, plants feel completely organic.
The plants on each planet aren’t the only thing that help bring it to life. Many planets in No Man’s Sky have the inclusion of animals and insect which are native to the planet. As you might have guessed, these lifeforms are all procedurally generated, giving each planet its own unique kingdoms and species that fit the evolutionary chain of that planet. Plus the game smartly incentivizes you to find and scan as many of these species as you can. Some of the species you find look great and act convincingly, and other species look like some of the abominations you’d find in a show like Rick and Morty. This is the one aspect of the game where procedural generation causes the game some hindrance. Whereas plants that don’t look real is a rarer occurrence, lifeforms that look to fantastical to be real are much more common. As I’m writing this, I’m being stared down by a life-form that is a mix between a gorilla and a slug with arms the size of Hulk Hogan. It looks like it has wings, but prefers to hop around like a child on a hopper ball. It looks utterly ridiculous and, flat-out unbelievable. Again, as a player and a critic, I can appreciate the fact that this universe is not something I’m suppose to understand (and perhaps Hello Games allow these creatures to exist to further that point), but the goal of this should be to convince players that they are somewhere which could actually exist. Running into a life-form that seems to outlandish to exist is the primary thing in No Man’s Sky that breaks me out the the experience.
No Man’s Sky lets you live out another geeky space fantasy: owning a starship. Every space station or trading post that has a pad where ships can land has the potential of a merchant landing there in a ship they will sell you, if the price is right. The amount of ships in No Man’s Sky is incredible. Towards the beginning, I felt like I had seen as many ships as the game had to offer, yet when I traveled a few solar systems away, there was a whole other cluster of new ships. I quite often find myself standing on the platform in my local space station just watching ships fly in. Ship range from the common fighter ship (that looks similar to military air-crafts), to massive cargo hauling ships, even to ships that look like giant metal bugs. The bigger, and more expensive ships, have more inventory space for caring cargo and installing upgrades to the ships capabilities, where as smaller ship are built to be more basic. I’m curious if certain spacecrafts within No Man’s Sky are native to specific areas of the galaxy because once I’d purchased my ship and traveled a few systems away, I haven’t seen another ship like it since. If that’s intentionally by design, it’s a great addition. It makes you feel like that ship is unique to you. It’s not like buying the same 2016 Honda Civic that hundreds of thousands of people already own, it’s like buying the Millennium Falcon, it’s your ship and only you have one.
Keep on the lookout for that one ship you love, because you will be spending a lot of time in it. Spacecrafts give you the freedom to travel anywhere in the universe that you want. While the universe is massive, and traveling around in it feels colossal, the time it takes to get to a planet or anomaly across the the solar system feel fair. The travel time isn’t instantaneous, and it shouldn’t be. We’re talking about planets that are light years away from each other, after all. Through use of your Pulse Engine, you can travel between points in the solar system at a plausible speed, while watching asteroids and bits of space garbage fly past your cockpit. Then when you reach your destination, you can fly straight into/onto it without having to wait for it to load. The only time a loading screen has ever been present during my gameplay is when I’m using the hyperdrive to travel between solar systems, and that screen is so flashy and quick that I’m not bothered by it at all.
When not flying between a planet and the nearest space station to sell your spoils, you can participate in space battles. Either a distress beacon will activate calling you to a nearby space battle, or hostile space carft will try and wreck you to steal your valuables. This is where the slots for ship customization that I mentioned earlier come into play. Through resource gathering, you can upgrade you shield and weapons to aid you in battles. Towards the beginning of No Man’s Sky, while using a crummy ship, any time this would happen, I would be forced to run because I was such an easy target. With time and numerous upgrades, however, any time enemy space ships tried to harass me, I would turn on my inner Spike Spiegal and go to work. See you Space Cowboy…
The things I’ve covered in this review barely scratch the surface of No Man’s Sky. There is an incredible amount of depth in this game, and exploring it is not only a fun but also rewarding. In the Day One Update, Hello Games included two additional paths to complete the game. There is, statistically, no way that your adventure will be the same as anyone else, and that aspect makes No Man’s Sky feel incredible. The sheer size of the universe not only makes you feel incredibly small within it, but makes everything you do, discover, or achieve feel monumental because you’re the only person who has done it. I am excited to see what players discover, because there is absolutely no way I could unearth everything on my own. For these reasons, No Man’s Sky is a game that I could recommend to anyone, with any background in gaming. You can play it as complex as you want and be rewarded for your effort, or you could play it in the most casual manor and the game will not punish you for doing so. No Man’s Sky is the first game that I have playing in a very long time that has felt unique and awe-inspiring to the caliber that this one does.