out perform // outlast // out work
It’s finally here. Since first hearing mention of No Man’s Sky nearly three years ago, I’ve jumped at any new scrap of information I could get my hands on. When it comes to video games I feel that I fall into a certain subcategory of player. I’m not huge on stressful games. While I love a good Smash Bros. night with my friends from time to time, the gaming industry really didn’t grab me with sports games, first person shooters, or even incredible stories like Dragon Age: Inquisition. Though I’ve tried playing all of those many times, I’m often left resenting the limited directions and options I’m pushed toward. I like the ability to roam around and do as I please, the option to create stories of my own independent from those the developers came up with. Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series and Mojang’s Minecraft were some of the first titles to really pull me in as an adult (my childhood was almost exclusively Nintendo). Sure, they were often rife with glitches and took plenty of heat from players who didn’t care for their style, but I found myself spending most of my leisure time within a relatively few games. I just didn’t get tired of them. Now, after years of anticipation, I am finally able to explore what Hello Games has been building for me.
One of the most frequently asked questions about No Man’s Sky is simply “What do you do in the game?” It’s a good question, but the answer isn’t easy. Instead of attempting to list all the possibilities (which I don’t know), I thought it might be interesting to look at what I did personally while playing the game for the first time. I had never played No Man’s Sky before its official PS4 release in the US, so this post is entirely based off of the first five hours I spent playing it. I did have a friend playing at the same time, so we were able to compare our experiences a little bit as we went along. Certain aspects of the game were the same for both of us, while others were completely different. For the first five hours made similar decisions, so there are plenty of things I won’t touch on in this post, but I hope that I give everyone a little bit more of a feel for what they’re about to get into.
The tutorial phase of No Man’s Sky places players on a random undiscovered planet next to the broken hull of a small single-man spacecraft. The player must locate a few specific resources in order to rebuild the damaged vessel. I found myself on a large, temperate planet full of glowing flowers, assorted cacti, deep caves and some odd armadillo-like rodents. As is my habit, I immediately began grabbing up every resource I could find, ignoring the tutorial directions for the time being and focusing on getting accustomed to the planet. I immediately found myself at odds with sentinal robots, who didn’t take kindly to my destructive behavior. The first battles were pretty easy, one or two floating robots I was able to dispatch with my default laser gun, and yielded interesting loot. The trouble with the way I started was that my inventory was full before I even thought to check which materials I was supposed to be looking for in order to repair my ship. Meanwhile my friend (playing his own game, but speaking with me through party chat) found himself in a far more precarious situation. He started in a frigid wasteland, a much more difficult area to survive without upgraded equipment. Through his experience we learned that different planets have different hazards: heat or cold, acid fog, aggressive plant life, etc. Sentinals seemed to roam everywhere, so I learned quickly to look around before using my weapon. After finally buckling down and finding the materials to fix my ship, I decided to stick around my planet a little while longer.
One of my favorite concepts about No Man’s Sky was the ability to discover and name things that you found. It took me a little while to figure out how to do so. Aiming my scope and holding it on a nearby creature, mineral, or plant allowed me to “discover” it, and pressing the options button allowed me to access a catalog-like menu in which I could upload and rename my discoveries. The game told me what percent of the planet I had discovered by species, not by any kind of distance, and I was rewarded with money for each. Though I was psyched to be able to name my favorite animals, I was relieved to discover that the game would name them for me as well. Personally, I decided to name a few interesting plants, all the animals, and planets, leaving the rest to AI. I was soon distracted by another element of the game: alien communication. When you begin No Man’s Sky, you are unable to understand any other civilized life forms you may encounter. You can still speak with them, offer trades, etc. (more on that later), but their speech comes out as nonsense. To learn the language of an alien species, you must find translations of specific words scattered across the planets. Knowledge stones and monoliths offer these translations, as do random small encounters with alien life. From what I saw, there was a clear definition between civilized, ship-flying alien species and the intergalactic animal kingdom. Once I had fixed my ship I was able to fly low over the planet’s surface and search for more of these translation spots. Buildings and stations of various sizes also dot the planet’s surface. For me they generally contained minor loot, but I grabbed up a powerful new gun in one nondescript building. With my inventory full to bursting, I finally decided to venture into space.
Leaving the planet was a pretty smooth process for me, but I found myself disoriented when I shot out into space. I crashed through several asteroids, damaging my shield but also harvesting materials in the process. I spotted what appeared to be several large ships and, still clumsy with the flight mechanics, crashed headlong into one of them. By chance I noticed that they were labeled “containers”, but after a few tentative shots into them I was attacked by something and took off in a random direction fearing for my life. I would guess there are some sentinal ships that come after you when you destroy things, but unfortunately I didn’t take the time to find out. I was fortunate enough to stumble on a space station in my panicked escape, totally altering the way I played the game. After a few minutes bumping into the rounded sides of the station I discovered the entrance and found myself in an empty bay area. Wondering if this was all that the station had to offer, I was a little disappointed. I discovered a small ramp at the side of the station and entered a door to find a solitary bar tender. I tried speaking with him, but unfortunately the only word I understood was “interloper.” Dejected, I turned to leave the space station. When I returned to the bay area, however, two ships were parked next to mine. As I neared them I was given the option to interact, finally coming to some trade options. The aliens, though I could not tell exactly what they were saying, offered to buy and sell various items, making different offers above or below the standard values for each (handily indicated next to their offers). I was also given the option to make an offer on their ships. I couldn’t afford even the cheapest craft, but I stuck around for a few minutes as they left and new ships came into the bay. One ship in particular caught my eye but, being broke, I was forced to watch it fly away.
Directly below the space station was an enormous red planet. I traveled down to check it out and discovered that it was a “dead” planet. It had no wildlife or vegetation, but was covered in minerals and ruins, even a few active outposts with alien sentries. I happened upon a massive shiny green blob of metal and began mining it, unaware that it was pretty valuable stuff, Emeril. After checking the price I scoured the dead planet for more, nearly maxing out my available inventory with Emeril. I headed right back up to the space station, sold my load for several hundred thousand units, and waited for the perfect ship to come my way. Eventually it did. I was able to snag this beauty for something like 600,000 units. The benefits of a new ship were lighter, easier controls and an expanded inventory (probably among other things). When I finally retired for the night, my friend and I had both acquired ships of our liking and were searching for more Emeril to sell off.
I probably should have put this near the beginning of this post, but honestly it seemed pretty secondary to my experience. In a recent Polygon article, Philip Kolar really emphasized the survival/material gathering factor of the game. In his opinion, it got a little distracting to have to repair his gun and suit constantly. I can see where he’s coming from, I guess, but I felt that it helped balance things for me. As he points out, “these problems seem to be fading the further into No Man’s Sky that I get. I’ve come across a few enhancements to my exosuit, granting more inventory slots, as well as bigger multi-tools that allow me to craft more mining and shooting upgrades. If I save up enough credits, I could even purchase a new spaceship that can store much more.” In my experience, this repair/gather cycle was part of what drove the game forward. Then again, that’s the type of player I am. I have a long attention span and a relaxed play style. Player opinions will differ widely, I assume, due to the availability of the resources they need. While I was lucky enough to be surrounded by all my basic materials, I’m positive there will be people who just can’t find them anywhere. As with any game, I think it all comes down to what you’re looking for.