Thoughts on No Man’s Sky

So, with the Foundation Update coming out for No Man’s Sky I figured now was a good time to talk about the game. Now I don’t hate No Man’s Sky but I have some very specific gripes that mean I might never return to the game. For those unfamiliar, No Man’s Sky is a space simulation game where you begin crashed on a randomly generated planet. After fixing your ship you begin to explore the galaxy, hoping from planet to planet. There are allegedly 18 quintillion worlds to explore as you make your way to the centre of the galaxy. Thus, begins a lonely journey as you mine resources, encounter abandoned settlements, meet alien traders, upgrade your ship, and scan new creatures. My personal favourite aspect of the core gameplay was encountering monoliths and slowly uncovering the languages of the three other species you encounter in the world. No Man’s Sky was also the perfect game to listen to podcasts while playing. There are quite a few instances where getting from point A to B might take a minute or two at most so while you wait you listen to your podcast. Now, from what you’ve heard No Man’s Sky sounds like a great game. Well, now to get into the bugbears.

No Man’s Sky was deceptively marketed. It’s a major thorn in the game’s side and one that sullies the game’s name in the core gaming market. Everything in the game’s trailers was technically in the game (except one or two elements that no one has discovered yet) but the way the advertising was crafted made only the best features of the game come to light. Now that is the job of advertising, but a big bugbear of this is that very little core gameplay was shown off. Almost no UI was shown, nor was the inventory which one spends mass amounts of time dealing with. The problem was that this game was advertised as the next big thing in the gaming world but it was built by a team of 20 odd people who faced numerous setbacks. It’s kind of like Pokémon Go in that sense. Pokémon Go was massively successful but Niantic was a small company within Google who lacked a PR manager. The problem on No Man’s Sky’s end is that in terms of marketing they were propped up by Sony and promoted everywhere. Sean Murray, the lead designer of No Man’s Sky, went on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night Show for Christ’s sake. Under normal circumstances, no regular indie game would be under the gaming scene’s scrutinising eye to this degree. Even Minecraft, the biggest indie game of all time, had its popularity build over time until it became an institution. In fact, Minecraft and many other survival crafting games that share its lifeblood are No Man’s Sky closest relative. The difference? All games of a similar vein released at around $20 USD and on a platform of being in ongoing public development.

On Steam, where I played No Man’s Sky, there is a platform known as Early Access. To my knowledge, no such system exists on PS4, the other platform that NMS released on. Xbox has a similar system but NMS didn’t release on Xbox. Early Access on Steam often lacks any sort of quality control, somewhat by design. Near anything can get on Steam and that’s not good for Steam or PC gaming but that’s a topic for another day. Anyway, on Steam Early Access there is a litany of games that follow the Minecraft model. A survival crafting game with few features and a very public development map. I’ve enjoyed some of these games, I’ve avoided the bad eggs mostly. To me, NMS is most like these games. Now, I’ve only got anecdotal evidence on this but I’ve heard that PS4 players around me are far more positive retrospectively than PC players. PS4 players have rarely, if ever, encountered a game like NMS. PC players encounter them daily, all of varying quality.

In fact, the biggest bugbear of mine is the price point on NMS. It was sold as a $60 USD premium gaming experience. This places it in a certain tier of gaming that is shared by the year’s biggest releases. NMS is priced the same as Call of Duty, the same as Watch Dogs 2, the same as Civilization 6; games designed and developed by teams five times the size of the NMS team. It’s put itself in the same category as these games in terms of price point but its quality is that of a highly polished $20 USD Early Access title. This dichotomy is where NMS failed and led to the disappointment that many felt about NMS. I had fun with NMS. I might compare it to an old girlfriend. I spent a lot of time with it when we were together. It was often what I thought about for a couple weeks. Then, long after we had broken up I began to see the flaws. The microcosms of a much bigger problem in the relationship. I enjoyed the time we spent together but I never want to go back. Maybe, once in a while, I look back longingly but other games have since come along and shown me how I deserve to be treated.

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