When it was first revealed, No Man’s Sky became one of the most hyped games of recent memory. With a premise that promised to give players an entire universe to explore, many gamers immediately took notice, as did the industry itself, with Sony even closing one of their E3 presentations with an extended look at the game. When it was released in August 2016, however, No Man’s Sky’s reception pulled a complete one-eighty, with many not only deriding it as a major disappointment, but that it’s developer Sean Murray and studio Hello Games flat-out lied about what the game had to offer, with many promised features being nowhere to be found. But is No Man’s Sky really that bad?
The short answer is yes. Yes it is.
If there is any area in which No Man’s Sky kept its promises, it’s in its size. No Man’s Sky is a massive game. But therein lies the game’s biggest problem: it’s so focused on making its universe big, that it forgets to fill it with anything meaningful, or even fun.
As the developers were quick to brag about at every turn, the game “procedurally generates” its universe through an AI. There are an endless number of planets constantly being generated, with different minerals, creatures, and environments being spawned on them. Players begin as a crash survivor on a random planet, and must mine materials so they can repair their ship, at which point they can take to the stars and visit whatever planets they wish.
Really, there’s not much else to it. You’re more or less constantly farming materials you find scattered around a planet, so you can refuel your ship, recharge your mining equipment, and craft upgrades to your ship, bodysuit and equipment. You do all this pretty much just so you can move on to another planet and repeat the process.
No Man’s Sky is one of those games where the experience feels tedious and monotonous to the point of becoming utterly pointless. Nothing you do has any real purpose, or even an affect on the game world. You just get materials, then use them so you can get more, leaving you to wonder why you’re bothering to get them at all.
Sure, there are some other endeavors to partake in, like space travel, discovering new species of plants and animals, and even finding alien cultures to gain (or lose) favor in, and artifacts to uncover. But they all ultimately feel empty and just direct you back to more gathering.
The space travel in particular is a huge blunder. Traveling from one planet to the next feels like an absolute chore. The amount of time it takes you to get from planet to planet is ridiculous. Even when using the warp boost, it still takes far too long. What’s worse is that when traveling through space you’re constantly getting bombarded by asteroids (which, you guessed it, are there so you can farm their materials). So even when you are boosting you have to repeatedly stop to swerve away from oncoming asteroids.
Hello Games was all too ready to tout about the complete lack of load times when taking to space, but the length of time it takes to travel through the cosmos is more time-consuming than any loading screen ever was. Maybe Hello Games was aiming for a sense of “realism” in regards to the time it takes to travel between planets, but perhaps they should have stopped to think that maybe there’s a reason why video games often avoid such realism. I’m not even exaggerating, it took me a half hour just to reach my second planet (while boosting, mind you). I am being completely serious when I say I would have had more fun watching a loading screen than I did mindlessly going forward and avoiding the occasional asteroid for all that time.
Probably the best moments of the game are hearing the roars and cries of mysterious creatures in the distance, and then discovering a new beast after a bit of searching. Unfortunately, even this is merely a relative compliment, because the animals don’t really do much of anything. You can scan them to log them as your discovery, and you can kill them to (surprise) harvest their materials, but otherwise, their role in the game is no more noteworthy than anything else. To top it off, the creatures that are randomly generated through the game’s AI usually look pretty goofy, thus taking away any potential majesty of discovering them.
Ugly things aren’t just limited to the game’s creatures, either. The game as a whole is rather garish to look at. It seems like no matter where you go, No Man’s Sky bombards players with obnoxiously bright colors mixed in with uninspired worlds. It’s simply an ugly game to behold.
It isn’t just in how things look, but even the technical aspects of No Man’s Sky leave a lot to be desired. You can mine giant mounds of gold from the bottom, and the remaining gold will be floating in midair in what seems to be a gross oversight in the game’s physics. I’m all for floating environments in games, provided they’re part of the game’s world. But this just comes off as a lack of technical polish.
Of course, the game’s most notorious flub-up is the lack of multiplayer, which was for a long while one of the game’s most hotly touted features. Throughout its development, Sean Murray couldn’t stop referencing the multiplayer aspects of No Man’s Sky, consistently referring to them as being similar to those found in Dark Souls or Journey. Although it was always said that – because of the massiveness of the game’s universe – players crossing paths with one another was highly unlikely, the promise that players could potentially meet and interact with each other’s discovered worlds was probably the game’s most anticipated feature. Though said feature has since been completely debunked by players themselves. Players are unable to meet up with one another, nor do their actions alter each other’s worlds. The only hint you have of other players’ existence is the occasional finding of a previously discovered object or creature (which will display the name of its discoverer).
In case it sounds like things in No Man’s Sky couldn’t get any worse, they can. The final nail in No Man’s Sky’s coffin is the control itself. Your character is played in first-person mode, but you have to wonder if the developers ever played a first-person game before. Your character moves sluggishly, turns awkwardly, and simply doesn’t feel right to control. It feels like you’re controlling a tank, without the fun that might come with actually controlling a tank. Even the menus are cumbersome to navigate!
It’s easy to see why No Man’s Sky ended up disappointing so many people. Just about every aspect of the game lacks anything resembling fun. You can’t help but feel that Hello Games simply thought that the idea of a virtual universe was enough of a selling point, and that they completely overlooked thinking of ways to make a compelling game within said universe.
It’s rare that a game falls this far below expectations. But No Man’s Sky falls flat on its face, and then somehow continues to fall through the floor. No Man’s Sky couldn’t be more in love with how massive its universe is. But in reality, all it is is a whole lot of nothing.
6 thoughts on “No Man’s Sky Review”
I am not surprised a game that uses procedural generation to build its world is dull and uninspired.
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Looks like No Man’s Sky ends up in the same place as walking simulators despite getting there in a different way. Walking simulators have a problem with not having enough content, and therefore what they focus on tends to be boring. No Man’s Sky has a problem with having way too much content, and therefore lacks any kind of focus at all. It’s like if an Elder Scrolls installment lacked a main campaign, a backstory, and sidequests.
That whole issue with the load times is a way of solving the problem, but missing the point of the original complaint.
It seems like the ultimate failure of this game is that it technically delivered most of what it promised, and it turned out to not be a good thing. If it counts as an indie game, would you say it’s the worst one you’ve played?
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Yes, I would say No Man’s Sky is the worst indie game I’ve played. It’s joyless. It’s the anti-Undertale.
Very well said.
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Good read, I agree with most of what you’re saying even if I’ve never played it, if that makes sense, :P. From the moment it was revealed at VGX, I knew No Man’s Sky was bound to disappoint. People overreacted immediately and assumed so much about this game. But it didn’t stop there and we can’t solely blame the consumer for its overhype. I’m sure it was initially intended to be an indie game with a small hook of getting into a spaceship, taking off, flying through space, and landing on another random planet. And hey, for a small $20 indie game, that would have been pretty cool. But then PlayStation threw funding towards it to make it a $60 retail exclusive and the expectations grew. Then, Hello Games began to make empty promises and ultimately flat-out lie to consumers, expectations grew further. Then, the marketing for this game (including an interview with Stephen Colbert on his brand new CBS show) began to balloon and expectations grew even further. All the while, nearly everyone overlooked how empty and boring this game looked despite its calling card being that it’s literally bottomless. And it was right before our eyes the entire time. How many times did Hello Games show the same randomly generated demo of landing on a planet and just scanning whatever creatures and locations came out of their randomized blender? I never bought this game’s hype for a second but that’s not to say I haven’t been bamboozled by a game before myself. I paid $60 each for Assassin’s Creed Unity, Sega’s Iron Man movie tie-in, and most recently Mafia III. All three game disappointed me greatly and while the developers and publishers could be ethically questioned, it’s caveat emptor.
If this game didn’t have one article of publicity or third party funding, I’d be interested to see how it would have gone over as a $20 indie. That said, I pretty much hate randomly generated games. It takes away from game design almost entirely. I also read your recent piece on Limbo/Braid/Bioshock and knock them all you want for being pretentious, there’s no denying that those games have clever game design and an impressive level of ambiance. It’s more than No Man’s Sky can say.
Sorry for the long comment but I just think the story behind this game is fascinating. It’s a cautionary tale in a way. I just read over some of your animation reviews and really enjoyed the trip. I have a huge soft spot for Robots and the original Ice Age. Certainly two of the better non-Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks computer animated movies.
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This is the very reason I always avoid “procedurally generated” games. With a smaller map developers can fit in more content which ultimately equates to more fun. Good read and good points.
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