Burdened by a huge amount of hype and expectation, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky is finally on store shelves and in PC and PS4 devices, and the galaxy is now available to explore.
NMS is a survival science fiction game at its core. To be completely reductive, think about a cross between Elite Dangerous and Mine Craft. However in essence it is nowhere near these titles, and yet so much more.
Fundamentally, the game-play loop in NMS is bland. You begin stranded next to your crashed spacecraft on a deserted planet. You will need to fix your Exo-Suit, Multi-Tool and ultimately your space craft to proceed.
From there we launch into a sequence of game-play that has been the mainstay of many games in the past. Manage your inventory, find new technology blueprints to craft, trade with aliens, occasionally battle hostiles, rinse and repeat.
However, what makes NMS different from so many 4X (eXplore, eXpand. eXploit and eXterminate) games of the past is the scope.
There are something like 18 quintillion (that is an 18 with 18 zeros) planets in the NMS galaxy. You begin the game on a planet on the galactic edge, and can either go wherever you choose, or choose to be guided ever so slowly towards the galactic centre.
As you travel, you discover and scan new planets, flora and fauna. You can name each and upload your newly uncovered items to the game’s servers. So if a future traveller stumbles upon the same location, your metaphoric flag will be there in the ground.
Math tells us that this is unlikely, and even though there will be many folks playing the game, the chances of meeting somebody else (apart from a gigantic house party, perhaps at the galactic core) is even less likely.
Of course, whenever humans are set challenges of this kind, there will be somebody, or some conglomerate, who will ultimately work it all out, some Gunters perhaps (for fans of Ready Player One) will ultimately work out how to meet.
With scope comes bugs, particularly with a small development team; as such there are a smattering of rough edges, and we have experienced a few game-ending crashes. Nothing a reload did not fix, and nothing unforgivable given the scale of this game.
The other thing about scale and breadth is a sense of loneliness and isolation. This is not a hero’s story, you are a spec in the galaxy, and there is a sameness and hollowness about the minute-to-minute process in the games mechanics.
Whilst you meet and learn about other sentient creatures, and discover, log and upload a wide range of discoveries, each outpost is unmanned, each derelict spacecraft is, well, derelict, and there are no bustling cities, no thriving markets and minimal social interaction. In the words of Douglas Adams, space is really big.
Things may change as the core becomes closer, things may become more populated and activity may rise, but for now, on the outer rim there is a sense of discovery and wonderment, plenty to explore and exploit, a great deal to see.
Combat is awful, and best avoided (even the encounters with space pirates) and the more I write the more I realise perhaps this game is not fun. However, there is something marginally addictive about the realisation that nobody else will have the experience I am having.
Even though the numbers of parts are limited and repeated, the sum of those parts in NMS is engrossing and enticing. Happy exploring.