I’m flying low over Sylvanas, the third planet of the Azeroth system, heading towards a drop pod that I’d recently scanned. This is the 12th planet on which I’ve touched down and, although I feel like I’ve seen nearly everything No Man’s Sky has to offer, my eyes continue to dart around the planet surface just in case. But just as Medivh before it, Sylvanas has no new secrets to share.
I touch down next to the drop pod. My exosuit alerts me to the freezing temperatures of Sylvanas as I set foot on the ice planet. The hazardous environment doesn’t bother me as much as it once did, my Exosuit has been highly upgraded and this drop pod contains what I believe will be the final inventory slot. It still won’t be enough though. It’s never enough.
As I move to claim my prize I notice a green glow in the near distance. It’s the most colour I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been on the planet, so I investigate. It’s coming from a small opening that leads into a cave, the light from the green crystals emanating within. It’s eerie and beautiful, but not new. Like so much of No Man’s Sky, there is only so much you can see before you feel like you’ve seen it all. I’ve seen caves and crystals and everything that is on offer. Despite that, I head in.
I was only going to quickly poke my head into the cave, then go back and get my inventory slot and head off to the next planet. But the cave took a turn just a few steps in and I wanted to see what was around the corner. Then there was a dip and a crest. I took the chance to farm up some Plutonium. Eventually I found the exit to the cave, which had me come out on a cliff face overlooking a sea of white snow, a setting sun and a nearby planet casting a pink shade over the landscape. It wasn’t the most magical thing I’ve seen in No Man’s Sky, but it was magical none the less.
And then I turned around and went back. In total I’d spent nearly an hour completely distracted, achieved nothing and gotten nowhere. And I was completely satisfied.
People often ask the question, ‘What’s the point of No Man’s Sky?’ And I guess the answer is to get to the centre of the galaxy. There is a path to follow there, a narrative in the loosest sense of the word. That’s how you ‘beat’ No Man’s Sky. After spending about 20 hours in game I can tell you I doubt I’ll ever make my way to the centre.
We briefly touch on the No Man’s Sky problem in our 200 word review and, to be frank, they’ve been covered ad nauseam everywhere from Reddit to Time Magazine. This isn’t a perfect game and, from a critical perspective, there are a number of issues. But here’s the thing; I fucking love it anyway.
The problem that confronted No Man’s Sky in the months leading up to its release was that it became incredibly popular with people that were never, ever, going to like the game. Through a mix of excellent marketing, media hype and a genuine desire to see something that hadn’t been done before, No Man’s Sky not only appeared on the radar of people that were never going to like it, it got them thinking it was a game it’s not.
There has been a lot said about broken promises and deceptive trailers. I don’t know if you ever saw the Deceived trailer but I can tell you that Star Wars: The Old Republic is nothing like that trailer. This is what happens with game releases. Trailers are made to sell the game, developers talk about what they want in the game, what they hope they will make. No Man’s Sky somehow became a game that somehow everyone thought – or maybe hoped – they would love.
As you can see from our review, I’m a big fans of the game. I recognise its flaws but love it anyway. There is a parallel between that and how I feel about Uncharted compared to Jake. Jake and I both see the flaws in Uncharted, just as I see the flaws in No Man’s Sky. Jake, and the vast majority of people that play it, looks past the flaws in the Uncharted series. They think the strengths of the game are so strong that they vastly outweigh the flaws. For them, they do, for me they don’t. Neither of us is wrong, we just have a different opinion.
In the case of No Man’s Sky there is a far smaller section of people that feel as strongly about the strengths versus the weaknesses of the game. These are the people this game was made for in the first place. Let’s be honest, it’s a game about exploring the galaxy and naming creatures – does that really sound like it will appeal to as many people as an action game starring a treasure hunter, an amazing ensemble cast and some of the best writing and voice acting you’ll even find in a video game? Of course not.
If anything, this is a lesson to consumers about pre-ordering and why game reviewers, as opposed to ‘influencers’ are still so important. There has been, for a long time, much scuttlebutt and venom about the impartiality of some game reviewers. Maybe there is some truth to that, to be honest, I don’t know. What I do know is that No Man’s Sky made the vast majority of its sales before the reviews hit. It isn’t the first game to do that and it won’t be the last.
So maybe you bought No Man’s Sky and you regret it. Maybe you thought it was something it wasn’t. You might be angry at Hello Games, or bitter with the games industry in general. Those are valid ways to feel, I’ll grant you that. And I don’t want to suggest you shouldn’t get excited about games in development. One of the greatest feelings about being a gamer – and indeed a geek – is that incredible excitement at the prospect of a new game, movie, or whatever your poison is. The hype train is the most fun part of a game release.
But unless you’re made of cash, make sure the game you’re spending your hard earned on, and sinking your hours into, is a game that is made for you. I’ve made that mistake. Diablo 3 is a game I do not like. At all. Not even a little bit. And I knew I wouldn’t, I KNEW it. But the hype got me in so I pre-ordered before the reviews came out. All it would have taken was one review of the game and I would have remembered every reason I don’t enjoy games like that. But I didn’t. I bought it. I hated it.
So what is the point of my extended ramblings? No Man’s Sky is a good game. If you want to wander with no real purpose, if you have no interest in finishing, winning, being first, this is a game that – despite its frustrations, could keep you hooked for months, if not years. It’s almost as if the idea, more than the game, is what matters, to those that the game is for. It’s a freedom, an idea, a dream of something different.
If that sounds like it might not be for you. If you have to ask, ‘what’s the point?’ then I’d suggest stay away. It’s not for you, much like Pokemon GO is not for me. And if you bought it and regret it, next time wait for some reviews. There will never be a game that will suddenly be worse if you waited until a week after release to play. If you don’t believe me, go and play Expand, Firewatch, Hacknet or Portal 2, all great games that have been out for months or years.
And if the idea of not getting a game the day it comes out drives you crazy, I can tell you for certain, No Man’s Sky is not for you.