No Man’s Sky, the long anticipated space exploration game, released recently on both PS4 and PC. The gaming community hyped it up since its first announcement. But did it live up to expectations?
I have invested around 25 or so hours into the game so far since its launch. I wasn’t particularly over-excited for No Man’s Sky. It looked enjoyable, and I love space games. However, I was also satisfied with my repertoire of available space exploration games as it was. With that in mind, I cautiously watched from the sidelines, avoiding too many spoilers, and looked forward to the game coming out so I could try it for myself. It’s safe to say I didn’t buy into the hype too much.
That said, I do very much enjoy No Man’s Sky. I also have a lot of criticisms for it. It is not without its flaws, and at the moment it seems that the gaming community is divided: either they love the game and think its perfect as it is, or they hate it and scorn Sean Murray for his somewhat misleading statements leading up to the game’s release. I fall a little in the middle.
Here is my No Man’s Sky review after spending a substantial amount of time in game, exploring three systems and numerous planets (both inhabited and completely empty.)
What is No Man’s Sky?
No Man’s Sky is, simply put, a procedurally generated space game. It features bright and colourful planets mixed equally with dull and lifeless ones. Some planets have an abundance of wacky looking creatures. On others, you may find nothing but interestingly shaped plant-life. A lot of the time you’ll also bump into alien lifeforms. All of this is thanks to No Man’s Sky‘s impressive procedural generation engine.
Players can choose to follow a sort of storyline with plenty of direction and a bit of a helping hand, or they can, like me, decide to explore freely. The latter option feels relaxing and very enjoyable, but I admit it has left me in some sticky situations (such as not finding a particular blueprint I needed — which players who chose the slightly more walked path will be pointed towards after they jump to their second system — for a pretty long time.)
The “purpose” of the game, if there is one for you and you’re not just aimlessly exploring, is to reach the galactic core and see what lies there while following the story. There is a sort of storyline to follow, and apparently multiple endings. However, if you just want something chill and pretty to play, No Man’s Sky provides that too.
My first impressions were honestly pretty negative. If I were writing a “first impressions” review in particular, it probably wouldn’t have done so well. The game was sluggish, to say the least. There were regular minor lag spikes that seemed to be CPU load related, and as I had decided to stream my first look at the game that didn’t go down so well. My whole system hung briefly at regular intervals, particularly when I scanned anything. (This was resolved, I will explain how later.)
I noticed a certain lack of direction at the beginning. In fact, players are presented with a pretty hefty decision to make within the first five minutes — will you take Atlas’ direction, or explore freely? There’s very little context to this decision, and it may have a pretty big impact on the game. Both paths will eventually lead to the end, but it seems that exploring freely might be a little faster, though will also be further lacking in some fairly key points. One example is it took me much longer to get the prompt to search for the Antimatter blueprint than it seems to take for those who take Atlas’ direction. Other players report it taking even longer than it took for me.
However, once I got into it a bit, I was quickly absorbed in exploring my home planet and seeking out weird and interesting creatures. Sentinels attacked me almost immediately, and it took me a little while to figure out how to stop that from happening, but for the most part I enjoyed my first experience. My planet looked awful, but I found some adorable creatures so it all balanced out.
What No Man’s Sky Does Well
No Man’s Sky is pretty. This struck me as one of the biggest things I noticed after my performance issues. The graphical style is pleasing to the eye, and refreshing for someone who loves space games and has played a lot of “realistic” ones. The gameplay is simple, but effective. Apart from the initial hiccups, I really enjoyed my first night of exploring and went back to the game immediately the next day, sinking a further eight or so hours into it in pretty much one sitting.
For gamers who like to collect things, the feeling is definitely there when discovering creatures and “completing” planets. You can 100% planets by discovering all the creatures on them, and I feel a drive to go out there and do just that. Everything being procedurally generated adds to this thrill. There are players who haven’t left their first system yet. I have a few friends who are still on their first planet. There’s plenty to see and lots to discover.
There’s a certain addictive feeling to gameplay like this. I am not a completionist by any means. However I do feel the urge to 100% planets as I land on them. This is a new feeling to me!
What No Man’s Sky Doesn’t Do Well
Unfortunately there was a lot of bad in there with the good. However, there is a caveat. I want it to be clear that I do enjoy the game, and am still actively playing it. I went in with very few expectations. This means I didn’t feel overhyped. I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t expect too much and therefore it’s not purely my fault that I’m a little frustrated with these things. So bear with me.
First of all, the performance is pretty poor. It’s getting better with experimental patches and, in my case, restricting how many cores the game is allowed to run on. However it is important to note that on release, for many players, No Man’s Sky performed terribly. I have a PC that is more than capable of running any modern game on full Ultra settings in 1080p at 60 FPS minimum. My CPU is beefy, even if it is last generation. Being told that it’s “just my set-up” was not what I expected when I complained and asked for help. In defence of Hello Games, they didn’t say that to me directly, but when hordes of PC gamers complained that the game wasn’t running very well, their response was pretty dire. It’s an edge case for your particular PC build. Some players experience issues because their GPU and CPU has some kind of “weird” interaction. Your GPU must be capable of running OpenGL 4.5. Your settings are too high for your spec. No. These are excuses. It is improving, but when a large host of streamers cannot stream your game comfortably because it causes their PC to grind to a halt or their webcam to lag on screen or any other number of issues, you listen. You do not blame. You try to help.
No Man’s Sky is also missing a lot of features that were promised by the developers. While I don’t particularly miss these features and wasn’t looking forward to them at all, the way the developers communicated about their absence is what disappoints me. Calling out other space sims for “not having realistic physics” and claiming that you do, such as orbiting stars and such, then not including them? Poor form, Mr. Murray. There is a huge list of features that were promised but not included, and I am not going to bore you by listing them here. You can read them on this page on a website called One Man’s Lie if you’re interested. The biggest complaint I have is that the devs still released videos the week before the release featuring things that didn’t make it into the game.
The biggest complaint players seem to have though, is that No Man’s Sky is quite repetitive. Players fly from planet to planet, and warp from system to system, just to land, check out the scenery, scan a few creatures, and move on. There isn’t a lot of depth to the game at all. There is a story, but it’s fairly mild and feels like it’s in the background. While the planets and creatures are different, a lot of it starts to feel very samey after a while. I’ve seen a lot of creatures that look almost identical, and very few outliers. Plants are almost all the same, except with a slight recolouring from time to time. Apart from upgrading your ship, suit and tool, I can’t think of many other things to do on my journey.
Should you buy No Man’s Sky?
Despite all of the downsides I have listed above, I do enjoy the game. I don’t plan to stop playing it any time soon. I might have to stop streaming it because of its performance issues, but I enjoy playing it in my PJs and relaxing in the evenings. However I think it’s important to note that No Man’s Sky is not for everyone.
If the idea of spending hours on one planet looking for that one final creature you cannot find anywhere doesn’t appeal to you? Probably not a good idea to play No Man’s Sky. Unless of course you find joy in racing other players to the core to see what lies there. If you need a lot of direction and story and depth, this is also sadly not the game for you.
And even if it is the game for you? I struggle to recommend No Man’s Sky. I enjoy it a lot, but it is definitely not what Hello Games promised. In fact, a lot of what they promised simply doesn’t exist. Also, I have to believe they were purposefully vague about multiplayer because they knew so many players wanted it, but it simply wasn’t there. You can see other player’s discoveries but it is impossible to meet anyone else. The universe is very lonely. For these reasons I can’t in good conscience recommend that you buy this game. At least, not for the full price.
If you’re still on the fence, watch a few videos and streams. Ask streamers questions about their experiences. I stream the game on my Twitch channel about once or twice a week at the moment, so feel free to stop in and ask any questions you might have. I don’t recommend throwing your money at the company on a whim even if it is a game that appeals to you. It is very expensive for the content that is provided.
Did you decide to pick up No Man’s Sky? What are your thoughts on the game so far?