I can't quite think of a game in recent memory that generated as much hype as No Man's Sky. Players are able to explore within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open universe with essentially infinite planets to visit; well, 18 Quintillion to be exact, but seeing as you're never going to see them all in your lifetime, i'll stick with infinite. What's the goal of the game? Survival and exploration, with resources available on each of these generated planets, players will do their best to reach the ultimate goal, reach the centre of the universe.
Not that the game ends there, the selling point behind No Man's Sky was that as there are infinite planets, each varying in climate and fauna (we’ll touch more on this later) to visit, therefore an infinite number of different scenarios and opportunities are presented to the player. I mean, you get to name a planet and claim it as being yours if you discover it, pretty cool ey?
However, these scenarios on each planet, are unfortunately not all they're talked up to be. Short anecdote here; In this office, several of our team members relayed to me how excited they were to play in the days coming to NMS’ release. The day after its release, I received gleaming reviews, notably for the game's visuals, and open play. Naturally, I went and purchased it myself, and initially, couldn't wait to head home to play. Fast forward two weeks, and the reviews have changed, in some ways oh so slightly, in others, monumental. Despite the numerous bugs that plagued users within the game's first week of release, there are some underlying issues that this writer believes will leave No Man's Sky collecting dust next to your copy of FIFA 16 very quickly.
No real Goal orientated play
As previously mentioned, the game is loosely based on two premises, survival, and reaching the centre of the universe. Both plausible, with the former at catalyst for many video games (The Last of Us is my favorite FYI), but it's the road to the latter that is one of the biggest issues for me. Reaching the centre of the universe, is a long, grueling process that consists of essentially, repeatedly visiting planets, with no main missions, very little contact with other life, constructing warps cells to move to the next system or developing your exosuit/multitool (these sound cool, but it's all very basic). In addition, there are no side missions, no real obstacles besides the occasional sentinel coming down, no real surprises. All games, realistically have one defining objective that the player strives for in an attempt to truly complete the game. However, this path is filled with confrontation, problems between them and their goal, varying obstacles that stop you in your tracks, each one slightly harder than its predecessor. NMS’ road to “glory” is paved with, well, nothing that will knock your socks off. Exploration is always appealing, but its appeal is dependant on depth and detail of what's being explored, which carries on to my next point.
The game is repetitive
Visually, NMS is an impressive feat. Within the first few planets being viewed, you cannot help but be super impressed by the art, design of plantation and even wildlife, each varying in colour, shape and architecture. However, this process invariably, becomes extremely limited, as the more planets you visit (remember, there's 18 Quintillion), you cannot help but feel that air of deja vu progressively growing each time you land. The colours, fauna and wildlife you once adored have become repetitive, they change ever so slightly, but it's easy to see the obvious and overwhelming similarities. The prospect of infinite planets is interesting, but if they are all the same, is it really “that” interesting. Yesterday, when discussing the game's pros and cons with a colleague, he said something that stuck with me about NMS, something that I feel summarized my point to a tee. “I'd rather have 20 planets that are all completely different, than Quintillions that are all the same”, a very straightforward and undescriptive assessment yes, but an assessment that perfectly highlights the game's massive size being an unneeded luxury instead of lauded defining feature. People, gamers, adore rich content, and dedication to detail. Initially, it's all there, but as you go on, the details you lauded so much become just another reason why you should be finishing that report that's due tomorrow, and not procrastigamming.
During your mission for survival, players will be presented with the occasional opportunity to flex their combat muscles, during three potential situations, Dogfighting in space, Fighting wild animals, and facing the sentinels. While some of the action is visually appealing, the combat itself is unimaginative, and requires very little skill to execute. The prospect of aiming is proven redundant, as the ammunition homes in on your targets. However, when the ammunition doesn't home in, trying to aim at a target is near impossible, counter intuitive don't you think. Furthermore, if the situation looks like you’re going to lose, you can quite simply run away? No risk, no skill required, the combat is just there rather than being necessary.
The greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment. NMS was touted as the next big thing, Its ability to procedurally generate a universe on such a gargantuan scale, that was easily downloadable, was no small feet; NMS has indeed paved the way for other large scale adventure games. Unfortunately, in the games quest to be revolutionary and to give people something they want, they forgot to give people what they need, and in the gaming world, where critics relentlessly come in the millions, not addressing their needs is a dangerous game to be playing (pardon the pun).