No Man’s Sky prides itself on its four gameplay pillars: explore, trade, fight, and survive. Each pillar plays an important role in your journey to the center of the universe or whatever journey you decided to embark on. It’s a game that truly lets you choose your path to success. Unfortunately, the vast amount of choices can’t save Hello Games’ ambitious open-universe from incredibly frustrating errors and ultimately becoming a repetitive loop with 18 quintillion planets that hardly differentiate from one another.
When you begin No Man’s Sky, you wake on one of the many procedurally generated planets. Right from the start, you are tasked to explore the vast landmass for materials to repair your damaged ship. Exploration is the main focus of the game. No matter what actions you take in order to survive, trade, or fight, exploration is the origin of all of those processes. Fortunately, exploration is the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Every time I wandered onto any given planet, I found myself entranced in gathering materials, discovering new wildlife, and learning new languages. However, the sense of wonder recedes once you uncover the gameplay loop. While there is still fun to be had once you figure it out, it boils down to a repetitive set of steps to succeed in your seemingly everlasting journey.
Like the gameplay loop, the planets also became an infinite loop of repetition. No Man’s Sky‘s procedurally generated planets produced some of the most astonishing vistas with its unique color palette, unusually designed creatures, flora, and the planet-filled skies. However, these characteristics get tiresome as you progress further into the game. Every subsequent planet you visit become increasingly familiar as you travel throughout the universe. For the first few hours, you truly feel like you are discovering new and unique planets with its own climate and aesthetic. Just a few short hours later, planet variety seems to wear thin. Every characteristic of any given planet is essentially a debilitating meter, enemy, or material hindering your ability to explore.
Materials are incredibly important to each gameplay pillar, but are especially intrinsic to your survival. Whether you are walking on an arctic world or warping to the next system, materials are imperative to every move you make. Simply walking outside of your ship depletes your suit’s life support. Since the game is designed to not leave you stranded, the essential materials (Plutonium, Thamium9, Zinc, Heridium) are fairly abundant. Only once did I myself intensely searching for materials. Even in that situation, it was hardly a struggle to find the materials I needed and more of an annoyance. These annoyances carry over to every aspect of survival. Most notably, the continuous depletion to your suit’s life support system. This obstacle wouldn’t be bothersome if it’s meter didn’t diminish so quickly. You can upgrade your suit (as well as your ship and multi-tool) to extend its use, but this occupies one of the strangely few inventory slots your suit has to offer.
Inventory management is a nightmare in No Man’s Sky. The sparse amount of inventory slots you are given at the beginning of the game is decidedly inadequate. Rather than exploring a planet for hours on end, you are regularly filling your suit and ship’s inventory. This forces you to leave the planet and return to the nearest space station to trade in all of your valuable possessions. Inventory slots can be found and bought at various locations. You will always find an inventory upgrade at a space station if you have an Atlas Pass. Otherwise, you can occasionally find them at planetary stations. The first upgrade costs 10,000 credits and incrementally increases by that amount each time you upgrade. By the time you purchase your sixth slot, you are spending 60,000 credits, which is quite a bit considering the worth of some of the common materials you’ll find yourself regularly trading.
Space stations are regularly found in each system you visit. These stations act as hubs to save your game, trade your unwanted goods, and purchases wanted resources. As you dock your ship, you will notice a variety of ships entering and exiting the facility. These are not just here for show. You can purchase each ship you come across if you have enough credits. With inventory space so scarce, it is beneficial to purchase a new ship. It will not only allow you to carry more, but will allow you to upgrade your ship without feeling like you have exasperated your inventory.
There are two ways to make cash in No Man’s Sky. You can scan every living and nonliving entity on a planet to upload in return for credits, or trading materials and goods to a vendor. What makes it unique from other games is the in-game economy. Whether you visit a trading post at the system’s space station or on-planet trade ports, each system you visit has a different value for every trade commodity or material you find throughout your adventure. Its increase or decrease in value is boldly written in a green or red percentage next to the value itself. If not for the lack of inventory slots, the trade system would be my main source of income. However, the inability to gather an abundance of items led me to scanning everything my eyes can identify.
As you explore the plethora of planets, various forms of wildlife, plantlife, rocks and minerals can be found and uploaded to the game’s database for you to name. Like the planets they are housed in, each one is procedurally generated creating some interesting lifeforms. As you traverse each planet, you can scan the terrain and it’s species using the multi-tool’s analysis visor. Every time you make a new discovery, a few credits are added to your bank. While this method of capital gain isn’t the most sufficient, it is the easiest and, at times, an amusing way to make a quick buck.
The wildlife found on each planet are not the only living beings in No Man’s Sky. Space stations will usually house a sentient alien lifeform with its own distinguished language. Learning any of the game’s languages can be done by visiting monoliths and ruins or by talking to the aliens themselves. Additionally, talking to these aliens may reward you with blueprints for upgrades or better equipment. It also may hurt you in the most literal sense. Fluency in each alien race’s language isn’t a requirement to solve the mysterious riddles as you approach them, but it certainly helps.
The last gameplay pillar, combat, is the most underwhelming of the bunch. Planetary combat is only initiated if you anger the sentinel drones that roam around planets, or anger one of the planet’s indigenous species. Once that occurs, the multi-tool transforms into your combat weapon. Like any first-person shooter, you use the joysticks to move and aim, and the right trigger to shoot. However, pinpoint accuracy is not a requirement for success. If the aiming reticle is on or near your target, your shots will hit your opposing enemy. This feature is due to the clunkiness of the overall planetary combat system. Shooting an agile drone is difficult when your aim movement is incredibly slow. Escaping an attack can also be troublesome when your sprint speed isn’t fast and your life support drains faster.
On the flip side, interplanetary combat is simple, fun, and rewarding. As you fly your ship full of valuables, hostile ships will attempt to steal your resources by destroying it. Once ship combat commences, movement is as simple as using the right joystick to aim and the X-button to shoot. As you prepare your attack, two reticles appear on screen. The main reticle indicates where your ship’s bullets will shoot while the secondary reticle specifies where you should aim to successfully hit your target. Destroying a ship yields materials, some of which are rare like iridium, gold, or copper. The only frustrating element to these combat sequences was the process in which you had to repair your ship. To do so, you have to open your inventory menu and watch your cursor leisurely point to the required material as your ship gets bombarded with incoming projectiles. Regardless of this frustrating process, the in-flight combat produced some of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in the game.
No Man’s Sky‘s soundtrack, performed by the British experimental group 65daysofstatic, nails the tone Hello Games was seeking. From ambient and spacey lullabies, to fast pounding melodies, each song perfectly exemplifies the situation the track queues at. I found myself listening to the soundtrack outside of the game itself. Supermoon and Asimov are two stand-out tracks that everyone should listen to.
A game as ambitious as this is bound to have it’s fair share of problems. There is one fault in particular that is permeating throughout the digital copies of No Man’s Sky. I am one of the unfortunate recipients of this aggravating fault. In my experience, after around 25 hours of play time, I acquired the CE-34878-0 error message a total of 25 times. It would occur at random times, but mostly while I attempted to warp to another system. It’s an unnecessary and unacceptable frustration that should ever exist in a game, especially one that was delayed on multiple occasions.
No Man’s Sky is an ambitious project for any team to endure. For a team with less than twenty members, this is an impressive feat for the developer and for game design as a whole. The game’s scope and sense of discovery alone is worth the price of admission. However, it isn’t without it’s faults. On-planet combat, while insignificant to the overall experience, is clunky and senseless. The lack of inventory space hinders your ability to enjoy the satisfying facets of the game. The promise of variety in each of the 18 quintillion planets seems to be lost in a complicated algorithm. Most notably, the error that persisted throughout my experience is practically game-breaking. Despite its faults, I would recommend this game without question. Howbeit, because of the debilitating error, this is not the case.