No Man's Sky has released, and boy is it a divisive game. Over on the hallowed battlegrounds of Metacritic, Professional gaming sites have given it a conglomerate score of 68, with the only truly high scores (90) released - perhaps unsurprisingly - by Playstation Lifestyle Magazine. IGN Spain, and Time Magazine. As far as the user reviews go...welllll, I'll get into that in a moment.
Since I like to end things on a positive note, I'll go ahead and start this discussion with the absolute worst aspects revolving around or within No Man's Sky.
Hype Train Derailed! Oh the Humanity!
First and foremost, Sean Murray and Co. helped to create an enormous amount of hype for this game. From the slick-looking trailers that teased at incredible alien worlds with intelligent animal life (REMEMBER THAT SPACE RHINO WHO KNOCKED DOWN TREES? WHERE IS THAT DAMNED SPACE RHINO?!?), giant sand worms (ALSO...??!??), and incredible space combat to the multitudinous interviews that Sean had with countless journalists where no one could tell if he was being enigmatic and coy because of further mysteries to be discovered by players when the game released or if he was simply skirting a few issues in development, I think it's safe to say Mr. Murray chugga-chugga-CHOOOOOCHOOED his way towards an absolute derailment if the game wouldn't deliver on all of every gamer's hopes and dreams, while also answering the universe's greatest mysteries and making us all consider our own lives and our placement within our vast universe.
Suffice to say, the game did not deliver on every promise or fantasy or whim that gamers and journalists held onto and wet-dreamed about for months on end, and then when delays were announced, half-heartedly held and jerked their limp members (or whatever body parts women hold onto to make that analogy gender-fluid or whatever.)
But to be fair, the game that Sean actually presented at a couple of E3's and played in front of a judgemental gaming audience is pretty much the same game that was released, just with improvements and actual, sort-of objectives tacked on. Also, the soundtrack is pretty legit, but I'll get to that.
Fanboyism and Entitled Trolls
I honestly don't know which is worse. The user reviews Metacritic will tell you just how divisive this game is among gamers and uh...filthy casuals? I'm not sure which is which though, honestly.
On one side, you have people who act like they're in an abusive relationship with Sean Murray and they're like, "Yeah, sure, he kicked me in the mouth and then spat in my eye that one time but if you can just see that he's really a good person you would love him like I love him."
These people cannot see any fault in the game whatsoever, and basically have formed a cult of Sean Murray. While I technically drank the kool-aid for awhile myself, I'm at a more rational point of mind where I will always love what might have been (and what might still be), but I'm realistic and keeping my distance from the crazy (hype). I definitely look forward to building bases and to whatever cool stuff the devs might add from here on out, but Sean Murray telling people that Hello Games is already working on the next game has me more than a little concerned. They have a relatively small team, and Sean has said many times that No Man's Sky is his 'baby' - so to speak - or more accurately, his 'Project Skyscraper.' I hope Sean hasn't gotten so burned out from the release of this game and all of the changes that he has probably had to make during development that he's like, "FVCK THIS, I'M MAKING JOE DANGER PACHINKO FROM HERE ON OUT!"
Which brings me to my next group. All over Metacritic and elsewhere is a group of trolls who have already hated on the game before it was released, and continue to hate on it with a fervor that would make the führer proud. I'm surprised at the incredible sense of entitlement a lot of these gamers have, especially when they accuse Hello Games of LYING about multiplayer, because even though it's fair to say there was definitely some talking out-of-the-side-of-mouths regarding multiplayer (Sean Murray said that one time that people could see each other maybe and also, the game was totally supposed to be an MMO obviously you guys), Murray has reiterated the point that the game isn't supposed to be a multiplayer game in many, many other interviews. So now two guys found each other and yet could not see each other at all on a Twitch stream or something. Whatever, the game probably has some kinks to work out. I mean, it's supposed to be an isolated exploratory experience. That has always been the primary vision of the game.
So, maybe there was some bullshit there. It's hard to tell at this point. Sean has gone on record saying that the developers designed something like 'cool moments' and he did actually confirm that players would be able to see each other at some point and that clearly hasn't happened in the ONE instance among a million players but who knows, maybe there is a system built in like the one in Journey but Innes Mckendrick and Grant Duncan are on the phone RIGHT NOW with Jenova Chen and are like "OMG how does multiplayer work?!?"
I guess time will tell.
For now though:
I don't care about multiplayer in a vast universe where I can actually be free from trolls...except the Vy'keen maybe, they're kinda trolls I guess.
Now that I've addressed some of the so-called Elephants in the room, let's talk about the Space Zebra-Fox-Fly-?!? hybrids.
Procedural Generation Limitations
From all of the interviews with Sean Murray and game development videos, gamers were lead to believe that -- this time -- procedural generation would be different. Procedurally-generated alien creatures would have appropriate camouflage, would exist cohesively in the world as part of intelligent food webs with predator-prey relationships and specific plants that animals would eat, etc etc.
That's, well...sort of true. The animal models are generally pretty accurate, so crab-like cave-dwelling aliens who viciously skitter at your ankles are appropriately crablike (and a$$holes, btw), and fox-like creatures with derpy horse-faces tend to bound through low grass and make weird neighing noises. Also, you can feed animals specific things (that don't really match what they eat in the scanner descriptions but whatev), and they poop magical random elements. So there's that.
However, A lot of times a player will come across alien species that are basically like something a group of 3rd graders would make after taking turns adding on body parts to a main alien body, and these parts don't seem to serve any purpose. I once came across this otter-reptile thing that appropriately had fins because it seemed to prefer an underwater lifestyle (and convincingly swam around quite happily), but then a few beats later on a dry wasteland of a planet I came across a really derpy looking lazy fat dinosaur who also had fins because fins are... good for sitting? I really don't know.
It's this mix-and-match mentality that tends to ruin the immersion. Especially for someone like me, who literally gives tours at the local zoo and talks about animal adaptations and the reasons animals evolve in certain ways. Granted, there are certainly animals on our planet that have adaptations that continue to baffle researchers and make no sense (for example, the reason for a zebra's stripes is STILL a point of contention), but when you play No Man's Sky long enough, you start to see dog-like creatures with fins, and than horse-like creatures with fins, and so on and so forth and yet the fins STILL SERVE NO OBSERVABLE PURPOSE. I think art director Grant Duncan just really thought fins looked cool and was like, "No Sean, we NEED to have MORE FINS. I'm requesting an algorithm in the code that makes sure at least 50% of ALL animal life have fvcking fins!"
This is the most clear example of the limitations of procedural generation, even when it's capable of making an ENTIRE UNIVERSE with relatively different planets, but there are certainly other examples I could pull from. But I'll move on for now.
THE GRIND, OH GOD THE GRIND.
I've put in my hours in Terraria. I've put in my hours in Starbound. I've even put in some minutes in Minecraft, but got bored and perplexed by the blocky cube nonsense and the what-have-you and the kids these days, but that deserves its own blog.
In all of these games, one of the biggest gameplay loops relies on grinding for resources. Get x number of minerals or elements or blocks of clay together to craft y thing. Rinse and repeat to make an even better y contraption/weapon/etc... though this one requires 12x number of minerals and 5z number of blopblorps, a super rare secretion of some random spawn animal found deep within the planet.
No Man's Sky is no different. Except you're really only grinding to be able to explore more. Everything you upgrade; your ship, your suit, or your multitool - is upgraded so you can either grind more efficiently, or shoot or fly/run away from space pirates and hostile aliens or sentinels so that you can move onto the next planet, into the next star system, and eventually into the next galaxy (or at least from what I've read...) and so on and so forth.
So far after about 30 hours of the game, the sense of progression is a slow drip of truly new things to discover or get excited about.
Also, on the topic of the gameplay loop - Spoilers Ahead - I spent hours upgrading all of the above to finally get a much coveted Atlas Pass (v1), and when I finally was able to craft one, I discovered that all of those mysterious bins scattered across desolate alien landscapes carried...
Things I could easily craft myself at that point.
Super Limited Inventory Space
Even after hours of playing, I still have a ship with only 18 slots for inventory nonsense and an exosuit with around 28? Or so? I forget.
Yes, I know ships can hold more resources and I take advantage of that as often as possible, but the amount of random non-stackable, semi-valuable loot like Grahgrah and Fascination Beads is ridiculous, not to mention the rare resources a player can find on certain planets.
It gets more and more infuriarating as you want to upgrade your ship with cooler boosters and whatever else but it requires a whole bunch of three or four separate elements for each part of the total upgrade package, and pretty soon you barely have room for one more type of resource to gather and you forget what you were even trying to upgrade in the first place.
Hell, the whole inventory management is pretty freaking clunky and confusing at the moment.
No Base Building...Yet
Yeah, I know I'm contradicting myself by earlier defending Sean Murray's original vision of "Explore, Fight, Trade, Survive" but...dude.
If you're going to let us name all these planets and star systems and finned-alligator-camels and even weird pulsating penis trees, why didn't you already implement base-building?
I mean sure, sure - My star system Dat Djibouti IV is pretty legit, if I do say so myself, but I'm essentially a crazy homeless person who just named a whole star system something juvenile and pretty much declared it my kingdom.
BUT A KING NEEDS HIS FREAKING CASTLE.
On a related note (and above pic related), one of my absolute favorite parts of Subnautica has been the ability to build cool little bases pretty much wherever I wanted. I even built an observatory right on the edge of an underwater volcano, and my nephew was playing my game the other day and found it and just sat watching the volcano for like fifteen minutes straight.
Then his younger brother took my Colossus and rammed it into the observatory and called from the other room, "Casey, your observatory has sprung a leak or like, a lot of leaks and now it's underwater somehow and I think maybe I hit it or something."
I really, really would have liked the game to ship with base-building as part of the whole experience. The game feels a little lacking without it, quite honestly. I know Sean Murray is busy implementing it with his next update, but at the moment the game feels kind of Early Access without that basic ability. I feel like every grindy resource-gathering game has at least that going for it.
Now that I've aired some personal grievances, I'll end like I said, with all of the positives.
The Beauty in all of the Maths
Okay, so this isn't the best image to talk about beautiful landscapes unless you like magical spaceship trees, but on my twitter account @CaseyDtoid, I've been pretty busy taking shots of really beautiful planets and moments in No Man's Sky. If you're persistent enough, you find some really beautiful, jaw-dropping landscapes as well as some really cool alien species that actually do seem to fit in with the habitat they live in.
Personally, in the real world, I'm an avid hiker --- specifically because I tend to get a sense of wanderlust when I'm out hiking anywhere. I have a need to see what's over the next hill, through the next forest, or across the next stream...even if it ends up being a view of the neighborhood 7-Eleven.
No Man's Sky truly is an explorer's wet dream in this sense. Even after the 30th planet or so, it is entirely possible to be surprised by a new world that just blows you away with its beauty or even its alien uniqueness. I often find myself between grinding runs just wandering around, jet-packing my way to the top of the next floating island to get a glimpse of what's ahead, or swimming through an underwater cave to find the end, even if I know it's just going to be more weird rock structures. The sheer spectacle of what procedural generation can accomplish in the years since the lackluster ...uh...that racing game where your engine sounded like a dying vacuum and you spent hours boredly driving across vast empty landscapes....
Anyhow, yeah. Hello Games has really done a number with procedurally generating a whole universe. And they've done it pretty successfully, in my opinion.
As repetitive as the monoliths and other structures get after awhile, at least they give the player some incentive and something possibly interesting to interact with along the way. I just hope the team continues to make more interesting non-procedural stuff to fill the universe with, such as quest-lines that involve the specific races of aliens, and hell, maybe even the ability to travel with NPC's, instead of having them just randomly stand here and there.
Red Faction-Level Terrain Deformation
I don't know why it's so satisfying to create caves where no caves existed before. It just is.
I used to spend hours in Red Faction mining my way into the ground for no reason. I guess maybe that's the same reason the kids love the Minecraft, but I just can't deal with all of the block nonsense in that one.
In NMS, what I love about using the plasma grenades is that creating caves can actually serve a purpose. On one planet where the sentinels were aggressive because of rare valuable plant pods, I managed to get one of them big bipedal robot monsters come lurching after me, and I jumped into the water and created a deep underwater cave, where I hid it out until I was able to sneak away. The dumb thing almost spotted me again but I jumped ship and hyperdrived the fvck out of there.
Also, on planets with hot, cold, or toxic atmospheres, you can actually create a deep enough cave to serve as a welcoming respite. I like that. I appreciate that the game systems are cohesive enough for that to work. I also love how you can actually create your own cave underground, and it even starts to resemble one of the normal caves you find with the weird 'particles and red snake things floating in the air' once you make it deep enough. I don't know why I like this so much, but it's oddly satisfying.
Oh Glorious Multitool, Oh Wondrous Jetpack
I really, really love finding new multitools and upgrading with cool weapon enhancements. I hope Hello Games continues to add improvements, including even completely pointless ones like the upgrade I had for awhile that made my grenades bounce for no reason.
I also love the jetpack as a means of traversal. I can't wait to upgrade it to the third tier or whatever, so I can just jetpack all over the place and ditch my ship for longer stretches of time.
In my opinion, both of these are really polished parts of the game. While sprinting is okay, jetpacking everywhere is aces. Similarly, while melee is kinda meh, blasting and mining are excellent, especially as you implement better, more efficient upgrades.
I also really like that there are many cool different designs for the multitools, just as there are for the ships. The one I have is boring looking but serviceable enough with a ton of awesome upgrades, though every cool design I've come across ditches a slot for new upgrades, so I'm wary of swapping it out.
That Soundtrack Tho
This game nails scifi soundtrack and atmosphere. I don't really have much else to say about it, except that they really did a wonderful job implementing 65daysofstatic's music into the game in a really neat, ambient way. While the alien noises are sometimes a little repetitive and/or grating, the music and general sound design is just consistently wonderful. Between the soundtrack and the visuals, I believe as an 'interactive art piece' this game is worth the price of admission alone. But then, most gamers don't buy games to just stare at and listen to.
But if you buy too many games like myself, No Man's Sky is the type of game you zone out to as a break from all of the other action adventure and blam-blam shooty crap on offer.
So that's pretty much all of my thoughts on No Man's Sky so far. Beyond the things I already mentioned hoping for in the future (Base Building which is already confirmed, more multitool/jetpack mods, more active non-procedural or semi-procedural questlines and NPCS), I do think the game is worth a look, especially if you're a fan of scifi and have always wanted to just go explore the universe.
However, I recommend it with a major caveat: It doesn't feel quite there yet as a true game. It's on the periphery, but it needs just a little more work.
By that I mean,
GIVE US OUR BASE BUILDING ALREADY.