[Note: This piece contains story spoilers to the Artemis storyline. I haven’t completed the game yet, but this was such a big event that I felt like writing about it.]
No Man’s Sky getting a narrative story arc was unexpected but welcome. It gave me an objective set by the developers between my self-imposed ones, like hunting for a new ship or finding a planet to call home that wasn’t actively trying to kill me. Until that point, the main ‘story’ was to traverse the star systems to track down Atlas stations to unravel mysteries behind the what, how and why of Atlas, which wasn’t the most exciting thing around. I went into the new update mostly blind, so I was already wondering how or when the latest story would kick-off as I coasted out of a trading station, and then a distress call came through my ship communications from someone named Artemis.
Aiding others in No Man’s Sky has been limited to (as of my current knowledge) side quests and NPCs requiring a language or resource check, the latter of which not having much impact since even if you fail, that NPC remains interactive in their limited scope. The call from Artemis is, yes, the main quest line in a video game, but for No Man’s Sky, there was now a greater purpose assigned to your wanderlust and gathering of resources. It’s a sobering experience to get this call for help, and as quickly as it comes, it ends, leaving you to coast idly in your spaceship wondering just what the heck to do next. Off and on did I pursue the main quest, getting distracted with other side stuff and blueprints to construct until my focus on helping Artemis started to grow more focused. The quest went from trying to locate someone to find their busted ship with no signs of them, picking up a new trail resulting in warping to an industrial alien hellscape to follow it, trying to see where in the stars Artemis was and leaving me wondering if this was one big intergalactic prank. I had this mystery on my hands that seemed ready to solve one moment, only for a bewildering twist to occur. I was invested; literally and virtually. I wanted to see this to the end, but the story also has you assembling a specialist team for your freighter or home planet to develop and build some technologies (if you haven’t done so previously). Just when I had all the needed tech, all the clues accounted and had the trail zeroed in and was ready to rescue Artemis, one more twist occurred to stamp my hopes into dust: I found not Artemis on that distant, obscure planet - But their grave.
No Man’s Sky is a lonely game from the aforementioned lack of NPC interaction variety, and loneliness in gaming is something I’ve grown uncomfortably accustomed to over the years. Due to scheduling, time zones, health and taste in genres, the people I know aren’t frequently available for game nights, while the people I do end up meeting as strangers we end up clashing in terms of ideologies and morality. Most of my time playing online games, be them team or MMO based, is done by myself. Any other players, groups, guilds, communities etc. would be gone by the next round, dissolve due to disinterest or ignore me due to not being skilled or popular enough. You could argue that being around and playing with other players makes loneliness impossible, but tell that to someone who also feels alone when in a busy shopping mall*. Even with No Man’s Sky getting a multiplayer hub, the same scenario plays out: No one wants to chat and you’re the ‘weird rando’ if you’re going to try striking up conversation or groups. I bring this up because for No Man’s Sky to go from the nameless wanderer game to someone actively needing help is a wakeup call to my system, only further solidified when it ends up being far from a simple rescue operation. But the story went from me being the only person in the galaxy who could help Artemis to being a hapless git staring at their grave, standing in a crater on some far-flung planet in a star system I can’t hope to pronounce. There I was again, all alone and nothing to show for it.
At least the story doesn’t end there on such a debilitating note, and while I struggle to grasp the fantastical aspects, it ends up Artemis is still out there - Sort of? Kind of. Not really but really. From what I understand, Artemis still exists as a digital ghost stuck in limbo: Not dead but not quite alive, stuck on an endless loop to call for help to anyone picking up their signal but having physically kicked the bucket ages ago. Through contact with other characters leading up to that point, a plan is put in motion to build a kind of stasis chamber to capture Artemis’ signal and by figurative (maybe literal?) definition, their soul. “Huzzah! There’ll be a happy resolution to this after all!” - I thought to myself, forgetting that optimism is for fools. After tracking down some niche resources to build the not-Soul Pokeball, I headed to the Anomaly for Nada and Polo’s help for the procedure, and there, my optimism was turned around to slap me square in the face.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of the sensations dread bring; blood running cold, chest feeling heavy, unable to think straight and feeling like my spirit is leaving my body for the holidays. The reason for said dread came in the form of two no-win choices.
Number one: Artemis’ ‘soul’ is effectively kept in a jar in a pocket universe where their consciousness can still explore and finally talk to you directly. However, Artemis is still inside a pocket dimension and will never see the whole galaxy ever again, alive but imprisoned, being a mere shadow of their original life.
Number two: Let Artemis’ death be finalized, releasing their soul into the ether and ending their looping existence once and for all.
Finally have a friend (other than players I can’t link up with) to have around while exploring, though Artemis would have a nightmarish existential crisis should they realize what their life now is? Or let Artemis go and once again drift through the cosmos by my lonesome with no certainty when I have the opportunity to make another buddy? It’s not often a menu with two options that put me in decision paralysis like this, but I can’t remember how long I sat there mulling this over. There was no telling how chatty Artemis would be if I brought them along, but it was the concept alone of having a companion together for the ride… Just, y’know, who’s stuck in a pocket universe with no chance of getting out. Making a lonely game not so lonely anymore was a big deal considering my history, both in gaming and outside of it. So that’s why I let Artemis go.
For as lonely as I feel, keeping someone imprisoned in a fraction of what their life used to be felt unreasonably cruel; Artemis didn’t deserve such a fate, but they certainly deserved more after having their Traveler life cut down too soon. After choosing to let Artemis die once and for all, I immediately felt regret and anguish that I haven’t encountered since playing Mother 3 and LISA. Our good friend autosave made damn sure I couldn’t double back on my decision. It wasn’t until reporting back the results to Nada and Polo and reading their reassurances that I finally broke down. There was no scene talking down to me, no UI element popping up to finger-wag at my good or bad decision, no pompous morality lecture by the developers - My choice was on my terms, and that’s all that mattered. In hindsight, I’m relieved I made this decision instead of risking Artemis finding out what their life had become - I’m not happy with either choice, but I made the one that felt the most correct in my heart at the end of the day.
For a game I initially held great cynicism towards with its launch controversy, I’m amused about how it got such a reaction from me. I’ve yet to finish No Man’s Sky so maybe there’s another big twist in this story I’ve yet to see, but this whole chapter has been something I haven’t been able to shake every time I fire the game up from now on. Shortly after this all wrapped up and I was back on my (less than) merry way, I found a beautiful, habitable water planet to call home. Not a bad way to put a bow on things.
[*This may have to do with my social/mental disability more than anything else, but that’s a discussion for another piece.]