Tech News on G4
Explore away in No Man’s Sky
August 18, 2016
By Alexander Cattani - G4 Canada
Finally, the hotly anticipated space exploration title, No Man’s Sky, is upon us. After about two hours of playtime, it became clear what type of experience I was in for. The core gameplay loop in No Man’s Sky consists of flying from planet to planet, harvesting materials, using said materials to either upgrade or create additions to the exo-suit, multi-tool, or vessel and then continuing onward. The journey you choose to pursue depends upon which path peaks your interest most. Options consist of either following the ominous Atlas path, which fundamentally turns you into a pawn for a hovering diamond that requests your undivided devotion. The Explorers path, which highlights exploration of the galaxy at your whim or there is the Center of the Galaxy path, which entails the titular objective.
Gamers with commitment issues needn’t vex as you’re never locked into only perusing one path. I started off my journey eagerly wanting to reach the galaxy’s center in hopes of discovering a great celestial meaning but ultimately changed my mind and started playing slave for this Atlas fellow. While I was technically pursuing an end goal, it never felt like it. The narrative of No Man’s Sky isn’t its mainstay by a long shot. This isn’t to say that the slowly doled out story tidbits are uninteresting; it’s just that the title’s heavy focus on exploration propels one to prioritize just that.
The player’s first mission is to fix their damaged vessel and leave a nameless planet. Fixing the totalled ship is one of the most structured objectives the game throws you way. After that, it’s carefree space exploration for as long as you see fit. There is a certain Zen-like quality to No Man’s Sky. Its soothing synth laden soundtrack, which includes the odd piano interlude paired with the aforementioned freewheeling approach to objective fulfilling, makes for a genuinely calming experience. I found the overall atmosphere to be a welcome, serene alternative to the urgency-rich titles of today.
After I got my ship up and running and blasted into the stars for my maiden voyage, a true sense of wonder washed over me. Though, this feeling of mystery eventually grew foreseeable the more time I spent playing. After visiting countless planets and solar systems, I began to notice the constants and variables of each. Some planets are teeming with strange wildlife, while others have inhospitable surfaces due to extreme weather conditions. Some planets differ in foliage and terrain. Some even harbour procedurally generated Lovecraftian horrors that meander on six legs. Each planet has the same core materials, beacons and interactive constructions. Once you’ve seen all of the terrain possibilities, each planet differs only in minute ways. In this regard, No Man's Sky manages to be both thin in content and brimming with it. Eighteen quintillion planets sure are plenty but when you’re performing the same actions on each, tedium can set in sometimes.
I found myself spending just as much time navigating my inventories than exploring. Since collecting materials is such a focal mechanic in No Man’s Sky, be prepared to be constantly transferring and dismantling resources, as you collect them. At the start, you have a severely limited amount of inventory space, both in your ship and exo-suit.
When not amassing materials, you’re either trading or selling them via outposts in space or on planets. More often than not, you will come into contact with alien life forms at these posts, usually minding their own business until prompted. At first, discerning what each NPC is saying is impossible, as each race you encounter speaks in a different dialect but, upon exploring different planets and interacting with their various settlements, you will slowly learn the English translation to some of these foreign words. Even knowing what one or two words mean in a sentence of alien vernacular makes for all the difference when it comes to NPC interaction.
The NPC's essentially serve as static text boards; so don’t expect any escort or companion missions. Standings with the different races yields some favours and niceties, so would be space cowboys should opt to keep those blasters holstered and those manners in check. The combat in No Man’s Sky is awkward. It is certainly not a principal gameplay mechanic, both shooting from your spaceship and on foot feels sluggish. I ended up avoiding combat altogether, unless attacked.
Flying through an endless cosmos in perpetuity certainly holds novelty but in managing to create this enormous universe, No Man's Sky fails to provide mechanical depth and rewarding exploration. Maybe with expectations sternly put in check, No Man’s Sky could serve as a calming distraction.
No Man’s Sky
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