It can be difficult to avoid hype, to avoid hope, to avoid the ceaseless marketing push of certain games. For those of us that read games-related websites, who take an interest in what is available and what is upcoming, you may see news about the current hot game every day.
For No Man's Sky this was readily apparent. It was a space-flight game, with millions of stars to discover, with procedurally generated galaxies. It would have unique wildlife on each world, it would have an overarching quest that you could undertake or you could just fly around and have fun.
|A beautiful view of a neighbouring planet and its moon, close enough that it would cause all sorts of problems if the physics was in any way near reality.|
The game itself brings to mind the likes of Starflight, Star Control, Elite, Daggerfall, Minecraft and Spore. In some ways it surpasses these earlier games, and in some ways it falls short. I have enjoyed it, to a certain extent, but I'm just not sure if I could ever recommend it, at least in its current form.
|"Discovering" a new planet (that will already have alien outposts and mysterious monoliths on it)|
The truth is, it lies somewhere between these three examples. Unlike a walking sim, it doesn't have the strength of a story-driven experience, even though there is a story of sorts (or at least a path to follow). Unlike Minecraft it lacks the ability to build and create on the planets, with crafting limited to upgrading your equipment. Unlike Elite, the galaxy is not based on reality, planets do not orbit stars but hang in space, every planet seems to have outposts and alien artefacts.
|The art for the monoliths is great, but lacks variety|
As such, the survival element is neutered almost completely (except for certain extreme environments). You always know there is going to be plutonium around to fuel your ship, jagged red crystals always to be found even near outposts and points of interest. Upgrades to your equipment are helpful, but only serve to reduce the grind in most cases.
|Some of the wonderful terrain generation, this was a particularly lovely planet|
The pirates on the other hand are on the opposite extreme. Seemingly arriving from nowhere once you have some kind of valuable cargo, they spring their attack in small groups. The space combat is clumsy and cumbersome, as is all the travel in the game, meaning the space combat is unduly difficult. Best then to do your trading at one of the outposts on the planet, before you decide to head into space. Again, with management, it becomes an inconvenience rather than an enjoyable part of the game.
|Talking to an alien|
Your equipment, ship and inventory are all very limited in space to begin with, which provides another big chunk of inconvenience, The worlds you visit are strewn with vast quantities of resources, and yet you'll find yourself constantly without space unless you're careful about what you need to take with you. This would be less troublesome if you actually needed very few of each resource, but for some of the later upgrades it can require you to have a few hundred units of a few different resources, and if you want to make multiple upgrades this can be frustrating.
|Locking onto a landing pad is sometimes unbelievably difficult, and a frustrating waste of resources to move your ship|
There's also no map, barring the galaxy map which is an awful, difficult to navigate cluster of stars. On each planet you have little way of knowing where you are, and in the spaceflight there's no map to tell you where each planet is in relation to each other (or moons, space stations etc.). It would be nice to be able to mark places that you might want to return to, but the game seems intent on you progressing ever forwards and never staying in one place for long, which is an odd decision for a game which lets you name every star system, planet, bird, bush and rock.
|Sometimes I like to carve smiley faces when mining (although this is a little skull-like)|
What I do enjoy is the terrain generation. The worlds are alien-ish, even if the flora and fauna aren't sufficiently different on the various worlds I've visited. The actual terrain is much more interesting than Minecraft, but lacks the malleability. The mountains, lakes and plains are a great backdrop, but the game really needs more in the way of mechanics to flesh that out.
|Learning a new word from this knowledge stone (hampered slightly by some sort of bug here)|
It's these sorts of puzzles which provide the basis of my continued enjoyment of it. There are a few other puzzles, simple ones at outposts to provide you with places of interest, but they are very limited in design and repeat far too often. The language barrier is the most engaging part of the game, and with hundreds of words from multiple languages provides a real drive to continue exploring.
|Getting a new formula from an outpost|
It has, for now at least, replaced Minecraft as the game I play when I want to listen to music and just wander around an interesting world at my own pace. How long it remains in that spot we shall have to see.