No Man’s Sky, the ambitious and massive offering from Hello Games has been out for just about two weeks now. I’m nowhere near the center of the universe yet, I still have no idea what the endgame looks like, and I’ll tell you what: I’m not in the mood to really rush towards either. The methodical exploration, language discovery and resource gathering experience of No Man’s Sky is so soothing and pleasurable that I keep forgetting I actually have a goal. And let me be clear, I think this is a good thing! There are so many video games that are easy to rush through, and it’s incredibly nice to have a game where I, as the player, am dictating the pace and depth of my playing without experiencing any negative consequences or boredom.
I really appreciate that most, if not all, of the features of No Man’s Sky are optional. Not feeling inspired to rename your new planetary system? No problem, just leave it as the randomly generated one. Don’t want to kill the sentinels? Just get in your ship and fly away, or find a good place to hide and wait for them to go away. Aside from generally guiding me towards the center of the universe by way of regular reminders, No Man’s Sky seems completely content to allow me to wander a planet or a system to my heart’s content, racking up credits for discovering bizarre looking creatures, cataloguing rocks and gathering resources.
My proudest moment in the game so far has been learning enough words in Vy’keen to understand a complete sentence. And no, not the one that’s just “death” over and over again. That doesn’t count! Now I’m trucking along in a new system, trying to learn enough words of Gek to experience the same thing again. It’s immensely satisfying to be rewarded for what essentially amounts to studying, because at the end of the day I am still a Hermione. Blowing up bad guys is fun and everything, but the sense of joy and accomplishment that comes from understanding the world of the game I’m playing cannot be beat.
As a well established crafting addict and resource hoarder, I am really enjoying the storage space challenges that No Man’s Sky is presenting to me. No matter how consistently I curse the game for the fact that I’m always out of space, I secretly appreciate it forcing me to make choices about what stays, and what goes. How much plutonium can I realistically store? Which rare purple elements should I sell, and which should I try to hang on to? Making choices is good, and it’s important, because it keeps me moving forward in the game!
If it weren’t for my desire to enlarge my exosuit or buy a bigger ship, I’d probably still be on good old Juno, exploring and wandering and collecting. An ability to collect, craft and sell indefinitely is a significant factor in why I have utterly failed to finish the main storyline of Fallout 4. When I can build entire cities around my obsession with collecting and crafting ALL THE THINGS, it’s easy to never go back to main plot. Having exploration, materials gathering and crafting be the plot is such a gift for a player like me, who enjoys lingering over what a lot of games consider side quests. I really appreciate No Man’s Sky for that.
I have run into some interesting conundrums though. Such as, why can I name a planet A Frigid Hell, but I can’t name one The Basement for profanity reasons? Why do the creepy spiders always attack me? (Wait, I think I know the answer to that one.) Will I ever discover another player along the way, and if I do, will they appreciate my obscure Big Lebowski references and willingness to name planets after the various cats in my life?
Overall, No Man’s Sky is gorgeous, and inspiring. It’s well constructed, the UI design is clean and the game itself has moments of challenge (space battles! massive environmental hazards!) that keep it fresh. It’s fun and relaxing to play, while still being deeply engaging. I really want to know more of the stories and mythologies of the three races, I want to keep discovering crazy creatures and unique environments. I think I might name my next system after spells from Dungeons & Dragons, you know, for reasons. I’d say I’d see you out there in the universe, but frankly, it seems terribly unlikely. Happy flying, fellow explorers, and may all your sentinels be relaxed.