Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: August 09, 2016
ESRB: Teen / PEGI 7
Available Platforms: PS4, PC
Genre: Action-adventure, Survival
The best way to describe No Man’s Sky is “Space Simulator”. Please don’t go into it with wrong expectations. Yes you have a weapon and can shoot with it (even grenades) and yes there is space combat. There is trading and crafting. But those things are not the game’s strong suit. First and foremost it’s a space exploration game and at that it succeeds. The fact that they added the other gameplay elements feels like an “extra” – not quite fleshed out, but adds some variety. Let’s just keep in mind for a moment that this game was made by a very small team. Plus the technology/coding behind it is freaking awesome and innovative.
When booting up No Man’s Sky you don’t know what planet you will land on. It’s an awesome feeling stepping on your first planet, repairing your ship and taking off into space. All very exciting at first. For the first 5 hours or so you will be busy learning all the gameplay mechanics, the crafting system etc.
The problem is, it can start to get very repetitive later down the line if your only goal is reaching the center fast. And this is where most reviews will take their turn. There are 3 ways to play: get to the center fast, go after atlas interfaces, explore the universe as you like.
Everyone will play it differently. And the way a reviewer has played doesn’t necessarily represent the way you will play. I played every path:
- Get to center fast:
In that scenario basically all you do is stack up on heridium and thamium, then buy the other fuel resources from a space station and craft a warp cell from it to travel to a new star system. Rinse and repeat. There is no challenge and no risk in that, nor is there much exploration – you land in one space station and then warp to the next. The center is so far away that it will be a long repetitive grind without much fun. When you play like this you will miss out on 99% of the things that make No Man’s Sky beautiful.
- Follow the path of Atlas:
This is a mix of things. The Atlas interfaces provide some good bonuses. But just like getting to the center quickly all you do is warp from one atlas interface to the next. This can end in boredom fairly quickly.
- Explore as you like:
In my opinion, that’s how the game is supposed to be played. Forget about getting to the center fast or exploiting atlas interfaces and whatnot. Just take your time exploring new planets and crafting upgrades. Those are the things that make the game fun.
Regarding the story: yes there is a story… sort of (follow one of the 3 paths mentioned above). I suppose one can argue about the definition of story here. There are no cutscenes and other than a few initial text pop-ups the game doesn’t offer much in terms of a story. Let’s rather call it lore. Given the nature of the game (exploration) the lack of an extensive storyline isn’t that big of a deal.
There are a few very annoying gameplay mechanics. Constantly having to recharge your shield and mining tool by opening the inventory breaks the immersion. I feel like there should be a button to do that automatically. Hopefully in a patch one day. Also, upgrading your multi-tool and ship will make you lose your current inventory and upgrades which defeats the purpose of buying upgrades. If you’re not careful you might lose some very valuable stuff. You also have to recraft your upgrades every time, which makes you think twice about spending 3 million units on a new ship. Always deconstruct and sell everything before buying a new ship/tool or it will get lost.
The controls also feel a bit clunky on PS4. You have to use a cursor and hold down X for a second to select a menu option. This is a poor design choice. Clicking X once would be much faster. Also, it just increases the time you spend in menus and thus breaks the gameplay immersion even more.
Bugs / Glitches / Game Crashes:
The game still has its fair share of bugs with patch 1.03. The game crashes a lot, mostly when warping. I have also had several random crashes during planet exploration and even during the boot-up sequence of the game! How this got through testing is beyond me. And those are not isolated incidents.
There are also a few bugs with patch 1.03. Often times I see birds / other flying creatures stuck in the air. You can see them flapping their wings, but they don’t change their position at all.
Graphics are acceptable. Just please do not expect Uncharted 4-like graphics.
Planets look very pretty from afar and each solar system has a different color nebula around it that looks stunning sometimes. I stopped very often to take a screenshot and just enjoy the view (on both planets and in space). Even though the graphics are far from photo-realistic (PS3 level at best) the visual style suits the game well. It could have been better, though.
Not so great are the texture pop-ins. This is very noticeable whenever you enter a planet’s atmosphere. When you fly far away from the surface (or too fast) it doesn’t even load in the detailed surface textures, making it impossible to spot resources from afar. The draw distance on PS4 needs improvement. Also, sometimes textures are missing completely (just looks blank / invisible hole in the planet). I have seen this multiple times, but the textures did load in eventually.
Planets, flora and fauna feel very different every time. Especially the creatures! Looking for really weird creatures is my favorite thing to do in the game. There are really cool life forms lurking around. I’m 40 hours in and still playing for fun after platinuming it (which I rarely do). Starships also come in many shapes and colors. I have never seen the same starship in another solar system. Keep in mind that you can explore underwater sections and caves, too.
My biggest concern for variety is the limited amount of chemical elements and their crafting applications. There aren’t all too many usable materials and you will find yourself crafting the same things over and over again, falling into a spiral of repetitiveness. While there are a lot of unique items in total, a large portion of them has no use in crafting and can only be sold or discarded. Neither the crafting system nor the combat have a lot of depth, but then again the main focus of the game has always been exploration and in that regards it shines very bright. The fact that you can name your findings and share them is an interesting concept and pushes you to explore more.
Also, all space stations look fairly much the same from the inside. Alien buildings on planets are limited to a few layouts.
(No impact on review score, but since I do trophy guides and most of my readers are trophy hunters I feel the need to bring it up)
By far the most boring trophy list of 2016! Nay one of the most boring I’ve ever seen. The trophy list is very repetitive and the trophies feel meaningless. Everything is based on your journey milestones, some of which are an annoyance and hurt the flow of the game. Focusing only on the trophies makes the game less fun, which is the exact opposite of what trophies should do. The trophy list feels like a tutorial and you have to do the same action over and over again. They also changed the trophies with the latest patch (made them harder and more time consuming, which is okay, but unnecessary and confusing).
This is Great:
+ Total freedom to explore like never before
+ Space looks beautiful
+ So many awesome creatures to discover, rename and share
Not so Great:
– Can end up being very repetitive, depending on your play style
– Still some annoying bugs and game crashes with day-one patch
– Some poor design decisions that can break the immersion
No Man’s Sky is not a bad game, nor is it the Game of the Year many expected. It is good for what it is and you can have fun with it for a long time to come. Just don’t expect more than it really is and beware that with day-one patch the game still suffers from various bugs and crashes.
What I played for this review:
- 40 hours of gameplay (20 hours version 1.00, followed by 20 hours with patch 1.03. The review is based on patch 1.03).
- Platinumed the game
- Played PEGI retail version (a review copy was sent, but didn’t arrive in time)