No Man’s Sky – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I love space sims.  The more immersive, the better.  Ideally, I want a holodeck where I can spend a whole day living in the Star Wars universe. And I don’t even mean saving the galaxy or waging war.  I mean just going to another planet in my own starship, go to a starport, meet some aliens, talk, trade, makes some money, and handle whatever adventure might happen to come my way.

Actually, I might never leave if that was an option…

Well, holodecks are thankfully weeks away from being a reality, but in the meantime, there has been a resurgence in space sim games that are trying to capture as much of that feeling as possible.

I’ve gone on at length about my love for Elite: Dangerous, but another game that was on my radar for a long time (and everyone else’s it seems) was No Man’s Sky.

This is a game that was hyped to high heaven, and once released encountered instant backlash, as most overhyped games do.  But oddly enough I never felt any of that.  The game I got was pretty much what I expected it to be based on the actual footage I saw during development.

The procedural generation of the game is very good, creating interesting alien worlds that just can’t help but want to explore, or at least soak in.

Playing this game isn’t like playing in a realistic space sim, more like a stylized science fiction cartoon. And that’s not a bad thing.  Its aesthetic seems highly influenced by the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie and that’s pretty high praise.

While there is a degree of “sameness” that you start to see after you’ve visited a dozen worlds, I think that’s a matter of there being an “average” that can be hit upon.  There are always going to be outliers with something really crazy every so often, no matter how much you play.  So even after the initial rush of discovery seems to fade, those outliers will continue to peek your interest.

The game mechanics are basic and arcadey.  After playing Elite Dangerous the flight mechanics in No Man’s Sky are a joke. You can’t crash your ship into a planet, for example.  The computer will always autocorrect and have you pull up in time, and then keep you at a steady elevation compared to the ground until you are ready to land (with the push of a button, also automated).

Combat is very simplified.  While I have died a few times, that has much more to do with the highly over-reactive controls (even though I’ve reduced sensitivity by half) than it does about the skill of the enemies.

But that’s only a bad thing for me.  It’s a good thing for my wife, who loves the idea of these kind of games but can’t handle the idea of flying something with six axis in a variety of gravity types where crashing can easily get you killed.

There are intelligent aliens to interact with, but only a few different types and interaction is limited.  However, the process of having to learn their language in order to have a better chance of making the right choices with them is a very fun and interesting mechanic.

No planet is completely barren.  Planets always have outposts of some sort to find and ancient ruins, and there will always be at least the base materials for mining needed to get you off the planet again.  That said, though, a so-called barren world can still feel pretty barren. And a lush world full of flora and fauna can feel very alive (though you won’t see predators attacking and killing prey, unfortunately, well, unless YOU are the prey).

The most important thing to remember going in is this: This isn’t a game about combat, trade, survival and exploration.  It’s a game about survival and exploration with combat and trade thrown in. It’s important to have that mindset when you play.

The easiest way to sum up my feelings about No Man’s Sky is this – if you consider yourself a hardcore gamer looking for a game that is going to provide intence challenge on every level, this isn’t for you.  Had I bought this game only for myself, I might have felt I overpaid for it.

But I didn’t buy it for myself, and the enjoyment Gillian’s gotten out of it as we play together makes it worth the full sticker price.

If you want to wander the stars and enjoy the idea of collecting what you need in order to take off and find another world to wander on, punctuated by moments of action and revelation, something you can spend a number of hours on, walk away, and come back to when the urge to explore hits you again, then it might just be what you’re looking for.

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