This week, we finally embark on an epic journey to discover every of the 18.446.744.073.709.551.616 planets in the procedurally generated universe of No Man’s Sky. And all of that before our own sun burns out.

No Man’s Sky

nomanssky-headerHello Games’ incredibly ambitious SciFi adventure „No Man’s Sky“ is a ludicrously difficult game to review. There is no well paced story that is in need of dissecting like in „Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End“, which is in most cases the major aspect on which to rate a game. What „No Man’s Sky“ has, is a vast universe for players to explore, on foot and among the stars. And just as big as this universe is, with its over 18 Quintillion planet-sized planets, just as small is our beginning as the player.

We start out on a random planet on the outer rim of the „Euclid-Galaxy“, a planet chosen to be our starting point by the game’s procedural algorithms that created this universe. All we have is our tiny, crashed ship, with lot’s of tech to repair, our space-suit, and our multi-tool to mine resources.
With this, No Man’s Sky’s simple, yet satisfying, gameplay-loop begins: Mine resources to improve or build technologies, use these technologies to survive better in the harsh environments on the different planets (varying from extreme cold and heat, to toxic rain and radioactivity), to find better and rarer resources to sell and upgrade your ship, tools, and suit with. Besides this mining and crafting routine there’s one big thing that makes the game’s universe stand out, and this is the exploration aspect. Many planets are home to a number of alien creatures and plants to be discovered, named and uploaded to the shared „Atlas Database“, all of them exist through the procedural generation as well.

Every single one of these things make the game an incredibly ambitious venture in itself, but all of them combined make this universe seem impossible. But with a lot of focus on the procedural generation of planets, alien races and the universe itself, a lot of glaring issues manifest themselves after the first few hours. Though it might seem strange, this is a universe that very much feels static. It doesn’t feel alive. Being a small entity in a huge environment can create a great sense of isolation and not having an impact on the world(s) around you is not that big of a problem, a lack of interactivity with everything around you on the other hand is. You can talk to NPCs, trade with them, raise your standing with the three advanced alien civilizations, but it doesn’t make this universe alive if only the player is interacting with it, it also has to interact with itself. Dozens of ships fly through a system on predefined routes between space stations and trading post on the surface, but there’s is no conflict to be witnessed. You rarely see ships fight amongst each other, or see a trader mine resources from asteroids to sell them at a station. And this lack of interactivity continues with the alien species you can find on the planets. The don’t interact. The are just there, for the sake of… Well, just being there, for the player to discover.
I’m not against the core mechanics that this game has to offer. Walking on the surface of these immense worlds, with other planets hovering above me in the sky is hugely impressive, even after the 50th planet. But other games that establish a universe as big as this, still manage to give it soul.

201c04a03c39320df420c4835b488055Take a look at „Elite: Dangerous“, another free exploration SciFi game. As in No Man’s Sky, you’re able to fly from one star system to another, discover planets, land on them, trade, fight, all the stuff. But here you see a universe in motion. You receive unknown signals to investigate, these might reveal a trading convoy, NPCs mining the asteroid belt of a planet and, more often than not, fighting with each other. All of that are activities you can engage in yourself that make this universe a living, breathing one.
But I still hope to see this coming to No Man’s Sky with future updates.

In the end, aside from a few technical hiccups here and there, and 30 hours on the clock, I’m still having a lot of fun with the game. But No Man’s Sky is hard to recommend. If you liked the description of the gameplay at the top, cool. Get it. If not, then No Man’s Sky is probably not for you.
I have not yet reached the goal of the game, the center of the galaxy, but I plan to take my time, take everything in that the game has to offer.

We are at Gamescom 2016 this week, so expect a little special edition of CultureCorner next week about all the latest and greatest in gaming for the upcoming months.

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Betragsbild: Kevin Wendlandt
Bilder: Hello Games, Frontier Developments