When Hello Games first revealed No Man's Sky back in 2014, they scratched an itch for millions of gamers. Exploration is paramount for a certain type of player. The idea of discovery is as big a reward as a last minute goal in Rocket League for others, and No Man's Sky seemed to take the idea of exploration and expand it beyond what anyone thought was possible.
What really made this special was that the team behind it was tiny. The thought that just a dozen people could create a game so large that it would be impossible for everyone combined to see everything it had to offer was as mind-blowing as it was exciting.
As with everything these days, excitement turns to expectation. Our imaginations ran away from us and due to the huge wait between reveal and release we had all but built the game in our minds.
It's hard to believe how badly things went once the game finally made its way into our hands.
Internet forums lit up with vicious comments ranging from claims of Hello Games being liars through to those branding the game as terrible. For once I can see why many would be upset, but for some reason I can't relate to them.
It's a strange feeling to be stuck in the middle of it all. To agree with the vast majority of negative comments I've heard before returning home and turning it back on. Because most of what you've read about No Man's Sky
is true. There's so much to be disappointed with that it's hard to know where to start.
The concept behind the game sounds like such a solid one. Travel through space, discovering unique worlds and creatures, battling hostile ships and mining for materials for upgrades along the way. It should be something to get completely lost in, with unlimited possibilities and endless gameplay, but somehow it manages to fail at everything it attempts to do.
Firstly and most importantly we have the planets you'll discover along the way. Initially, every step you take will feel like a walk into the unknown. Curiosity will be enough to convince you that the next hike across a hill will unearth something new, be it a native animal or a stunning vista.
The hope of reward for your nosiness, however, begins to dwindle as nothing is quite as it seems. The creatures you discover have no relevance to the surroundings. They don't interact with each other or move to match their procedurally-generated bodies. The landscape repeats itself across the globe and is littered with the same buildings you've seen on every other planet. There's no change in gravity. The climate has no relevance to the solar system around you and rarely is your exploration rewarded with something worth the time you took to get there.
That feeling of excitement that you felt during your first trip out into the deep dark universe soon dissipates as you're continually reminded that what you're playing is a computer game that's held together with mathematics. You'll be yanked out of the cockpit of a tin can flying to a new world of wonder and back onto your sofa, laughing at what a bunch of numbers in the code has cooked up for you this time.
It's important that a game that encourages discovery makes you feel as though it's worth discovering. That it puts you in the head of the character you're controlling and although No Man's Sky
starts with promise, there's a moment where you'll begin to look behind the curtain and see what's really holding it together. Not because you're having a peek, but because Hello Games has forgotten to close them.
Once you have a fair understanding of how it's all put together, your mindset will change. You're no longer wondering what's over the next hill or on the next planet because you'll have a fair idea.
The next planet will look like the last, but with different colour trees. This animal is like the other one but has an extra leg. For everything that's so unique it manages to all feel so familiar after just a few hours.
Getting lost in caves no longer puts you on edge or makes you feel even more isolated than you already do because what you see at the mouth of it just repeats throughout. Without a carefully crafted world, what you're left with is a slightly different one than the last.
Once inside your ship you expect No Man's Sky
to turn from discovery to action but it never arrives. The combat is basic and is rarely fun. Sometimes you'll be attacked by pirates, which should make for some satisfying dogfights but usually ends in you being followed and shot at for ages with no way of manoeuvring out of their crosshair and firing back.
You'll find yourself blown to bits more often than not, returning you to the nearest space station and forcing you to return to where you died in order to pick up your inventory. The punishment for dying is harsh, and with combat being so one-note and dull you'll sigh every time you find yourself in battle rather than sit up and get stuck in.
In fact No Man's Sky
does everything it can to slow down the pace of an already slow game. Almost everything you
want to do in the game is hampered by its mechanics.
For example, if your mission for the night is to spend a lot of time on a single planet to try to find a new ship, the constant need to top up your life support machine or find cover to avoid hazardous storms means that you'll stop doing what you set out to do in order to do something you didn't.