My first hour with No Man’s Sky had me searching for different resources to fix my spaceship, including a fifteen minute hunt for zinc. A sentinel stopped to examine me, and I accidentally shot it with my mining beam. An alarm rings out and I start to run as sentinels chase me. I fall down into a cave, where I find an animal eating. I approach it, and it starts to run in circles; first towards me, then away. I climb out of the cave, and start to make my way back to my spaceship. I find the zinc on the way, and repair my ship.
As I fly out of the atmosphere of my starting planet, a beacon pings out and pops up on my radar. Steering towards the planet, I prepare for entry. I start to land, and I’m booted out of my cockpit and fall to the ground. Looking up I see my ship is stuck on a flower. No problem! I think to myself, as I try to jet-pack my way up to my ship. After multiple attempts, I destroy the flower with my mining beam, expecting my ship to fall down. No dice. I start to explore the planet as my life support systems ebb away, I stumble onto the beacon that brought me to the planet.
No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated space exploration game. Each planet is unique, and as you explore you’ll have the option to name plants, animals, way-points, planets, and systems. The end goal is to get to the center of the universe. You’ll do this by using warp cells to travel the light-years it would take to fly to these systems.
No Man’s Sky is very ambitious in it’s goals, and meets a lot of them. You’ll follow a strict pattern on your journey; land on a planet, find a drop pod to increase your suit’s inventory space, find alien monoliths to increase your understanding of the languages, harvest resources, build warp cells to leave system, warp, repeat ad infinitum.
As you wander from system to system, this formula gets old quick. You’ll never see everything a planet has to offer unless you spend hours on them, and it’s possible to spend hours on one planet. There’s not much to break up the monotony of landing, exploring, harvesting, and leaving. The real meat of the game comes from how much enjoyment you, the player, gets from exploring something that no one has ever seen before.
This isn’t a knock against the game. When most games hold your hand and lead you from set piece to set piece, No Man’s Sky has you waking up on a random planet, and tasks you with fixing your ship so you can leave. The game doesn’t tell you where to find a zinc plant, or where a deposit of iron is. Giving you loose goals to complete, it wants you to discover how to succeed.
While exploring, you’ll have to maintain your life support meter, or a thermal meter depending on whether the planet you’re on has extreme conditions. To replenish your life support, you’ll use isotopes such as Carbon or Plutonium to keep it topped up. I was never worried about it, as you can find those isotopes every other step on any given planet. The thermal protection was more concerning, but it’s easily refilled by finding shelter from the extreme temperature or weather.
There’s no map you can pull up on a planet to see previously explored way-points. Which never was an issue until I found a crashed ship near one, and when I went to go find the necessary parts to repair it, I couldn’t relocate it easily.
As you fly from planet to planet you’ll sometimes enter hostile sub space. Ships will come to attack you, and you’ll be forced to fend them off, or escape. The combat is wonky, and I found myself frequently avoiding combat by flying into the atmosphere of the closest planet.
No Man’s Sky is an exploration game I never knew I wanted. Writing this I couldn’t wait to jump back in and walk across a frozen planet I just landed on, and seeing what secrets or spoils I could find here. If you’re interested, just know that not everything is going to be a set piece moment. Underneath all the mundane tasks though, is a very exciting space exploration game that will steal days away from you.
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