I finally got the game No Man's Sky some weeks ago and I've been playing it for a while now and I wanted to write about it given that in the Internet I've found it has been a quite divisive game. Some say is the best thing ever, other's say is the worst and most people say is just disappointing.
So what's the truth lying behind all this talk. First the most important, what kind of game is actually No Man's Sky?. I decided to make this little (well no so little) analysis of the game because the game is so great in some aspects but fails in others. And more strangely a lot of the failures in the game seems to be that way intentionally.
So let's begin.
The game is a space exploration simulator, for doing this the creators of the game did a truly technical masterpiece. They managed to use an algorithm that simulates an entire universe with several quintillon star systems and playable planets. Each planet has different climate, terrain, flora and fauna. The idea here is to give the players the freedom to explore this universe, discover different planets and species, catalog them and name them if they want to do so.
The main plot is simple to the point to be almost nonexistent. You play as a Traveler, the game doesn't say it directly but is inferred that they are beings that scout the stars and you are only given the goal to reach the center of the universe and nothing more. So in the game there is really no plot centered around your character, but that doesn't mean there are no stories to be told in this game. Besides this main goal, there is a lot of lore surrounding the different aspects of the game. There are several species or factions in the game, 3 are the different alien NPC you find around, the other is the Atlas which is some kind of mysterious force that can guide you. And finally there are the Sentinels which are some robots in charge of looking after the planets and work as the enemies of the game.
While the game don't give you anything directly most of this stories are told by finding monoliths, ruins and other alien artifacts. Even if they are not very complex they are quite interesting, like learning that some of the aliens hate the Sentinels, or that other aliens once tried to conquer the galaxy. There are also places where you can find the journals of other Travelers and this are more like short horror stories.
But this is one of the first complains to the game that most people has, that it doesn't have a more direct plot but I honestly think that adding a more complex plot would be very difficult. The reason is that the strongest part of the game is also the weakest one, the size of the universe. Remember that the game, it's universe, stars and the planets are to scale, the universe is huge and the planets are also huge. If they tried to add a more linear story you hit the obstacle that is the size of the game itself. If you put your objectives on the same star system you are condemning players to stay in the same places making the whole idea of having an entire universe simply pointless. If on the other hand you make players to travel to distant systems you are forcing players to spend several hours just to go from point A to point B. I think in this aspect there was no way the developers could win, I think that's why they focused more on a vague story line and the exploration element.
Then we have the gameplay, this is divided in three things exploring, mining resources and combat.
Exploration is simple and clearly the main focus of the game, you are given a starship which you can use to freely fly to any place you want. You begin the game after you crash your ship in one of the planets, the tutorial consists of repairing you ship. After that what you do is up to you. You want to fly to the other side of the planet, you can do it. You want to fly up to the sky and reach the space, you can do it too. You see a moon or another planet in the horizon, you can fly there too. This is probably the coolest part of the game and it's greatest achievement. That you can actually go to any place within a solar system with total freedom, no loading screens, no scripted paths, no nothing. Now after you reach a planet or moon as I said before, how they look are determined by the algorithm that simulates the universe. You'll find desert planets, jungle planets, forest planets, etc. There is a huge array of flora, fauna and terrain that make each planet different.
And here comes another complain to the game, that after a while the planets begin to feel repetitive. And while it's true in some way it is also wrong. As far as I've seen I have never seen two actually identical planets, but again I can understand both sides of the argument, no matter how small differences are in flora and the terrain, for most players after seen 10 frozen planets all frozen planets would look the same. But at the same time this is a problem originated in the size of the game itself, because no matter how many variations you try to add to the planets, if you have several quintillons of them of course some characteristics are going to repeat after a while. People say they should have added more variety, but again this doesn't solve the problem, the game simply gives you the option to visit as much planets as you want, and probably too much planets to avoid some repetition.
Also there is a factor of mere luck if you just happen to find 5 barren planets in a row, obviously that you are going to be bored and frustrated. At least it happened to me once with a star system that happened to only have barren and frozen planets, and while some of the terrain was cool and the fauna kinda funny. I must say that it felt a bit frustrating to not see something different in a while.
Now lets move to the next elements of the gameplay and where the really big problems and frustration awaits.
Mining resources and combat is what will annoy some people and kill the entire experience for others. I'll explain how this works and then move to the problems lying in them.
In the game as I said you fly from planet to planet and from star to star. For this you need fuel, which is obtained by mining different mineral in the planets using your mining laser. While doing so you will face the wrath of the Sentinels, the hazards of the climate and simply some predators looking for a snack. For fighting you can use your mining laser but is less effective and you also have a gun and a grenade launcher. the latter also works as an excavation tool for reaching caves or for creating temporary shelters. Your laser, gun and launcher also use fuel, that also is obtained by mining resources in the planets.
As you can see by now the game is actually quite simple in design, and while most people say it needed more stuff to it I think is not really necessary. It would have been better but not necessary, you still can have a game with simple mechanics and be a good game. But the real problem with the game is that while some of the ideas are good there is always one simple element that undermines everything. Is like having a good Mario Bros game but where the jumping is bugged, it simply destroys everything. And the more astonishing is that for each fault in the game, the game itself has some way to fix the problem but they decided not to use it.
First we have the mining, there are two ways of getting resources. From objects and from mineral deposits. Objects are things like trees, some rocks and crystals. The system is easy, you shoot them, they have a health bar and when you kill them they explode and give you the resource needed. Mining these objects is somewhat fun because is fast, efficient and just leveling a forest to get a lot of carbon is kinda entertaining. Mining mineral deposits on the other hand is the most tedious thing in the game, this are parts of the terrain that usually are of a specific color and shape and that are made of a specific material. When you shoot them instead of exploding and giving you the materials you actually excavate the deposit slowly eroding it and giving you bits of material as you advance. Besides the lack of the cool explosion it works so slow that you usually need to charge your gun several times before you can finish a single deposit. Even with a fully upgraded gun it takes around 5 minutes to mine a single deposit.
Also you can dig tunnels with your grenade launcher, helpful for reaching caves or for getting out of them, and to create small caves to shelter you from the weather. Again this is slow even if not as tedious as mining but all this mechanics are filled with very strange design choices. First, why make the mining so slow if gathering resources is one of your basic mechanics why make it so boring, and more mind-blowing the solutions are currently in the game the system used for trees and crystals could have been used for all mineral deposits at least making mining more fun. Also the grenade launcher is on purpose useless for mining as it yields almost no resources when used. Why not making the grenade launcher a faster but more expensive way of mining, definitely exploding things would have been more fun that shooting at a rock for five minutes with a laser.
Then we have combat mechanics. It uses the same tools that mining but instead of shooting at rocks you shoot at animals or robots. You can use either your laser, a blaster or the grenade launcher. Again the combat is kinda fun at the beginning and as you upgrade your weapon you can customize it to your preferred combat style. But once again it is ruined by some very strange design choices. First while most people find combat to be too easy I partially can understand the developers decision about this, if they make combat too difficult there is a risk of getting players stranded in a planet, making the whole point of space exploration meaningless. And as far as I know this already had happened to some players when they land their ship in a hard to reach location.
But also there are clear flaws with the combat mechanics and the biggest of all is how your health actually work. You have your shields and health, shields regenerate with time and your health only regenerates when you pick up certain items. The problem is that your shields regenerate extremely slow, usually taking several minutes to fully charge. This makes battles very annoying because once your shields are depleted basically your only option is to run to your ship and fly somewhere else as you wait for your shields to charge. What is strange is that in ship battles (that are basically the same but with spaceships) you can actually recharge your ship shields with some of the materials you mine. This also can be made with the armor that protects you from the weather. So why don't add this system to the shield used for ground combat, this is something I can not understand.
Now there is one final flawed element to the game and that is how the inventory works. First what most people notices is that to select anything in the inventory you have to hold the button for around 2 seconds. While it is annoying I don't consider it makes the game unplayable, what makes this really annoying is some of the things that the game requires you to do using this system. AS I said before your equipment needs to be charged from time to time to do it you have to go to the inventory select the thing you want to charge and select the material you want to use for doing it. While it is annoying given that you have to wait 2 seconds each time you select something what makes it really bad is that there isn't any quick button or something to charge your equipment more easily. Even on consoles there are buttons left unused that could be used for this purpose, and this is get specially problematic during combat or in extreme environments because you always need to charge something at least every minute in these conditions.
I can understand why the developers may have took some of this decisions. At least the 2 second wait when selecting things I think was intended to avoid players discarding or selling important items. The lack of a quick charge for the equipment maybe was done for the same reasons, to avoid that in the heat of combat you spend rare materials by accident.
But also once again the solution to this problem are in the game, but for some weird reason are not implemented. You can make items that work pretty much as potions or medikits in other games you make them with the cheapest and more common materials and they can be used in anything that needs to be charged. The problem is that even if it sounds good in paper and it could solve so many problems with the game, this items are completely useless. This is mainly because you can stack up to 500 units of most minerals in an inventory slot but you can only have one recovery item per inventory slot. So you are very limited in the amount of items you can carry making them so inefficient that are practically useless. Actually there a lot of items that can't be stacked and occupy one inventory slot limiting everything from the amount of fuel you can carry, expensive items even some materials for crafting can't be stacked so is impossible to hold on them for later. Again this seems to be fixed but for some reason not implemented, at least once I found a bug when dismantling an upgrade that give me to non stackable items but in a single inventory slot. The curios thing is that it wasn't a simple bug there was a graphic display of the item, even a bar showing that I have two items and the maximum amount possible in that stack was 100. Even I get more items to see if the stack grew, and it worked fine. That means that at some point a lot this items were supposed to work better and that you could carry more, they programed everything but then they decided to change it for the very inefficient system the game has now.
I could go on and on with the strange game design choices but basically that covers everything in the game. So the game is actually good or is it as bad as a lot of people say. Personally I think the game fall mostly in the good side, as a space exploration experience is awesome and is a technical marvel in some aspects. For me it wasn't that bad, but I have an innate resilience to boredom. But for other people and as a game it suffers greatly from a series of very bad design choices. As I mentioned above there are things in the game that make it extremely tedious and sometimes frustrating. And most of this thing doesn't need to be the way they are. The developers already have said that there will be free DLC and updates to improve the game. That maybe will solve some of the problems but until then I think the game will be just average great in some aspects but lacking in others.