no man's sky

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Not many games in recent history have been as hyped and as maligned as NO MAN’S SKY. The product of indie developer Hello Games, SKY has been marketed for years as the ultimate space adventure, where players can pilot their own ship through an impossibly vast galaxy, discovering complex and strange plants, animals, even minerals, and interact with bizarre alien races. It was to be a sci-fi survival adventure game, the apex of sandbox gaming, and a colossal feat for the 15-ish people that comprise Hello Games. While the game is still a colossal feat, by now you’re probably tangentially aware of the immense dissatisfaction amongst fans. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be looking at how the game functions as it is right now, regardless of perceived broken promises or inflated expectations. How is NO MAN’S SKY right now, despite whoever’s sky it happens to be at the moment?

no man's sky codbert

At the moment CBS has a rather firm grip

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There’s not exactly a narrative to NO MAN’S SKY outside what players themselves create, but it doesn’t not have a plot. There are a few options the player can take, among which are doing your best to get to the center of the galaxy or follow the guidance of the mysterious Atlas. What the game lacks in overt direction or story it makes up for in lore; there are three alien races that make up various star systems for the character to align themselves with, each with their own distinct flair. The player can ally with all three species at once, in fact, and a “nobody’s pissed” option is pretty notable in games nowadays.

no man's sky daft punk

Look at how jazzed one of the guys from Daft Punk is to see you!

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Through a combination of a prominent language mechanic and the alien cultures, the game delivers a substantial amount of mythos, but primarily in the form of backstory that has little to no bearing on gameplay. Correctly interacting with aliens can yield upgrades for your spaceship and multi-tool, and to increase your odds of doing so, the player can visit ancient monoliths and ruins in order to increase their knowledge of alien languages. Visiting these ruins also provides insight and backstories to the races. Because the world of NO MAN’S SKY offers very little outright explanation as to why things are the way they are, the backstories help to illuminate those aspects a little bit and provide a richer story even if it all took place way before the game started for the player. It’s a nifty way of inspiring as much fanfic as there are in-game planets, but offers little for actual gameplay.

no man's sky reading

Reading’s only brought you nothing but trouble, anyway

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While the game does make use of in-game currency to purchase various items, upgrades, and even ships from NPCs, players can also assemble a catalogue of recipes they can use to create their own items from materials harvested from the environment. Initially, this serves as an important mechanic to repair the player’s ship and other downed crafts, as well as survive on planets that are less than welcoming to organic life. But once players amass enough credits, raw material can just be bought in bulk at any space station, alleviating much of the need to explore. It is, however, easy enough to mine them from your surroundings, and you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something when you finally collect all the materials needed to build a warp drive.

no man's sky in game models

Where we’re going we don’t need actual in-game models

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And that’s the crux of the game. I was trying to hold this in for as long as I could, but quite frankly, NO MAN’S SKY is basically MINECRAFT in space. There’s no narrative compulsion to complete anything, nothing to really do or accomplish in the game other than “get to the end” or “figure out what the Korvax word for ‘credits’ is.” There’s even a heavy focus on mining, for God’s sake. Even in Minecraft you can find online servers that allow you to constantly battle AI enemies such as these PvE Minecraft servers, the whole concept of NO MAN’S SKY is to find resources, fly around, find different planets and fight alienbeings… Minecraft but in space.

But taking a step back, MINECRAFT is a highly, highly successful game, if middle schoolers are to be believed, and perhaps the similarities don’t necessarily mean it’s a waste of time. In a universe populated by quintillions of planets, NO MAN’S SKY successfully manages to create a highly atmospheric experience. Using algorithmically-generated biomes and a soundtrack that is electric and ethereal at the same time, NO MAN’S SKY crafts a very Zen sense of exploration and discovery in a manner that is very reminiscent of HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER. Many, many hours can, and have, been spent simply exploring the galaxy in order to name a new planet BUTT TRUMPET and a previously undiscovered species —-FACE MCGEE. So while the game doesn’t quite bear the polish of a traditional AAA title, can it really be labeled a failure if its sheer level of playability is so damn high?

no man's sky colbert

Kind of explains that Emmy snub now

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While NO MAN’S SKY may or may not reach the moon of its expectations, it manages to create an engaging experience out of drifting aimlessly amongst the stars, harvesting ore, and trying to become a Rosetta Stone for aliens. The fact that the game exists is still a colossal feat, but it’s debatable whether it quite lives up to its potential or whether that makes it a worthwhile experience. While there is nothing that demands to be accomplished, NO MAN’S SKY makes use of gameplay that requires player interest and time in the endless world it’s created. There are no sand planets or even complex animal AI but there is definitely a rewarding experience to be had simply drifting through space and exploring what the galaxy has to offer.

Verdict: Recommend

Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC

Steven Porfiri is a Crossfader guest contributor that has been slowly learning what true patrician culture is about after spending a lifetime in Bakersfield, CA. In addition to Crossfader you can find him at Top Shelf Gaming.

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1 Response

  1. October 12, 2018

    […] MAN’S SKY NEXT is the product of years of incremental updates following the launch of 2016’s oft-maligned space simulator. For many, the long-awaited addition of a fully functioning multiplayer component is the main draw […]