There, before the grace of man, go the infinitesimal cosmos that stretch out before us. We yearn to step out into the great beyond, and as the cockpit opens up with a hiss from the airlock, we step out into the great unknown. This was the anticipated mood that No Man’s Sky built up. In the past few years I’ve been eagerly anticipating this game, like a kid waiting with his parents to watch the first moon landing. I was on the edge of my seat, and now that I finally have it – it’s far from the hyperdrive I was expecting.
Hello Games promised a massive undertaking of a open world system that was seemingly endless. In every trailer I ever saw the set pieces were sprawling and beautiful, lush with foliage and fauna that would make any biology lab blush. They achieved a technological feat that has not been seen in games before, an algorithm to procedurally generate planets. Now, while that may sound amazing, it’s the implementation that matters. All the hyperdrives in the world don’t get you anywhere if you can’t deliver that sense of scale you promise.
Hello Games manages to deliver that sense of scale, but in doing so they faltered in delivering the other aspects of gameplay. The games control system is very limiting, and so players who may have mobility issues can’t adjust the control scheme to fit their needs. Each task is assigned to a specific button, which makes it difficult to achieve certain tasks. There is no tutorial in this game either, which essentially throws the player out into the wilderness and expects them to survive. Now, for able bodied players this may take some time to learn, but it’s still achievable to meander around aimlessly, learn a few buttons and play the game. The thrill of experiencing that first few hours of the game is at least worth something.
No Man’s Sky would certainly benefit from some sort of guided tutorial, especially when it comes to crafting and inventory systems. The game provides you with objectives, but doesn’t really give you any means of understanding how to accomplish them. It’s like throwing an astronaut out into the vastness of space without a spacesuit. The lack of explanation to some of the gameplay mechanics, especially crafting and advancing weaponry and upgrades, is a real downfall for the game as a whole. Players aren’t one to ask for you to hold their hand, but at least having a furthered tutorial would give players a better sense of how the world functions.
In regards to functioning, let us break down the main core gameplay of No Man’s Sky. In the hours I spent playing the game, I found that there was a distinct pattern to every quest line which, within a few planets, became monotonous. You gather materials, you craft new supplies, you travel to a new planet, you repeat the process. It seems like fun, in theory, but the end result becomes this massive quest of scavenger hunt that has no real payoff. In addition to this, the game was riddled with functionality bugs which made what gameplay there was, difficult to cleanly experience. Crashes, crafting menu issues, freezes, and in a game that has no autosave functionality – that’s heartbreaking.
I enjoyed what time I did manage to spend in the world, but once I felt I had experienced all that No Man’s Sky had to offer me, I felt lost. What do you do when a game offers you no real end goal? A countless, endless sandbox with almost Pokemon Snap picture archiving of new world items, with only the reward of monetary units to draw merit? No Man’s Sky does have an end goal – to arrive at the center of the universe, but it’s so vaguely depicted that I just felt like I was running my own game. The visuals weren’t enough to keep me entertained, and what I did manage to see was not user friendly.
The color schemes are vastly jarring and often similar from planet to planet. I’m not colorblind, but I have friends who are, and this color pallet is composed of a lot of reds and greens. It doesn’t help that the actual HUD that is present is fairly small and fairly transparent, making vision impaired users lives much harder. FOV sliders apparently were provided in the coding for the PC version, but with the PS4 version had no such functionality. It would be more optimized for users if players could have change the color of the HUD to make it more visible from a distance.
There was fun hidden in this gem amongst the stars, but the spaceship wasn’t entirely accessible. I had fun when I didn’t do what the game directed me to do, when I went off into the vast frontiers and just explored. I got caught up in dogfights with space pirates, and got to see vast galaxies. In truth, while they may have been similar, I did have fun during moments. The soundtrack is phenomenal and there are hours and hours of visuals to explore. It’s hard to have fun though, when you’re so bogged down by programming issues, crafting requirements, and a combat system that seems like it favors the AI over the user. A universe that seems endless, yet contains only a handful of similar alien NPC’s for me to briefly interact with.
No Man’s Sky feels like a game that got released while it was still being built. They launched it without the full mission in mind, and thus, the passengers began to dial S.O.S. back to Huston and request a do-over. I know the struggles of being a designer and wanting to provide a polished, finished product on a time table, and so I want to commend Hello Games for what they did with No Man’s Sky. They accomplished a beautiful set of tools that they can be proud of. They delivered a set piece that would make most movie studios drool. The next step is to allow a gameplay system that functions with accessibility in mind.
The team is already hard at work cleaning up patches to fix the glitches, but they also need to be aware of everyone in their audience. A few settings changes are desperately needed: An Accessibility menu, a colorblind filter that crafts colors to fit vision concerns, and an optimized lock-on system for enemies that isn’t linked to an upgrade that’s hours invested into the game.
I desperately want to love No Man’s Sky, because I feel like it’s the game I’ve always wanted as a child. I can’t though because, in the words of Robin Williams, No Man’s Sky has given me:
“Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty-bitty living space!”
All the tools in the world can’t magically craft gameplay to be a fun experience. I hope they get all of these aspects sorted out and No Man’s Sky becomes fantastic in the coming months, but for now, I think I’ll just stay grounded until those tools are more refined.