One Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is best described as an indie space exploration simulator. Outfitted with an Exosuit, a harvesting Multi-tool, and a Starship, your task is to traverse the unknown and survive. Whether you choose to travel towards the center of the galaxy, along the Atlas path, or with your own free will, prepare to spend many hours trekking through this “epic” adventure.
The galaxy is comprised of multitudes of star systems. Within each star system are: multiple planets, a single space station, and multiple freighters – guaranteed. Utilizing astronomical taxonomy, there are four types of star systems that players can explore, with subsequent systems containing “better” planets (not that much better in my opinion). These are:
- Yellow stars: Class G or F – default system, what you will see until mid-game.
- Red Stars: Class K or M – requires Sigma warp drive upgrade.
- Green Stars: Class E – requires Tau warp drive upgrade.
- Blue Stars: Class B or O – requires Theta warp drive upgrade.
The bulk of the gameplay is obviously exploration. The main types of encounters and their purposes/rewards can be categorized below (on-planet):
- Monoliths/Ruins: alien vocabulary – aids in diplomacy and dialogue options.
- Outposts/Shelters/Drop Pods: technology & formula blueprints.
- Transmissions & Distress Beacons: technology/starship blueprints & crashed starships.
- Offworld Events: space anomalies, distress signals, Atlas Interfaces, black holes, space pirates, etc.
A very weak, yet mildly successful survival aspect, is incorporated to help improve immersion and add further gameplay (arguably padding). Everything in NMS needs fuel or maintenance, in one form or another. [i]Everything[/i]. There are various elements (Carbon, Iron, Iridium, Plutonium, etc.) that must be mined using your upgradable Multi-tool (gun) which satisfy these requirements, mostly exosuit (survival)/starship operations. These elements have a rarity index, and are also used to craft technology from discovered blueprints. Although survival, crafting, and maintenance isn’t very difficult or worrisome later on, many people will find this aspect a major drag, especially in the early stages of exploration when inventory management is really tedious. I personally enjoy this game mechanic and believe it is necessary to facilitate space exploration simulation though, so take that how you will.
What a large population of players hate regarding the survival aspect, has to deal with fueling the hyper drive, which is completely understandable. Every time you want to warp to the next star system, you need to fuel your hyper drive with a warp cell. This warp cell requires antimatter, electron vapor, and suspension fluid recipes, along with all intermediary and base elements required to craft those objects. Although warp cells/intermediate ingredients can be randomly awarded, making a warp cell each time is a massive turn off. I did find myself never having to worry about maintaining a supply of warp cells though, mid-game, but it does take a constant eye to ensure sufficient supply.
Personal progression becomes one of the main forms of motivation mid and late-game. Your exosuit, starship, and multi-tool all have inventory spaces (which can be upgraded) that can be outfitted with survival or combat functions. Vanity is also a factor in upgrading ships (you can buy and discover new ships to fly in) and multi-tools.
Regarding the survival and combat functional upgrades (heat defense, mining speed, flight shields, etc.), every single one of them must be crafted from a blueprint, which must first be discovered or awarded. Furthermore, there are 4 levels of blueprints (base object, Sigma/Tau/Theta upgrade), and each blueprint can be discovered or awarded multiple times. Although it makes realistic sense that you will often find technology that you have previously “discovered,” the RNG needed to further your technology progress is so baffling. It would be a major service taking a step away from realism for a moment, or by implementing a method to choose which specific blueprints to learn, in order to improve the players’ quality of life.
Everything in NMS is procedurally generated, with the exception of scripted events. Planet topography/biomes, fauna anatomy, textures, random encounters, etc. Each planet will only have one biome though. Although it is very innovative and ambitious, the procedural generation still needs a lot of work. There is a lot of pop-in textures and on-the-spot rendering which truly detracts from the immersion, and the variety of textures and assets themselves are low enough to count. All outposts will use the same external structure assets (although the interior is really well done), and many creatures will look like they belong in the same family of circus oddities all because of this low amount of asset variety.
After completing the Atlas path, the warp grind to the Center is truly unreal. Stacked warp drives/black holes will only net you ~1800 light years closer at best per jump/hole. At 177k light years from the center, post-Atlas Path, this is literally taking ages to complete. It’s been 10 hours since I started the grind, after spending 22 hours completing the Atlas Path, and I’ve only covered 53k light years. My glacial progression is documented in my playlist below. Meanwhile, most people would feel that they have seen everything NMS had to offer at that point. The “ending”/center of the galaxy is also extremely anti-climactic. With somewhat shallow gameplay (even with surprising moments) in between so many jumps, NMS is just destined to bleed players at some point.
NMS currently feels like an Early Access title that is missing some vital game features, such as:
- Action-oriented scripted events: monster attack, freighter rescue, outpost/shelter defense, forced hazardous storm traversal, etc.
- Alien community interactions: with the player (massive trading centers/cities/governments), or between themselves (battles, war, true diplomatic relations).
- A profession system: space pirate, bounty hunter, farmer, galactic trader, etc. with rewards or perks more beneficial than generic currency (dialogue options, physical access, specific blueprints).
- A Quest & reward system: escort X, find X, hunt down X, convince X, catalogue X, weekly or daily challenges, etc. This will even promote deviation from the Atlas/Center paths; not having it included is a bit of a quandary.
- Many quality of life features: auto-craft warp cell, save on-command, upload all data, turn-off hold-down button presses, robust hints/tutorial system, skip animations, etc.
In hindsight, if NMS was a $40 release, it would have been fair. Still a stretch for many people, but much easier to swallow than a full AAA title’s normal asking price. Although I still enjoy certain aspects of the game, I just cannot recommend it to many people at its current state (regardless of poor PC performance) based on my gameplay perspective, unless a major sale strikes. If, and when, any new features (especially the ones listed above) are implemented that fundamentally changes the state of the “end-game,” I could easily see myself fully supporting NMS with my heart and soul. But until then, I would just move on and lament at what could have been.