STAFF REVIEW of No Man’s Sky (Xbox One)

Monday, August 20, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

No Man’s Sky Box art To say that No Man’s Sky was a hyped launch when it was released on the PS4 two years ago would be an understatement. Excitement for the game was high and it was one of the most hyped games I’ve seen in quite some time, which is even more impressive given it wasn’t a AAA known brand IP. Then the launch happened. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was probably one of the most disastrous launches in recent memory, resulting in near exile for the development team and a less than favorable appeal for the title to say the least.

Previously, No Man’s Sky was not available on Xbox One, that is, until the game's latest update, titled NEXT. Essentially fulfilling their promises from the launch two years prior, the NEXT update surely improved the game dramatically from its initial incarnation, to the point where I’m actually having spurts of fun with it. Yes, the fun comes in spurts, because the rest of your time is filled with frustration and resource management.

Part Minecraft, part ARK, part exploration, No Man’s Sky literally dumps you into a galaxy that is beyond the scope of comprehension, as its sheer size is near as infinite, as it is a procedurally generated universe. Because of this design, you’ll be able to travel the cosmos and explore planets that no one has ever seen before, and discover flora and lifeforms that may never be seen again. Better yet, when you make these discoveries, you’re able to rename them to nearly anything you like, profanity excluded. If you come across my planet, called Buttsville, you’ll know it’s mine, and that I’m a grown child at heart.

No Man’s Sky is essentially an amazingly vast universe that is a giant sandbox for you to explore and play in however you wish. With all of the updates since launch, the experience has become much better and robust, but it’s been a long arduous road. While there is technically a narrative and story to experience, it’s by no means the focal point, and more of some slight guidance. You’re looking to reach the center of the universe and uncover long dormant mysteries. Of course there’s a little more to it, but that’s one of your main ‘goals’ if you’re looking to follow a narrative. Now, I won't spoil anything, but be very wary of doing so, as there is a consequence when you do reach the 'end' that you are given no warning about. I'll simply leave it at that, but I know that I wasn't very happy with the outcome.

How you want to play is completely up to you. Choose between different modes that suit your playstyle, from a casual experience on Normal, slightly more challenging Survival mode, a hardcore Permadeath mode or even a relaxing Creative mode where you can explore and build freely without costs. I made the mistake of starting off on Survival, and because you’re simply thrown into the world with very little help at the beginning, I found that I wasn’t enjoying myself from the very start, so I decided to start a game on Normal and during my playtime for this review I have now been enjoying it much more, especially after the steep learning curve in the 'be-free-to-explore-the-galaxy-as-you-see-fit'.

If you want to simply mine for materials on the surface of a planet, do so to your heart’s desire. Do you want to fly through space dogfighting pirates and blasting asteroid belts? Do so if you wish. Hell, do you want to travel from system to system, planet to planet, to find that perfect atmosphere and build roots for a home base? Again, it’s up to you. With essentially infinite planets and systems to explore, you’ll always have new things to do and new areas to discover. It’s exciting to see new planets and life forms that have never been discovered before, staking your claim as the first to experience and witness them. Of course, doing so with HDR10 and 4K support looks amazing if you have an Xbox One X to play on as well.

Depending on your luck, your initial impressions will happen within the first few moments of being dropped into this vast world. You’re placed on a random planet, and with my amazing luck on my first Survival game save, it also happened to be in a poisonous atmosphere. So, here I am, 10 seconds into the game, slowly dying and unsure why or what to do. You’re given small quests in the beginning, acting as a sort of tutorial, but very little is explained from the opening moments, so if you’re like me, you’ll become increasingly frustrated without being taught the proper knowledge. Sure, you can read through dozens of text sections in the help area of the menus, but it’s a slog to get through and won’t make much sense without much trial and error by experimentation.

This is one of No Man’s Sky’s biggest faults, as the smallest things aren’t taught to you in a simple and effective way. After playing for an hour or two, and having to quit out, it was then that I realized that even how to save my game wasn’t really taught to me, as you need to enter your ship (once repaired) and exit to create a manual save. I obviously didn’t do this, or know to, before quitting, so I had to start over again. Lesson learned; and its many situations and mistakes like this that you’ll encounter during your adventure where you’ll do the most learning of what, and not, to do.

In a game so vast, with this scope, a helpful menu system would have been a blessing. Instead, it’s a disaster that takes many different button presses to do the simplest tasks. If you want to take a quick glance at how many of a certain material you have on hand between your exosuit and starship inventories, you’re actually unable to do so and need to do the math yourself. Want to have a button to automatically organize your limited inventory space? Not currently an option to do so. For a game that’s so much about exploring and resource gathering and management, you’re not given many tools to make it a simple job to do so, which is one of my constant frustrations, made worse by the fact that you’re given so few inventory slots early on, leaving you with little room to work with.

Regardless of how you decide to play No Man’s Sky, its core is all about managing your resources, which is where a lot of your play time will take place, including using your mining tool destroy plants, rocks and other items on the planet’s surface to harvest the materials you require. This is where a large part of the grind comes in, as nearly everything you need to do, or craft, requires a handful of other materials. To collect these resources you’ll need to fire your mining beam at rocks, plants and other objects, and doing so will break them up and place them in your inventory. Flora, for example, nets you Carbon, which you will need for many recipes and craftable items, and also to refill your mining beam. So, it’s a constant hamster wheel of gathering materials to use them for crafting, to gather more.

I love exploring space and flying anywhere I desire, but to do so efficiently, you need fuel. To get fuel, you guessed it, more mining for materials. If you want to focus on making money and selling wares across galaxies for profit, you’ll need special fuel to jump from galaxy to galaxy, so no matter how you want to play, you’re always going to have to devote some time to mining for some time. If you’re a Minecraft fan, and desire to play in that style, then you’ll be in heaven, with endless worlds to explore and gather from.

The majority of planets are quite barren. Granted, I fully appreciate the tech and sheer work it must have been to even create the experience along with trillions and trillions of worlds, but every single one I’ve been to are all essentially the same vast barren landscape. Sure, each will have its own flora, animals and resources to gather, but if you’ve been to one planet, you’ve been to the majority of them. Some are more friendly, toxic or dangerous, but they all seem similar in experience.

Using your scanner allows you to see special materials or points of interest on your HUD in range, such as special nutrient rich flora or others that can simply be picked up. At night these also tend to glow quite brightly in the distance, so they are easy to spot from afar. You also able to use your visor to show you hidden areas or special points of interests that you can then tag and make your way to. This visor view will only show you points that are somewhat close, but there’s always something of interest within walking distance, that is, if you have the resources to unearth it.

Yes, you will need to dig into the planet’s crust to unearth many other materials and secrets. Once you have the ability to terraform with your mining gun, you’ll be able to dig holes anywhere you see fit. Need to get out of a dangerous storm that’s depleting your shields? Dig a hole underground and get out of the storm to regenerate your shields. More often than not, dig down a few dozen feet and you’ll most likely find an underground cave, rich with deposits and materials to harvest. High value materials, like copper, gold and other deposits, can only be mined with the terraformer, which of course uses more valuable resources to power, thus begins the constant cycle once again.

So, you’ve found a planet you like that doesn’t have too harsh an environment, has great resources and you want to call it home. That’s where the base building comes in. If you have the materials (again, there’s the catch), you can easily build floors, walls, roofs and other pieces quite simply. Almost done in a Fortnight style of snapping pieces together quickly, you can build nearly anything you can think of, from a simple box with door, to an elaborate base with a unit producing farm. As you progress, you’ll learn blueprints that allow you to craft new machines and decorations for your base, if you decide to play that way and focus on that of course.

You begin with very limited inventory space in your exosuit and starship, but as you earn more credits, quest and explore, you’ll be able to upgrade and purchase new pieces, allowing for more abilities, upgrades and precious inventory space. How you upgrade is also completely up to you, so if you find yourself on harsh environmental planets, you can upgrade your radiation shields, or health if you desire. There are limited upgrade slots per piece available though, so you need to carefully weigh what you want to slot and where. In terrible design, you can also install these upgrades into regular inventory slots instead of dedicated upgrade slots, making you waste precious space and unable to reverse the mistake. You can probably guess where I installed my first upgrade slots.

Leaving the atmosphere and into space is a wonder to behold, especially since there’s no loading screens at any point. Delving into the vast darkness feels great every time, as you are going warp speed through asteroid belts to your next destination. I’ve spent hours freely shooting asteroids for precious materials, though be warned, you’re going to at some point, run into deadly space pirates. A warning signal will appear and if you answer in time and you’ll be able to barter or pay them off to not attack you, but since credits are so sparse in the beginning, you’ll be attacked without much choice. You’ll usually face against two or three ships, and it’s basically the last man standing. During battle you’re unable to use your warp drive to escape, so you’re better off fighting and trying to defeat them; it most likely won’t go your way the first few times though, until you get a hang of the controls.

With the latest update, NEXT, multiplayer has finally been included, allowing you to play alongside three of your friends at a time. Given that this was a promise from the initial launch, and a source of much of the drama, having it included has been a long time coming. So what does playing cooperatively with your friends do differently? Well, really not that much. You can see each other and trade materials and items back and forth, but there’s nothing very co-op focused to do. Need a ton of copper for building something? Have your friends come with you and do so much quicker, or fight alongside each other in space against some pirates.

It’s easy enough to join friends through the main menu, which will put you in their galaxy and within range, but the targets and markers tend to bug out quite often when playing together and be inaccurate. I wish there were more benefits for playing together, and maybe there is that I’ve yet to discover, but from my experience in doing so, the only real reason to play cooperatively is to not be so lonely in the universe. From what I can tell, there’s also no simple way to find random players and join them either, I guess unless you randomly happen upon another player in the vast universe and communicate that way.

I’ve had such an odd time with my experience with No Man’s Sky. One minute I’m really enjoying my time, especially once I figure out a blueprint, defeat some space pirates or manage to find a motherload of valuable deposits. The next time however, I feel like shutting the game off out of frustration because I can’t figure out how to do something, craft an item or I am dying to space pirates again. It’s an odd rollercoaster of enjoyment to frustration, repeated over and over. I’m finding at times it’s very hard to focus on one single thing, as 10 other processes or materials are needed to do almost anything. The universe is so vast that there’s almost too much to do, becoming overwhelming at times, even more so once you work on your factions and can undergo quests. Regardless of how you want to play, you’ll constantly be drawn into the endless grind that repeats infinitum. Even so, I’m finding new things to do, craft and explore, even after dozens and dozens of hours.

The small grand moments of wonder and realization can be breathtaking, but they are too far and few between. Granted, that’s with how I played, so it may be completely different for you. The majority of your time will be simply managing your materials and meters, then spending time gathering materials to do what you intended to do an hour ago, only to find out you need another type of material to do a different step of the process. It’s odd to have such a rollercoaster of highs and lows of excitement and frustration, even after learning so much and adapting to its faults. That being said, I’m still exploring the galaxy with the free time I have and realizing four hours have passed and I've missed my bedtime by a long shot due to wanting to explore just one more thing.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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