No Man’s Sky has had no shortage of reviews, opinion pieces, op-eds, backlash, guides and all sorts of coverage sine it’s release a few weeks ago. I’d like to offer something a little different. While No Man’s Sky is the same for every player in so many ways, it still is a massive game where creating your own story is the best way to play. This is mine.
Having avoided as much of the hype & coverage surrounding No Man’s Sky bar the gameplay shown at Sony’s E3 conference, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when diving in to this game. My general thoughts? This was going to be a massive game, it’s probably going to be chill, it’s not going to be too insane in depth and it’ll be more about wandering around and looking than it will be about creating. Turns out, I was pretty on point in my assumptions.
I started off, like any other player, stranded on a strange planet with a broken ship. Rugyuan Wazaifu, while constantly reminding me of Dynasty Warriors characters crossed with anime fans, was a rocky planet with strange tentacle flora spread throughout with some strange bear-chicken-turtle creatures wandering about. The planet featured some mild radiation, prompting me not to linger for to long, essentially hinting that I should just get a move on. I found my minerals, fixed up my ship and launched into the sky with a vague direction of finding something called “Atlas”.
This point in the game, very specifically, is the point in which this game becomes either wonderful or inadequate for every player. You can take the game as is, working within the systems you’re given, take it at face value and make the most of what’s laid out in front of you, or you can lament what the game is not, stick to the “path” you are given and get frustrated in what is ultimately a simple resource collecting loop with (what is being reported by those who have seen it through) a disappointing “ending”.
I could have followed the path of the Atlas; I could have decided to hunt down Nada and Polo. In the end, I had other ideas; I didn’t care too much about any of it. These aspects of the game were put in precisely to make this experience align with somewhat regular gaming conventions. This game is a massive 3D space where you can head in literally any direction; to me, it seems Hello Games didn’t design this space to head in a straight line.
What did I want from No Man’s Sky? Even after playing for a few hours, I still didn’t know. I kind of think that’s the point. I didn’t want to want something from this game. I wanted it to decide what it was going to give me, and to take me along for the ride.
I decided to wander about, checking out each planet in my little starting solar system. While I knew I wouldn’t be doing this in every system I came across, it was important for me to see what each planet my origins offered. One particular planet was littered in outcroppings of gold, which surely would be worth at least some coin - I mined several hundred pieces, making a tidy some of credits upon sale in the local space station. I found several types of buildings, discovered various upgrades for my suit and ship, learned a few Gek words, found a bunch of weird animals co-existing together. After several hours of wandering about, I made my way out of the system, venturing off into the unknown around me.
This point in the game is the second crucial decision point. I now understood the systems the game was offering, the path to upgrades, the ideas laid out. I understood what the game was. Where do I want to go from here?
It was at this point that I made my first definitive decision about where to go. It wasn’t something that the game was prompting me to do however: my plan was to find a specific kind of place. I wanted a system that I could discover that felt just right for me, that offered variation, beauty and exploration. I didn’t really want to follow the game’s set paths (though I would interact with them should I come cross them.) I wanted to wander, then settle down. I wanted somewhere to call home.
I made my way through a number of solar systems, meandering my way across the surfaces of planets. I found goat like animals with 12 legs; I found beautiful sunset vistas. I discovered the other 2 alien races in the game, slowly learning their language as I stumbled upon their obelisks. Then, I found it.
This new system, the 8th I’d discovered, contained 5 very different planets. The first looked like a planet infected with fungal growths across the board, from its mushroom trees to it’s poor, gross animals to the toxic rain that fell day and night; I named it Toxicus Fungil. Another was entirely red, from it’s sky to it’s plant life to the animals that wandered it, and was littered more than usual with obelisks; Crimson Faith. One just seemed to want me dead, from the constant extreme weather and storms to nearly every creature trying to attack me - even it’s plant life snapped at me as Walked passed! - to which I named Sir, Yo be hunted!. The second last was purely a rock - no plant or animal life, no caves, nothing; Desolation.
Finally, I came across the most “regular" planet of the lot - one which held a decent amount of plant and animal life, was quite rocky and seemed to contain a higher than usual concentration of drop pods and obelisks. It wasn’t until I was nearly leaving the planet did I notice something strange about the cave systems - just outside the entrance was an item called a Vortex Cube. As I picked it up, I noticed another. I followed the trail into a cave. These things were everywhere! I collected them until I could fit no more in my backpack, then headed back to the trade station. Selling for 30k each, I ended up making quite a large sum of money just wandering through caves, picking up rocks. It wasn’t until later did I find out that these planets are actually super rare - usually the sentinels will attack you straight up for picking up rare items, but here, nothing. Hours were spent here… on Vykeen Vortex.
This class E1f (or class Elf, as I call it) system in the Ikatovedr Void region of space was it. It is Home.
After spending the majority of my time here, close to 20 hours worth of game time exploring each planet, I made my next big decision - to branch out. Knowing that I could return here and continue my life at home at any time, I felt that familiar curiosity to continue exploring. I jumped across a few more systems, taking in the sights. This was my first mistake.
Fast forward a few space jumps and other events, I ended up in front of a black hole. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen if I went near it, but it was something entirely new that I wanted to experience. After some (though clearly not enough) forethought, I jumped in.
As it turns out, a black hole in No Man’s Sky sends you roughly 2000 light years closer to the center of the universe - but not necessarily in a straight line. This jump had flung me some 850,000 light years, to another section of space. I was in an entirely new area, near a whole new mess of undiscovered stuff. The black hole was gone. And so was Home.
I looked around for hours, trying to find ways to set a waypoint to previously discovered systems, in the hopes that I could at least know how far away Home was. Nothing. There was no way to pinpoint my discoveries on the intergalactic map. In a universe of 18 quintillion planets… there was absolutely no way. Home is now lost forever.
I continued to explore the new area of space I’d found, but it didn’t feel the same. I landed on planet upon planet, all the while thinking, “it’s just not quite right.” After a few more hours of play, I gave up. I decided to call it quits - for the time being.
This was my journey, and, for now, it had come to it’s conclusion.
I call this a prelude because I feel like this game is going to weave in and out of my gaming life for a long time to come. It’s going to change and evolve; and so will I. There will be times I want to simply explore a strange world and see what’s out there; there will be times I decide that the path to the middle of the universe is a worthwhile trek to take. Even just writing this story has given me the itch to go forth and explore. I hope they do end up adding the ability to set waypoints to previously explored systems. Maybe, Just Maybe, I might one day find my way Home.
No Man’s Sky has been a constant rollercoaster as far as indie releases and video game coverage go. It’s been hyped beyond belief and crushed by public opinion. While nothing is certain with the future of this game, I know one thing that is - No Man’s Sky is a very different kind of game, one that challenges what is expected of video games in 2016. One might even say it’s unique.