No Man’s Sky is a fascinating but boring technical achievement [This Week in Gaming]

I like to imagine an alternate narrative where Hello Game’s No Many’s Sky was not hyped up by Sony at almost every major press event over the last two years.

In this fictional idealistic universe, the tiny indie game’s popularity grows organically, with No Man’s Sky eventually evolving into the sleeper hit of summer 2016. This happens because, someone like myself, who covers technology and video games, picks up the title by chance and discovers there’s something special about it. I’d then quickly hop on the the internet and pen a quick editorial discussing on its infinite, randomly generated world, created by a small team of approximately 10 people, has changed the face of gaming.

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Unfortunately, the reality of No Man’s Sky is very different. Because Sony’s release schedule has been relatively sparse for the last few years in terms of big name titles, apart from Bloodborne and Uncharted 4, a game that should have been released as a budget-priced indie title, is being marketed as the harbinger of a new era in gaming.

After a seemingly never-ending hype train that lasted roughly two years, many people have monumental expectations for what has turned out to be an incredibly ambitious video, and for most, the No Man’s Sky is a massive disappointment.

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Even for someone like myself, who went into the game with an understanding of what I was getting myself into; a indie developed title that features a massive world and environments that will likely be repetitive, Hello Game’s project has been a disappointment.

While the fact that No Man’s Sky’s procedurally generated universe consists of 18 quintillion planets — a number that is so huge it means infinite — is both daunting and impressive, in reality, many of these planets are nearly identical to one another, adopting similar randomly generated plant life, animals and almost identical colour pallets.

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Your Mom V2

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To be fair, I have landed on slightly more diverse celestial bodies covered in water and deep, winding caves, but given the game’s randomly generated nature, after a few additional hours of play time, even these planet’s key features begin to feel pedestrian after they’re repeated multiple times across No Man’s Sky’s vast galaxy.

Submitting these creatures to the Atlas, a universal database of creatures, and assigning each animal a name of your choosing, is a fascinating experience — after all, you’re the first person to discover this animal on a previously unclaimed planet — but by the third time you call a dinosaur looking bird “your mom” the novelty begins to wear off.

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Nightmare fuel. #nomanssky

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This is because discovering these creatures and exploring is the entire point of No Man’s Sky. While my first few hours with the game were entertaining as I collected resources, fixed my ship and then proceeding to upgrade it with new functionality, I quickly grew bored of the game’s focus on resource collecting. In many ways, No Man’s Sky is a constant grind akin to Destiny’s end-game, only without the expertly balanced shooting mechanics Bungie is known for.

That’s not to say that there aren’t cool moments in No Man’s Sky, because there definitely are fascinating experiences to be had in the game. The issue is that they don’t happen very often and quickly become repetitive.

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For example, during my first few hours with the No Man’s Sky, I entered a deep, dark cave, full of mesmerizing purple stalactites, and quickly became lost. Because of the game’s randomly generated nature, It was quite possible there wasn’t even a second exit. After approximately an hour or so of desperately searching and my life support meter slowly depleted, I finally found the exit just in time.

While frustrating, I felt a sense of satisfaction stemming from finally escaping the confines of the randomly generated cavern. It was just me, my poor navigation skills and a mining laser against the enormous universe. Likewise, many of the game’s best moments happen during combat again space pirates.

Overall, the jokes you’ve likely heard before are correct, No Man’s Sky really is ‘Mining Simulator 2016’, leaving players with few other reasons to continue playing beyond discovering new creatures and planets.

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If No Man’s Sky were priced considerably cheaper, perhaps in the $30 to $40 range, and not marketed by Sony as a gaming changing, genre defining experience, then perhaps it would be easier to recommend the title, which, to its credit, truly is a technical achievement of epic proportions. I hope the technology Hello Games has created is adapted for other gaming purposes.

With structured missions, perhaps even randomly generated tasks that give players goals to complete, No Man’s Sky could have been something truly special. In the game’s current state, however, especially given its $79 CAD price tag, Hello Games’ overly ambitious title feels half-baked.

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