I’ve said before that I looked forward to the day that games took me realistic amounts of time to make it to distant locations. Case in point, The Lord of the Rings is, if you watch the extended editions, about a 12 hour epic. The story in its entirety, according to the timeline, took about four years to complete from the point where Frodo left Weathertop to the point that he dropped the One Ring into Mt. Doom’s unending fire. That being said, most of the destinations he travelled between took many weeks or months to journey between. Sure, fast-forward for movie’s sake, because no one wants to see every jot and tiddle, every night of sleep, all that jazz.
Point is, I love the fact that the story took a long time, travel was meaningful and had to be calculated, you get the idea.
No Man’s Sky, touted for some time as revolutionary, groundbreaking, and infinitely procedurally generated, has arrived earlier this month. While the “infinite” is certainly a fact, there are a few things that fall painfully short.
I remember when the first concept videos and alpha footage dropped on the internet, showing world’s teeming with life, varied environments, and memorable moments. I was working at Best Buy at the time, and my coworkers and I talked constantly about how we’d never see the light of day again, that the game would consume our souls.
Release day came, I picked the game up, took it home, my girlfriend was excited to see it, telling me we had to name all kinds of stuff after Dr. Who references…
She’s geeky too. Don’t judge. 😛
The first world, that first experience, knowing that there were over 18 quintillion more planets to see, fixing my ship, getting things going, it was all pretty amazing. I gathered my materials, then ran for miles and miles, juggling my miniscule inventory, crafting things as I went, upgrading, buying more suit slots for my spacesuit, and finally made the twenty or so minute trek back to my tiny spaceship, lifting, for the first time, into the air, booming my engine as I blasted into the sky, the clouds and atmosphere finally tearing away into the colorblasted void of space, nebulas in the distance, tiny flecks of light indicating other locations, space stations, giving the feeling of the infinite black.
In only a few hours, this novelty faded into obscurity as the same aliens, similar ships, and a narrow line of supplies became painfully common. I juggled gear between ships, ran similar missions across multiple planets, which multiplied into different star systems. Despite the promises of procedurally generated worlds with varied flora and fauna, I found that most of my encounters were on the disappointing side of same-y, with similar aliens, identical droids, and those same three alien races that always taunted me into thinking there were more somewhere.
I doubt it, and I’m not going to explore a billion star systems in my lifetime to find out otherwise.
No Man’s Sky is a premise unlike anything before it. The loading is seamless, the universe is boggling in its mass, and the sheer scale of everything is something beyond the understanding of people. The scale is lost between worlds, as you can run forever, circling a planet, with nearly endless encounters on any rock you land on.
Once you’ve arrived at a new locale, you can spend even more countless hours naming everything. My girlfriend and I already named Gallifrey of Dr. Who fame, which I’m sure has a dozen other planets with the same name already. I’ve seen some amusing and slightly facepalm-worth videos on YouTube of people naming things such pleasantries as “Your Anus,” “The Pussy Planet” and “Blue Waffle.” Naming conventions, Hello Games, let’s look at some naming conventions.
Combat, however, phones it in very hard. The land-based combat feels a few generations old at this point. It’s clunky, far too simple, and ultimately amounts to standing around, shooting at things until they stop moving. There’s no incentive to engage.
Space combat commits even larger percentages of these atrocities, as even defending massive fleets from invaders, and by invaders, I mean three fighters of such miniscule threat that it hardly seems necessary to put out a call for help, are a frustrating joke for the player.
First of all, there’s only two or three of them. Secondly, they’re insanely accurate, very fast, and there’s no real interface to use items to restore shields or weapon power on the fly. You have to open your inventory and do it manually. What kind of cockamamie crap is that? More than once, I’ve gotten my face kicked in because I had to stop and reload some weapon, or my shield, because I was getting slapped about by the overly accurate NPC pilots. And once you do manage to dispatch them, do you get some epic prize? Your choice of a new ship? A blonde, brunette, or redhead sexy alien to serve as your co-pilot in your coming adventures?
You get a bit of a rep boost with the faction you’re helping. It amounts to the same joy I get out of paying bills.
This all being said, I have not had a chance yet to experience the game since the latest patch that Hello Games announced, promising that players would be “very happy” after this new update was implemented.
I dunno, maybe they’re shutting the servers down or something.
I wanted No Man’s Sky to be good, really I did. I still love the direction that Hello Games took, trying to create a setting in which players could literally spend the rest of the average human lifespan exploring, but never completely seeing. It gives way to the feeling of insignificance we pose to the remainder of the cosmos. Perhaps that’s the message waiting at the center of the universe when one finishes the game. I don’t know, people have finished it, but I haven’t read anything on what actually happens at the center of it all.
For now, Hello Games has given the gaming industry something to think about in terms of scale. Perhaps these short games will start fading into the past, and longer, more resilient games will start coming along, with more to do, more engaging stories, and things that keep us coming back for more.
Happy hunting, my friends!