Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Impressions – No Man’s Sky, Part 1

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 17, 2016

NMS 2016-08-15 22-50-39-78No Man’s Sky. I kind of ignored it at first, because I have played a LOT of spacefaring games and survival games, and even spacefaring survival games, many of which had procedural content generation. But this one had some really great trailers and screenshots of supposedly procedurally generated landscapes and creatures, and so I soon fell prey to at least some of the hype. And … the pictures. Really, it was the screenshots. As a fan of the classic SF paintings by artists like Chris Foss, I really wanted a game that would generate those kinds of vistas. I wanted to be those SF paintings.

With all the hype and the inevitable backlash, admitting that you like No Man’s Sky is pretty much admitting weakness. It’s like admitting you liked the movie Titanic. But seriously, I read the reviews and I wonder if people are playing the same game I am. I’m not quite twenty hours in at the time of this writing, but my very limited free time this week has been consumed largely by this game. So far, I’m still enjoying it. It runs really, really well on my new GTX 1070. Maybe I’m cheating, but… hey, I’m happy.

NMS 2016-08-15 00-32-04-87So what is the game really about? The marketing guys say it’s about exploration, survival, combat, and trading. I’d say in order of significance, that’s about it. It’s not Minecraft in space. Minecraft is about building and altering the landscape. You have even more infinite landscapes in No Man’s Sky, but your ability to impact them is very limited, and building anything even less so. Things reset when you leave the system, so all the holes you may have punched in the terrain and swaths of resources you harvested will return.


Primarily, it’s about exploration. You are rewarded for discovering things, both with money (“units”) and with the satisfaction of forever tagging your discoveries with your own user name and whatever name you choose for the location, geological formation, plant, or animal. Discover all the animal species on a planet, and you get a significant bonus. So, like Pokémon, it’s good to grab ’em all. I have done this once so far, but finding that very last species was infuriating. It wasn’t until I was standing over what looked like a dry river bed, in the scorching heat of the noon day (nighttimes were cool, but daytime was extremely hot and drained the heat protection of the suit), watching the shadows of birds play across the ground, when I thought, “BIRDS!” I looked up, zoomed in on my optics, and sure enough, that was the species I’d been missing.

NMS 2016-08-14 10-37-35-56Creatures may have variants within a species that can be identified separately. You can eventually run out of plants and rocks to identify, but the landscape of every planet (that I’ve seen so far) is littered with other locations you can name and upload for a reward – from little outposts and shelters to survival drop-pods to secured manufacturing facilities to trading posts, and much more. Not nameable but perhaps more significant are the ruins and ancient alien monoliths scattered all over the planets. These locations don’t have a direct monetary reward, but grant you insight into the back-story of the universe and the alien races. They will frequently reward you with more words of an alien language, so you can better converse with the sentient beings you’ll come across, as well as a better relationship with one of the races. Some of the locations will provide you information on locations of anomalies on other worlds or in other star systems. I’m still not well-traveled across the universe, so that part’s still a bit vague for me. Many of the locations will have extra supplies, blueprints for crafting, upgrades to your equipment, trading interfaces, or aliens you can interact with for rewards.

NMS 2016-08-12 20-07-42-46My favorite locations so far have been drop pods which have suit slot upgrades (yay for more inventory slots!), and crashed spaceships. If you can repair the crashed space ship, you can make it your own. So far the ones I’ve found haven’t been significant upgrades over my own ship, so they weren’t worth it. But… I’ll keep searching.

There’s a storyline, which is really more of a quest line (or three) that encourages you to make your way through the universe doing more exploring. Of course, the issue with exploration is that it needs to be a challenge. And not the finding-a-needle-in-a-haystack kind of challenge, either… that’s just boring. And there’s some of that, too.


Survival is a significant element, but at least on most of the early worlds I’ve explored, it is not a significantly challenging one. It’s pretty casual. In addition to maintaining your suit’s life support, you may need special shielding from hazards on most planets. These hazards include things like toxic atmospheres, extreme temperatures, and radiation. And being underwater, which seems kind of strange if the suit is already providing you with breathable air, but… hey, whatever. Some planets – the ones I tend to stick around and explore the most – have fairly mild hazards (or none, except during storms, if any). You have to make sure you maintain a supply of power and either materials to repair your shielding, or stick close to shelter (your ship, alien buildings, or caves) so you can duck in and regenerate your protection automatically.

NMS 2016-08-15 00-49-54-25I’ve been on one planet that looked beautiful and seemed fine on paper, but it was bitter cold all the time, and frequently wracked with storms that would drain my suit’s protection within seconds. I ended up spending a lot of time inside my ship, hearing the precipitation rain on the hull. Which is actually kind of cool, but it doesn’t make for intense gameplay.

Fortunately, crucial resources needed for your suit, your multitool, and your ship are generally in plentiful supply. Seriously, plutonium seems like one of the most common elements in this universe.

One of the tricks to harvesting whatever you want whenever you want are the sentinels. These authoritarian robo-nannies constantly float around every planet in the universe (that I’ve seen) making sure you do very little to impact the natural environment. These guys are self-replicating murderous pets of space-Greenpeace and space-PETA or something. The amount of impact they’ll tolerate changes from planet to planet. Do too much at one time, and they’ll call for reinforcements and try to kill you.  However, if you space out your harvesting, avoid getting attacked by predators (yes, you may survive a predator attack only to get killed by Sentinels), try to run and hide from the sentinels after you draw their attention, you can avoid confrontations with them on lightly-patrolled planets.  But one planet I visited – one that was required for me to visit to follow my chosen storyline – was effectively declared off-limits by the sentinels, and they’d immediately attack on sight. I had to fight off a couple of waves of them to get my business done with an alien monolith. Actually, I thought that seemed like a decent plot point for me – the Sentinels were actively preventing anyone from even setting foot on the planet with this monolith providing key information about the Atlas. But I think that just happened to be the luck of the draw for me.


Which brings us to combat. It’s not great, but it can be fun. Sometimes. At least as a change in pace. Space combat provides the least options, and it’s a pain to have to manually repair the shields in the inventory screen while bad guys are actively shooting at you. There’s not much more you can do other than fly around and shoot semi-accurately. There’s really not many ways to evade / escape, although frequently combats will occur near space stations or big freighter fleets (especially if you are coming to the aid of a distress call from the fleet) and those may provide some “geography” to fly and fight around.

At least on the ground, there are often some options. If you aren’t out in the open, you can find (or even make) cover. Fighting with Sentinels comes with a time limit: If you don’t kill them fast, they’ll summon reinforcements. Also, if you can make it back to your ship, you can always fly away.


NMS 2016-08-15 14-44-55-12Then there’s trading. It’s… trading. It’s not that exciting, although if you are clever and patient, you can probably make money more quickly that way than any other method. And it is kinda fun talking to alien pilots and seeing what they’ve got to offer, and seeing if you want to buy their ships.

Trading is pretty much a maintenance-level thing for me, so far. It’s just… I do it. I pick up items and resources, keep what I need, and sell the rest. It’s nice when I can find a place to do it on a planet, so I don’t have to fly my ship up to the nearest space station to sell junk. But it’s part of the casualness of the game that this usually isn’t really a big deal. If there’s one (or more) in orbit around the planet, it’s like driving over to the 7-Eleven down the road.


One of my other hopes and expectations for the game was that it produce really cool screenshots.  I wanted to feel like I was inside a 60’s / 70’s era SF book cover.  And for the most part, I think it succeeds. Yeah, there are some drab, boring planets that aren’t all that photogenic. But that’s part of the variety. A lot of the flora ends up looking pretty familiar, and the buildings of a particular race are similar, but … it can still be pretty cool-looking.

NMS 2016-08-16 00-36-14-72


NMS 2016-08-12 20-01-15-74

DonalDuckBeastWe also get some pretty goofy-looking creatures, which I consider a bonus. Honestly, the really weird combinations are a lot more fun than the straight-up majestic earthlike beasts. Cow-like creatures with claws and giant fleshy hummingbird wings? Check. Snakes with crab shells and spider legs? Got it. Things that look like hopping potted plants? Oh, yeah. They are kinda cool. I want to see some that are predatory, though. That would be hella cool. They probably exist somewhere in the universe.


So if I were to summarize the game … at least as far as I understand it after several hours… I’d say it was a casual, 3D spacefaring roguelike-like? (minus a steep death penalty) with a heavy emphasis on peaceful exploration and a practically infinite procedural universe. Which is straight-up what I expected it to be. So for me, the game happily meets expectations.

I think part of the reason some folks don’t like it was that they expected it to be more… which might not be their own fault, as the developer did make a few comments suggesting more to it than I’ve currently seen. Although… maybe it’s out there, somewhere, and I just haven’t seen it all. I never will. Twenty hours in, and I’ve only visited about a dozen of the 18 quadrillion worlds.

I’ll have a bit more to say about the game later. I will venture that as much fun as I’m having, and as cool as the algorithms seem to be for generating cool-looking stuff, I’m starting to see some of the limits. Unless things radically change as I get closer to the center of the universe, things will get a little old. Still good enough for me to play on a casual level, just to chill out and explore a new planet for an hour and make some token progress, but maybe not enough to keep my attention as riveted as it has been this week.

Of course, I say that, and then I pop into the game for “just a few minutes,” and then two hours later I’m hunting down the last two species of animal, I’ve got two new monolith positions on tracking, and I’m worried about the next star system being dominated by a totally new alien race and I’ll once again not understand anything about their language…

Filed Under: Impressions, Mainstream Games - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Comments are closed.