Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Impressions – No Man’s Sky, Part 2 – No Man’s Planet

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 25, 2016

NMS 2016-08-12 21-27-34-65Several more hours into No Man’s Sky, and I’m past the point where many players have rage-quit. I’m at about 35 hours in, and still occasionally find myself playing a LOT longer than I intend in a session. Compared to something like Daggerfall, another gigantic procedural world which I spent triple-digits hours playing back in the day, No Man’s Sky has much more content, somewhat less progression, similar amounts of lore, and an easier-to-follow quest / story line. But I’m not the same man who played Daggerfall twenty years ago.

I guess I’m still the target audience.

Emergent Moments

NMS 2016-08-17 22-00-19-59So far, the game has continued to offer these unscripted (or partly-scripted ) moments that have been a heck of a lot of fun. Like the time I decided to fly away from the Sentinel patrols, laughing all the way into space, and then getting really scared when Sentinel SHIPS were sent to attack me. YIKES!  Or the time that I got the location of some ruins, but it stood atop this sheer-walled mesa that was too high to reach from below with my rocket pack, but there was no room to land on top of the plateau. I ended up shooting holes in the mountainous pillar and using those as toe-holds to launch additional rocket-pack jumps. Destroying my first elite Sentinel. Getting caught in a storm the first time with no available shelter, and having to create my own with grenades. Finding the final species of a creature on a planet (a couple of times). Discovering a wrecked space ship and trying to repair it. Realizing that another player has visited “your” star system and named a planet while you were offline. Being required by the questline to visit some ruins on a high-security planet, evading Sentinels just to get the necessary information required to move along with the storyline.

NMS 2016-08-17 22-40-58-79At one point, I turned 130k units into over a million units in a little over an hour of hustling inside one space station. Although I needed a space suit with LOTS of inventory space upgrades to pull it off so efficiently. The economy system is quite exploitable… but not in a way that I’d consider un-fun.

I had a very interesting “asynchronous multiplayer” experience the other night. I had gone to a new star system, did the exploration and uploading bit, and one of the planets was just wonderful. No protection from any harmful environments needed, no storms, just the basic life-support power for the suit needed. Plenty of wildlife, LOTs of plant life. Sentinel activity was minor, and there were no predators. Pretty much the perfect planet for just exploring the crap out of it. I hit location after location, wandering far from my ship. I managed to discover and name about 45% of the animals. Then it was time for bed.

NMS 2016-08-19 22-05-56-70The next evening, I logged in to find someone else had been to my planet, finished discovering the animals, and had discovered much of the remaining plant life throughout the day. At first, I was really annoyed. THIS WAS MY WORLD! I discovered it! I’d started the process!

Fortunately, the game still let me collect my bounty for my portion of the completed cataloging of the animals. And then – after following up on a few more locations, I realized there was nothing special left to do on MY planet anymore. Oh, I could keep exploring new locations for months – worlds are big, and focal point locations are never more than a couple minutes of walking away – but aside from it being the easiest planet yet to explore, there wasn’t anything really unique about it anymore. My world was cataloged and done. So I was done. I set back off into space, and after a few more errands, I hyperspaced out to the next star system… a completely undiscovered location. Probably never to return.

No Man’s Planet

NMS 2016-08-16 00-11-20-47And so I started pondering the meaning of the title of the game. A fundamental difference between No Man’s Sky and most other survival-oriented games of the type is that there is no concept of conquering the local terrain and making it your own. The closest you get is whatever spot of ground (or landing platform) you’ve parked you ship upon. Aside from that, you own nothing of the universe. Discovery is your sole means of making your mark.

The Sentinels reinforce this. They really define the game and its universe. They are the robot cops of the universe, enforcing some kind of law than prevents aliens (like yourself) from taking too much of anything at any one time from one location. I believe they evolved as a gameplay necessity. The survival aspect of the game is pretty low-key, but constant. Because the players start on an effectively random planet in the middle of nowhere, the designers had to make sure every planet was abundant enough in resources that a player would never be “stuck.” So… there’s an abundance of resources everywhere. Maybe not of the particular resource you need RIGHT NOW…  but the common, critical resources can be eventually be found on any world.

NMS 2016-08-17 00-20-47-50Unchecked, that really limits the value of exploration; the player could find all the consumable resources he or she needs forever within a hundred kilometer radius on a single planet. So I imagine the Sentinels were added to limit this and encourage players to glean sparingly and move on rather than set down roots and harvest. Thus they became the ever-present babysitters (and, for some, foes) of the game. They are not difficult to defeat (temporarily, as the infinite abundance in the game applied doubly to these machines), relatively easy to foil, but impossible to ignore.

If the worlds and the sky belong to anyone, they belong to the robotic Sentinels. And among other things, they serve as a constant reminder that you cannot own any world… you can only borrow from them.

Twisting the Tropes

I think this, as much as anything else, causes frustration with players. There are features which Sean Murray referred to and showed that did not make the final cut of the game as it was released – which may be a minor infraction or a major offense depending on how much a player was anticipating that feature. But many of the complaints that they “lied” about the game’s features revolve not around what was actually said or promised, but on what players interpreted based on other games’ features. Hello Games was very coy about not correcting misconceptions as the hype caught fire (after all, who would want to throw a wet blanket on THAT?), but that led to the game being a little bit of everything to everyone. But the end result was something altogether different from most space-sandbox or survival-oriented games.

In the end, it is the kind of experience I wanted. I kinda like being forced into the role of a space-nomad rather than a space-capitalist or colonist.  It’s a great idea for a game that has practically infinite content.  Keep pushing forward, keep exploring, never stay long in any one place, and make sure that those who come after you enjoy the breadth of the game as much as you did.

NMS 2016-08-15 22-21-34-01BUT… and there’s always a but… there’s a limit. The algorithms are cool and all, but after 25-35 hours, things have fallen into familiar patterns, and there’s not a lot to keep you pushing forward. It’s still fun to poke around, to work on upgrading my next ship, to learn a little more of the lore, and to meander slightly closer to the end-game. But there’s also the feeling that while it’s absolutely impossible to see it all, you’ve also gotten to the point where you’ve seen enough like it for it not to matter.

Keeping it Fresh

While it would have been impossible for any game to keep up with the hype that surrounded No Man’s Sky, there are many things that could be done at this point to realize more of the potential of the game. For me, it’s off to a great start, but it also seems like… to quote the excellent SF movie Contact… “it seems like an awful waste of space.” While complete enough (IMO) in its original release, it also feels like the universe of No Man’s Sky could be a platform on which a great deal more can be build. The universe is big enough that it doesn’t need to be expanded in geography, but a lot more gameplay and exploration depth could be added.

But as this post is already WAY too long, I’ll save that for another day.


Filed Under: Impressions, Mainstream Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Adamantyr said,

    Thanks for your postings and review of No Man’s Sky!

    When I saw screenshots of the game, I was immediately like “Oh yes… this is what will get me to update my desktop PC after six years.” But now I’m not so certain… It sounds like it would be fun for awhile but get old very quickly.

    At least with Minecraft, everything is yours and you can always set yourself new challenges. I have yet to construct a new world that matches my original pre-alpha one (which is locked in an ice age thanks to pre-biome code design) with dozens of castles, homes, and various structures connected by a massive rail system.

  • Xenovore said,

    Regarding “keeping it fresh”. . .

    Seems like the main thing that’s missing is true multiplayer interaction. I.e. this game could be truly amazing if players could see each other, talk to each other, form guilds/alliances, build settlements together, fight the Sentinels together, etc.