Title: No Man’s Sky Released On: July 24, 2018 Genre: Action-adventure Reviewed On: Xbox One (X) Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games MSRP: $49.99USD/$49.99CAD/£39.99GBP
A New Horizon
No Man’s Sky is an action-adventure survival game that was developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games. Let us begin by setting a few things straight. This is a review of No Man’s Sky for Xbox One, which released on 24th July 2018.
Yes, the game originally launched two years ago on PC and Playstation 4, and the majority of recent reviews endeavor to stress that point.
Yes, the game has evolved significantly over the course of two years on those platforms, with the current rhetoric being that No Man’s Sky has finally met the initial promises that were made.
No, none of that should factor in what is the review of an actual ‘New Game’ for the Xbox One.
With that being said, the NEXT update for No Man’s Sky was indeed a significant milestone for the game; but for Xbox One players—or rather those that game solely on the Xbox One—this is the only version of No Man’s Sky they have ever known. I have owned No Man’s Sky since launch on PC — I actually pre-ordered it in fact — but for the purposes of this review, I tried my best to treat the game as if I was playing it for the first time..
…and in many ways, it was a completely new adventure.
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
— Carl Sagan
No Man’s Sky is Massive
When No Man’s Sky begins, players finds themselves stranded on a strange world with no memory of how they got there. These early stages of the experience serve as a tutorial, enabling players to become accustomed with some of the basic mechanics such as movement, resource acquisition, and repairing equipment. Your actual experience in these early moments of the game will vary greatly depending on the game mode you chose (Normal, Survival, Permadeath, or Creative) as well as the type of the planet you have initially spawned upon. The game modes themselves are just as they sound: Normal – a ‘chill exploration experience’, Survival – a ‘more challenging survival experience’, Permadeath – all progress is wiped upon death, Creative – the ability to ‘explore and create freely’ (unlimited health and resources, no story elements); but as far as your starting planet goes, there are around 18 quintillion (1.8 x 1019) possibilities.
To put the scope of No Man’s Sky into perspective, consider this: your journey begins on a planet, that planet is part of a system (a collection of planets orbiting a star), several star systems comprise a region (the Gabatki Terminus is the largest in the game, made up of 553 systems), and dozens upon dozens of these regions combine to make a single galaxy. All players begin in the Euclid galaxy initially, which is 1 of the 256 unique galaxies that the procedural engine can create within the universe of No Man’s Sky.
This means that if you were somehow able to visit a planet every single second, and travel between them instantly; it would take you approximately 585 billion years to see the entire game. Needless to say, No Man’s Sky offers a scale that is seldom seen in video games, but at the same time it is tiny compared to our own actual universe. Whilst No Man’s Sky may only contain 256 unique galaxies, our own universe is estimated to contain between 100 and 200 billion galaxies.
The only thing more mind-boggling than the magnitude of our universe is the realm of quantum physics in my opinion. Whilst there are more stars in our galaxy than grains of sand on all the beaches of earth, there are more atoms in a grain of sand than there are stars in our galaxy.
The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.
— Carl Sagan
What is it About?
Given the size of the game, and the nature of procedural generation, no two players will have the same game experience. This in turn results in any review of No Man’s Sky being based completely off the reviewer’s own personal experience with the game, and that experience may not be representative of your own. With that being said, there are some common threads that bind our individual adventures together, which are the various story arcs. Without giving too much away, there are 3 main stories within No Man’s Sky. These arcs often interweave with each other, and serve as a great direction to take if you find yourself at a loss in regards to what you should do next.
One of the story lines—if you apply some deep thought—will potentially even make you consider your very own existence and possibly even the meaning of life as we know it. The lore within No Man’s Sky is fantastic, and takes some considerable twists and turns as it progresses; but the deep philosophical questions that the game can potentially make you consider, makes it so much more than just ‘Minecraft in space’ as I have often seen the game described as.
The often missed crux of No Man’s Sky is that the game is whatever you want it to be. There is no right or wrong way to play the game, and whilst I highly recommend playing through the main quest lines, you most certainly do not need to do so in order to enjoy the game. I wager that most critics of the game—concerning game play itself, not bugs—lack the imagination or creativity to fully embrace what the game could be for them. Which is a shame, as those people are missing out on what can be a wonderful journey of discovery; in literal terms as the galaxies are explored, as well as the insight that can be gained during the self-discovery that may occur during their time with No Man’s Sky.
Regardless of how you choose to play the game, your own personal enjoyment will depend greatly on what you consider to be fun. Anyone that finds themselves bored or unable to see the point of No Man’s Sky is most likely testament to their own lack of imagination, rather than a critique of the game itself. Whilst it can be claimed that this game is not enjoyable for everyone, I would argue that everyone can find something enjoyable within this game.
Imaginations will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.
— Carl Sagan
Setting Down Roots
During the early hours of No Man’s Sky, it feels and plays like many games within the survival sub-genre. You begin with minimal equipment and are required to collect resources, craft technology, and potentially build a shelter in order to survive the hostile open-world environment. This can result in some unexpected results due to the procedural generation engine of the game. Many players find themselves beginning their journey on a planet with such a hostile environment, that by the time the mandatory—and unskippable—cut-scenes have finished; their character is already almost dead. I concede that this can be frustrating, and even off-putting, but that is the nature of RNG values being plugged into a procedural algorithm; there is no telling how your adventure will start. You very well may just need to ‘roll the dice’ a few times to find a starting planet that you are happy with.
Planets—and even moons—are most likely where most players will spend the majority of their time, which in itself is not a bad thing. Whilst they vary from barren wastelands with no signs of life to lush tropical paradises that are filled with vibrant ecosystems, they are all beautiful in their own way. Some of the creatures you will encounter are truly sights to behold, once again thanks to the procedural generation engine. Some creatures may appear to be very similar to organisms that our human minds are familiar with, whilst others are absolute monstrosities that are difficult to comprehend. I even found a species that resembled a cross between a Moonkin from World of Warcraft and a Furby, and they were only knee-high and were prone to scurrying around the place with their arms flailing:
Just exploring a single planet as fully as you can is a sizable task in itself, which would take a considerable amount of time if you relied solely on walking/jet-packing around. But thankfully you do not have to, as eventually you will gain access to Exocraft which will enable you to traverse across planets at a much quicker pace. These terrestrial vehicles are an absolute blast, and actually provide access to several activities and aid discovery. I have actually found myself several times losing all concept of time and just zooming around a planet, launching off high peaks and flying through the air in such a way that would make the Dukes of Hazzard green with envy.
Access to these vehicles is gated behind technology that is built within your base, which could potentially be the primary way you find yourself playing No Man’s Sky. Once you have crafted certain pieces of equipment (autonomous mining machines, atmosphere harvesters, refiners) acquiring resources is no longer a long drawn-out affair of going hunting for them. In fact, if you also craft landing pads for your base, NPCs will land at your base providing you with the ability to sell your wares as well as purchase items you may need. You can search the planet itself for ancient ruins, drop pods, crashed freighters, supply depots, abandoned buildings; there are a lot of things to keep you busy on just a single planet.
In many ways, you could choose to just set up your base on one world and leave it at that. There is more than enough to keep you occupied on just a single planet, but due to the varying advanced minerals available depending on the region of space that you are currently in; you may eventually find that you need to take to space in order to craft certain advanced items.
But yes, I acquiesce that you could choose to play No Man’s Sky as a fancy-looking Minecraft if you really wanted to.
The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.
— Carl Sagan
Search the Stars
Exploring the cosmos has several different aspects to it within No Man’s Sky. Each inhabited planetary system—yes, there are also abandoned systems—contains a Spaceport. Discovering your first Spaceport is truly one of the most epic experiences of the game, the music alters dramatically and the player soon discovers that they are very much not alone in their travels. Eventually Spaceports lose their luster, and just serve as a way to acquire missions/technology/upgrades, but they are a vital aspect of space exploration. They also provide an extremely convenient way to fast-travel between systems courtesy of their portals, providing teleportation to any other Spaceports—or your base if you have a built a teleporter—you have already discovered. Certainly saves having to engage your Warp Drive within your ship.
When it comes to ships, even that can provide a formidable grind for the avid collector out their. There are 5 main archetypes of ship: Fighter, Explorer, Shuttle, Hauler, and Exotic. The first 4 archetypes each vary in a range of ways. Classes vary: C/B/A/S, with S class ships having considerable bonuses to the key attribute of their class. Size also varies, with the storage available dependent on whether the ship is small, medium, or large. And also the aesthetics of the ship will vary depending on the primary life-form that is present within the system. Finally, Exotic ships are truly sights to behold. There are various models, depending on whether it belongs to a Gek, Vy’keen, or Korvax; and the chances are you will only come across one in a system that is considered ‘wealthy’ or ‘opulent’. Whilst the chances of encountering one are fairly slim, and again dependent on RNG; if you travel between Outposts (not Spaceports) on a planet, you will significantly increase your chances of acquiring one. But they do not come cheap, so do not go looking until you have a fairly high unit balance.
Space combat in itself is yet another aspect of the game that is considerably enjoyable on its own. You could choose to spend the majority of your time hunting down Space-pirates for various rewards, or even become a Space-pirate yourself; hunting down Freighters and raiding them for the precious cargo they contain. Just keep in mind that they will not just let you take those resources however, so you may need to invest some technology upgrades into the combat systems and the shields of your ships. Whilst any ship is capable of being used for space combat, the fighter archetype has significant bonuses to combat and maneuverability ratings; especially at S class and with S rank technology installed.
The combat mechanics are initially quite easy, and well suited for controller play. But at the higher tiers and multiple enemies that you will have to fight at once, it can certainly become quite challenging if you do not have the technology to even the odds.
Searching for and acquiring ships is in itself a fun, yet time-consuming affair. But even the coolest looking of ships pales in comparison to the behemoths that also inhabit space.
That is of course the Freighters. As far as I know, Freighters are somewhat time-gated, meaning you will need to play for a certain amount of time (I believe 3 hours) as well as warped a certain amount of times. Once again, the first encounter with one is a truly epic experience; as a space battle of magnificent proportions erupts in front of you, whether you choose to aid them is entirely up to you however.
Eventually you will acquire your own freighter. They also vary much like ships, as far as class (C/B/A/S) and inventory size. They also enable you to build a base of sorts within them, albeit with limited availability and functionality; you can for example build the specialist terminals within them if you wish, but it will purely be for aesthetics and the NPCs will not function as quest-givers. In addition to the freighter itself, you can also recruit frigates to build your own fleet. These frigates vary in archetype: Combat, Exploration, Trade, Industrial, and Support; as well as class just like any other craft within No Man’s Sky (C/B/A/S). Building a fleet (mine is pictured above) is also an expensive affair, with frigate prices varying on their class; I believe the limit is 30 frigates, but I have not tested whether that is the case or not. I only currently have 26 within my own.
Ownership of a fleet also brings with it another useful aspect of the game, you can dispatch your frigates out on missions. These missions vary in type: Combat, Trade, Industrial, Discovery, Balanced; and have varying levels of difficulty. In the initial stages, when your frigates are not necessarily well-suited for a mission type, you will most likely find they experience damage. This provides another activity, as they will return to your Freighter and it will be up to you to repair the damaged components on the frigate. Admittedly this can be frustrating initially, especially if you have not yet amassed a stockpile of the necessary resources; but it also a fun little digression from the other aspects of the game. Plus you get to explore these craft, albeit in a limited manner for something a little a different.
Once you progress further into these missions, your frigates will indeed improve. Each frigate tracks the amount of missions it has completed, and is capable of leveling up. These missions reset daily, and in my opinion are well worth doing. The rewards they provide, especially at the higher tiers of difficulty, are capable of rewarding a substantial amount of credits as well as rare resources and crafting materials.
We are like butterflies that flutter for a day and think it is forever.
— Carl Sagan
Far From Perfect
No Man’s Sky is a fantastic looking game, provided you are playing it on an Xbox One X. The level of detail and the lighting effects are truly fantastic, and honestly very comparable to the levels of detail one would expect from a PC. I have noticed however that frame-rates can sporadically dip, especially on a planet with a lot of fauna or flora for example. I experimented slightly with enabling the ‘High-performance’ option rather than the ‘High-quality’ setting, which did indeed help things a fair bit. I ultimately however reverted to the quality settings, as the eye-candy is just too good not to. This did however make me curious about how it would look and run on a ‘normal’ Xbox One though.
Performance-wise, I was pleasantly surprised. The game actually ran considerably well, with no noticeable frame drops. The graphics themselves however, were completely unimpressive; very similar to what you would expect from playing a PC game at low or medium settings with no anti-aliasing enabled. Whilst the core mechanics of the game itself are of course identical, I fear that owners of a base Xbox One will not be mesmerised by the visuals as much as Xbox One X owners will.
It is also worth noting that the game has already received several patches since launching on the Xbox One. One of the earliest bugs was one that I experienced myself. After 5 hours of playtime, my save file had become corrupted; meaning that every time I attempted to load the game, it started from scratch. As I subsequently discovered, many other gamers also experienced this issue; with the blame allegedly being saving a game with a ship that had damaged components. Rather than wait for the fix to be released, I just started a new game and never looked back.
100 hours later, and now I have encountered yet another game-breaking bug. It is difficult for me to fully explain the problem without divulging huge spoilers, but let us just say that one of the story arcs is broken (well for me at least). Meaning that I cannot take my adventure to the ‘next-level’ so-to-speak. Further investigation revealed that this issue is also still present for some players on PC; and 2 years later has still not been patched, with the only work-around being manipulation of the save file itself via 3rd-party editing software. The latest patch (1.55) stated that it would fix these issues, so I updated my game in the hopes that I would be able to continue. Unfortunately, as many other players can testify to, it has not as of yet.
Were it not for my own game-breaking experiences, I would most likely assign a score of around 8.5 or possibly even 9 for No Man’s Sky. The combination of the graphical fidelity, the subtle yet fitting soundtrack (although, firing up a cosmic playlist on Spotify is also an excellent way to play the game), as well as the myriad of ways the game can be played, fully justifies a score on the higher end of the spectrum. But given the current issues, as well as many other problems that players are reporting—especially when it comes to multiplayer—I ultimately have to bring it down a notch.
Keep in mind, that playing No Man’s Sky is very much a labour of love for me. I have truly enjoyed the journey so far, but everyone’s journey will be unique, so assigning a score for a game of this magnitude is somewhat meaningless. No Man’s Sky is a technological triumph, but it is also far from perfect in its current form (game version 1.55).
Final Score: 7.5/10
The vastness that No Man’s Sky offers is magnificent, with stunning vistas and experiences that any gamer should experience. The Xbox One launch is off to a rocky start though, and still has a few wrinkles to iron out.
The review copy of this game was gifted to the reviewer by his editor, he promises to play the game with him eventually.