No Man’s Sky, A Dissent

No Man’s Sky, a recently released video game with expectations somehow even larger than it’s in-game world, has been taking a lot of flak. Middling review after middling review, and comments sections full of displeased gamers may give an outside viewer the impression that this game has missed some intended mark in a dramatic way, and that it isn’t worth the asking price — or indeed for some, any price.

I’ve been completely sucked into this game and am having a hell of a lot of fun, so I figured I’d write up a dissenting opinion. Here it goes!

Looking at the game from orbit, it is nothing short of a technical marvel. A universe of unfathomable scale, filled with procedurally generated planets — scale similarly unfathomable, filled with procedurally generated plants and wildlife. Procedural generation can lead to tiring designs and patterns as it has in other titles, but the variation in the worlds and creatures I’ve encountered have blown me away. You can recognize the essential building blocks of things after you see them enough times, but they are always combined and rearranged in new and exciting ways. The animals are as often funny and startling as they are dangerous or majestic. The planets are an eye-popping pallet of colors, with vastly varied terrain, with weird weather, caves, forests, lakes and oceans, and more.

These are very very large planets, and walking to distant points on foot can take many hours (honest-to-goodness real life hours). This is highly inadvisable, and circling a planet in your starship can be accomplished in mere minutes. Real world travel time between two planets can be measured in days before you engage pulse drive to speed things up. The real actual scale of this game dwarfs anything that has come before it. All of this needs to be recognized as the massive accomplishment that it is.

Beyond simply exploring and taking it in, the majority of time in the game will be spent mining resources, learning to interact with the intelligent alien species that populate the game’s world, expanding one’s capabilities through galactic trading and a crafting system, and maybe something or other about venturing toward the center of the galaxy (this last part is of very low importance to me). It is the kind of loop that I’ve found hard to pull away from, and the kind of loop that no other “open world” game has really been able to make work for me. It is open ended. It is undirected. It makes me jump when I look at my watch and realize how long I’ve been sitting on the couch playing.

The majority of complaints I’ve heard from the internet at large (besides technical issues such as crashing and weird bugs, which are unfortunate but likely to be patched away shortly and don’t get in the way of playing too much) sound like this: “I wanted the game to be something else.” Whether said disgruntled internet commenter thought there would be multiplayer in the game, or a deep riveting story, or more complex combat, or base building, etc., the game is what it is. And maybe that’s a dealbreaker for some people, and that’s OK.

No Man’s Sky is not for everyone, but it is for me. It’s a quiet, lonely, massive, colorful, fascinating game that has eaten a lot of my time. I find it well worth the $60 price tag. Many features people want could feasibly be added in future updates, but even if the game were never updated past it’s current state today I would not regret my purchase. If you want to get lost in space, No Man’s Sky will take you there.