About two weeks ago (right after its release), I picked up a copy of "No Man's Sky." I knew a little about it and it sounded interesting. I knew it was space simulation focused on exploration with basic economies and the such. But the critical point was - I was only casually familiar with the game. Because of that, I went into with little expectations. And within minutes, I was hooked.
The game drops you off on a planet with a busted ship and little to no direction. This would normally frustrate the heck out of me, but as you're busy trying to survive, it's hard to be frustrated. You're on an unknown planet with tools you barely know how to use, hunting for materials to keep you alive, keep you safe, and help repair your ship. It's an incredible way to begin. And even when you take off and leave the planet, an awe-inspiring moment in the game, the feeling of confusion, fear, and wonder continues.
I don't think I can adequately explain the experience. The first portion of the game, let's say the first ten hours or so, is a complete struggle. Eventually, you begin to get the hang of things. You understand the basics. And you can start focusing on the exploration aspects of the game, and here's where the game's size truly begins to sink in. At over 18 quintillion planets, this is a game you'll never 100%. Heck, I don't think you could 0.001% it. But that's part of it's fascination. Every planet is a new experience. I'm probably a good 40 hours in now and I still see things that freak me out.
Yesterday it was what appeared to be a giant "soda straw" type rock formation. I have absolutely no idea how it could have been created but I just had to stop and look at it. Every hour in the game is like that. Either some random freaky planet atmosphere or freaky plant or really freaky creature.
As an example, here is an excellent Flickr collection by Brian Taylor.
Overall, the game is just... enticing. You pick your own path. You decide what to explore. It's really a game of what you bring to it versus the game telling you what to experience. If you want to spend days on one planet - do so. If you want to race along a path to the center of the galaxy, do so.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the game is your dealings with the other alien races in the game. Each race has their own language, and as you play, you pick up individual words a few at a time. Slowly, incredibly slowly, you begin to understand the creatures you're dealing with, and it becomes even more important to learn more of the language. So for example, you may know that a particular creature is talking about iron, but you may not know if they want it, or don't want it. This is the only game I can remember where earning money and hardware plays second fiddle to learning a language.
But you can't talk about this game without discussing all the controversy as well. I wasn't even aware of the problems until a few days into my addiction when I began perusing the main Reddit forum for the game. Apparently, there were a heck of a lot of features cut from the game before release. It is such an extensive list that when someone wrote it up, it exploded in popularity. The original author deleted both their account and the original post (no one knows why), but you can read the copy here:
Where's the No Man's Sky we were sold on?
I read it, and damn, there was a lot cut. I can understand the hate. And wow, there is a lot of hate out there. The game was also pretty buggy on PC. (On my PS4, I've had 2 crashes, which is a lot for a console game, but over 40+ hours, I'm not too concerned.) The negativity was so strong on the main Reddit forum that another one, NoMansHigh was created for discussion amongst people actually enjoying the game. The negativity was so strong that people were discussing how best to get refunds, even bragging about how to do so after days of gameplay. (Which, frankly, is bullshit if you ask me. If you've put 40+ hours into a game, asking for a refund is unfair.)
To me - the strong criticism of the game that rings true is that it is "wide but shallow". I can see the truth of that. When you look at what was cut from the game, the things you actually do are pretty limited. I suppose I'm just happy with those limitations. One of the reasons I haven't ever finished a Grand Theft Auto is not because the game wasn't fun, but because it simply felt too open ended. I get there's a good thing and I shouldn't be complaining, but sometimes it feels like I'd rather have more constrained games. As I've said, every planet is unique. I may be doing the same thing on every planet, but the visuals, the lifeforms, they never cease to amaze me. I get excited every time I blast down through the atmosphere and finally see my new destination up close.
So yeah, I recommend it, but definitely recognize that this is one of those games where there is probably, no, definitely, no middle ground. You're either going to love it or hate it. I know which side I fall on.