No Man’s Sky is a game straddled by the burden of fan expectations. In the 3 years of development preceding its release, the game was a constant curiosity. Depending on who you ask, you could hear a smorgasbord of what people thought/wished/expected the game to be. “I’m just gonna trade the entire time. I’m gonna be a bounty hunter. I hope you can build bases. I’m gonna head for my friend’s planets and play with them.”
Nobody actually had concrete details about what the game was in practice, just that you could fly in space, head to different planets, and discover some cool things. And for a while, that’s all anybody needed. But years later, we still knew very little about it, mostly because Sony, Hello Games, and founder Sean Murray had kept a tight seal on information. He’d share the occasional video and a vague description of things you can do, but we never got a clear sense of what moment-to-moment No Man’s Sky actually looked like.
Now, in the wake of the first week of No Man’s Sky release, the lack of information has, understandably, led to fans and critics alike being disappointed about what the game truly is. And that’s what we want to talk about today: a guide of sorts that will clearly explain what kind of game No Man’s Sky is, and the best ways to enjoy your time with it.
The first thing to understand, above all else, is that No Man’s Sky is a survival game with crafting. That undersells what else there is to do, but the survival base underpins your entire time with the game. Depending on the planet you find, you’ll often be scrounging for materials and increase your life support, fuel your ship, and allow you to craft better parts for your suit, multi-tool, and starship.
And when you’re not doing that, you’re exploring planets. You might happen upon Monoliths that help you learn alien languages, break into manufacturing facilities that contain new crafting recipes, and a lot more smaller adventures. But that’s where the real fun of No Man’s Sky is: the smaller adventures.
Don’t convince yourself that this is the last video game you’ll ever need. The game has some of the most impressive random generation tech that games have ever seen, but that doesn’t mean it has unlimited interesting content. After your 8th planet or so, you’ll notice a loop to the game that persists throughout. Sure, you’re learning new words, but you’re finding monoliths that look exactly the same as the last one. You’re seeing animal parts you’ve seen in varied mixes elsewhere.
This is true for the entirety of the experience. There is a legitimate novelty and sense of wonder when you happen upon a truly interesting planet full of life and beautiful views, but the part where it’s a video game remain shallow. The goals the game naturally sets up for the player are, for many people, not great and not conducive to a good “story mode” format. There are paths that will lead to deeper narrative realizations, but they remain subtle throughout.
So with this in mind, why is No Man’s Sky a fantastic game?