No Man’s Sky promised a lot of things before launch: multiplayer interaction, intelligent alien races, ship discoveries, sharing resource info with other players via the galactic map, and other tinier details. No Man’s Sky failed to deliver on these promises, but that didn’t really matter because Hello Games was able to keep their word with regards to the big picture: the game allows you to explore 18 quintillion (!) planets, and you could freely explore this incredibly massive universe at your own pace. Not only that, there’s a secret that awaits you at the center of the galaxy.
For the past couple of weeks since the game launched on PS4, I’ve taken my time with No Man’s Sky. I’ve seen more than my fair share of dead planets, and I’ve discovered some really beautiful and lush environments too. I’ve befriended a herd of tiny goats, and I’ve been chased around by violent, meat-eating, bug-headed dinosaurs as well. But mostly I’ve been mining the planets for Gold and Emeril, and following the Atlas because you can get Atlas Stones from them, and those make you rich. My end goal for this game was to reach the center of the galaxy and find out what mystery waited for me there, and to do that, I decided to get rich so that my journey would be easier.
At the beginning of the game, I found myself gravitating towards the Atlas because of the aforementioned valuable Atlas Stones and I figured the Atlas could be an interesting path to follow too. But after looking up a couple of spoilers, I found out that the true Atlas ending could only be unlocked if you had all ten Atlas Stones with you by the time you reached the last Interface. Well then, that, I thought, would be that. I decided to alter my course, and head for the center instead. That’s where the main attraction lies, right?
Here’s your final spoiler warning: don’t watch the video below or read on if you don’t want to be spoiled on what lies in the center.
Though, to be perfectly honest, there’s really nothing to spoil. Once you reach the center, the game simply puts you back at the edge of a second galaxy, and you get to make that same tedious journey all over again – that same one you’ve been making for the past 40 to 50 hours of game time.
No Man’s Sky is an immersive space exploration sim, yes, but in its current state, the journey that you embark on quickly becomes empty and meaningless because you start to realize that the entire game is a repetitive grind to reach an ‘endpoint’ that isn’t really the end at all. Yes, you can discover planets, but there are only so many strikingly beautiful sunsets the game can offer you before you start to get bored and decide, okay, now I’ll journey to the center. Animals in No Man’s Sky are nothing more than environmental objects that cough up resources when you feed them, and sometimes chase you around if they’re programmed as carnivores. You’ll spend hours shooting down the same space pirates, mining for the same resources, and interacting with the same three alien races that really aren’t all that distinct after all.
Let’s put this in perspective: the true Atlas ending requires you to reach certain journey milestones before you can complete that storyline. This means that you have to spend time in all aspects of the game to achieve enough milestones before you can talk to them. And what’s the end result? Atlas allows you to birth a new galaxy, and you get to go on that same journey all over again. If you don’t have the Atlas Stones to complete the story, you are turned away, and you start journeying to the center instead. If you rush to the center, the game simply teleports you to yet another galaxy with no explanation whatsoever.
Vague endings and core gameplay loops aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, and they can be incredibly powerful when handled well. But in the case of No Man’s Sky, these vague endings are frustrating and unjustified because your journey was meaningless overall. Aliens are interacted with in pretty much the same ways, animals don’t do anything unless they’re violent, and planets only house minerals that exist to make your journey to the center smoother.
What happened to the great mystery that was supposed to be uncovered at the center of the galaxy? Where’s the closure that we were supposed to get once we reached that elusive galactic core? With No Man’s Sky, both the journey and the destination feel shallow and empty. Aside from the opening hours of the game where everything feels new and shiny, the illusion of grandeur and the vastness of space is quickly stripped away to reveal a hollow shell of a game that will quickly leave you feeling empty and, to some extent, a little bit cheated of your time.
Personally, I’m glad I was spoiled on the ending of No Man’s Sky. Imagine spending hours upon hours upgrading your Hyperdrive, amassing large sums of units and resources, and making a beeline to the center only to find that the game simply sends you to the edge of another galaxy so you can repeat that process all over again. The pointlessness and emptiness of such an ending isn’t something that any player deserves to experience.