Sitting patiently as the minutes ticked past midnight, I was eagerly anticipating the release of No Man’s Sky on the PS4 in the UK. Here was a game that I had been waiting three years for, an indie title that went above and beyond (what should have been) the restrictions of the small team who made it to become the most hyped thing around in gaming culture.
When the install finally finished and I was ready to climb in the cockpit and go give some dumb names to planets, though, I instantly hit a roadblock – the game crashed during the opening titles. That should have been a sign that perhaps No Man’s Sky wasn’t the industry-shattering saviour a lot of people thought it could be as it happened again shortly after.
Having spent the better part of ten hours traversing my ironically named star systems, I’ve found a lot to appreciate within Hello Games’ most ambitious project yet. The scope really is as grand as they say, the flora and fauna on the procedurally generated planets are all fascinating, and the sheer depth of nooks and crannies to find on just one planet can keep me plenty busy for at least a few hours.
But, No Man’s Sky has issues. A lot of them. As captivating as it is so far, there’s a lot which is taking me out of the worlds I plunder and explore at every turn.
Stamina of an emphysemic grandmother
An agreeable point to start off with: your character has the running stamina of your grandmother who smoked fifty cigarettes a day for fifty years. This might seem like little more than a silly quibble (and it probably is), but it can become a massive deterrent for the name of the game: exploration.
Setting off from your ship to discover what a new planet has in store will be frustratingly stop-start; you can only run, and relatively slowly at that, for roughly five seconds. It then takes an extra five seconds to fully replenish the meter, making it feel as if no progress is being made. Surely the mechanic is in place to pad the exploration length out a little more, but it’s just a nuisance to go for treks across terrain and then have to deal with the slow crawl back too.
Replenish, replenish, replenish
The grind of No Man’s Sky never rears its ugly head quite as uglily as when you’re being pestered to replenish the meters that stop you from turning Total Recall when navigating inhospitable planets for the second time in five minutes. Through my playthrough so far, an unwelcome amount of time has been spent in menus, trying to decide whether I need carbon or plutonium for my exosuit.
The variety of vital systems you need to keep on top of is also quite a distraction from what should be an exploration game, but ends up feeling like something more akin to a survival game a couple hours in. Once you have your exosuit working optimally, you then to worry about your ship, and then your mining tool, filling up scant inventory space.
What is this, an inventory for ants?
It’s almost tempting to just write “fuck the inventory system” before going onto another point, but I won’t. No Man’s Sky’s inventory system is atrocious. It’s one of the worst I have ever come across in a video game, and the feature that is more likely to turn me away from going back to the year’s most hyped game than any other.
Inventory space is so sparing that it will often come down to which material you need less of that can be easily disposed of. But here’s the problem: you need a lot of materials to craft a wide assortment of essential items and handy power-ups. Accommodating new items into your mouse jeans’ back pocket of an inventory is like trying to decide which herb to get rid of in Resident Evil, but turned up to a thousand.
Hello Games, if you have a spare second, please incorporate some kind of off-world hub for all the items you don’t currently need/want. You would be saving me (and probably a lot of other impatient gamers) a lot of bother and mild-medium swear words.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman and Robin
This game will freeze, in case you didn’t get the terribly outdated and unfunny joke.
No Man’s Sky, with all of its bluster and hype, doesn’t disappoint in its scale, which is why it’s hard to get too cut up with its small bugs and graphical burps – I dread to think how many processes are going on in the background as I walk through a cave and wonder why stalactites look like dog penises.
One of the game’s faults that’s hard to excuse, however, is that it will crash without mercy. An hour or so into my playthrough and without a spaceship to help me get around, I was told to go and find some items to restore it to working order. Thanks to the previously mentioned slowness of on-foot travel, it was a real hassle and, to be honest, a bore.
So, having collected most of the items, I stumbled across a Sentinel (planet sentries, essentially) and as I was about to embroil it in a battle to the death, the game stopped. Just stopped. The controller wasn’t responding, the screen wasn’t budging, and the PS4 wouldn’t let me reset. It did eventually sort itself out and has only happened once since, but the game’s lack of stability is a real issue.
There isn’t much to do.
Probably the biggest kicker for No Man’s Sky, the game simply doesn’t throw enough at you to keep you going to land anywhere on anywhere near the quintillion planets explored the developers suggested.
The story is a bit of a grind, asking you to go on a series of fetch quests across the galaxy, and it all boils down to a very similar cycle before too long. I’ve been railing against empty open worlds for a long time now, and I’m sad to say No Man’s Sky is more of the same.
To ensure longevity for the game, Hello Games need to act fast. Social hubs, random challenges, and bizarre mini-games won’t change everything for the better, but they will go a long way.
Despite my reservations, I am having a lot of fun with No Man’s Sky. I’m going to give it another 10-15 hours and then start on my full review, so keep an eye on Cultured Vultures for any updates.
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