Iterative Discovery in No Man’s Sky
By: Keoni Eckinger
Played on PC
Since my last entry, I’ve spent 15 hours exploring my home galaxy, five of which were a bug-riddled slog through convoluted gameplay systems. I briefly entertained dropping my project altogether when the house I built phased out of existence, like some cruel joke the game inflicted on me. My co-op partner and I struggled to understand where we were in the questing process as the game repeatedly vacillated between objectives. Undoubtedly, the early hours were a challenge. I’m tremendously happy to say that subsequent hours — while still blatantly bug rich — were more satisfying. Deep beneath the dust-covered fossil that was No Man’s Sky in 2016 lies a brilliant game, a genuinely unending adventure.
Planet Lusenisbe, a wintry landscape with little interest to note, was where we first called home for a few in-game days. Motivated to ascend the heavens, and without the necessary fuel and parts to do so, we endured the deadly storms by anxiously awaiting their end in our ships. Frost crowded my vision as it rapidly encroached my suit. Restoring our ship’s functionality was of utmost importance as we were both eager to leave the hostile wastes in favor of greener pastures.
Additional game modes intensify the need to upgrade your shielding or refill your oxygen reserves; I opted for the ‘Normal’ difficulty. While some players will undoubtedly enjoy a more hardcore experience exploring the galaxy, I’m partial to the less punishing mode. After all, I’m not playing No Man’s Sky for a challenge. My motivations in-game are usually on the distant horizon, searching for new and intriguing gameplay mechanics. I can’t be bothered to fiddle with my vitals every other minute. By the way, if you were curious about the more recently implemented cross-platform play, I’m thrilled to report we haven’t experienced a single issue linking up and playing together.
Crafting felt slightly obtuse at first. Hello Games has added so much in this regard that it feels like a fundamentally different experience than its 2016 iteration. Mechanically speaking, this is a seemingly endless treadmill (I’m exaggerating slightly. Certainly it ends, right?) of valuable materials used for the crafting of gear and upgrades. Glitches obscured some of these systems in the early hours. I spent an hour grinding the resources necessary to construct a modest wooden home to house our refiner and research computer when it suddenly phased out of reality — the exact moment Thanos snapped his fingers apparently. After another hour of hunting resources to rebuild the house, it appeared again. Strange, not the biggest deal though. Eager to recover my enthusiasm, my co-op partner suggested we visit a space station before leaving the system. I’m glad he did because the events that followed rescued my experience with the game.
A few years ago, space stations served as cookie-cutter locations for players to sell and buy materials and negotiate with NPCs over ship prices. They lost allure quickly as the range of activities on stations was limited. Now, they’re bustling bazaars, crowded with numerous alien species selling their wares and engaging in conversation. I was pleased to see various kiosks dedicated to different gameplay systems. My ability to interface with aliens that helm them remains limited since I’m still building my language skills with each species. I’m immensely excited to start trading navigation coordinates and alien artifacts to see what these vendors offer. Also, I adore the language system. Knowledge stones, abundantly peppered across the galaxy, serve to teach unfamiliar words. Merely engaging in conversation with another traveler usually provides an opportunity to learn new words. Combing the universe for resources can become tedious and lonely. I applaud the sense of curiosity that the game evokes when the chance to interact with NPCs arises. In these moments, however seldom, I feel as though I’m playing a role in something much larger than a videogame. No Man’s Sky has endured criticism for its lack of long-term player goals, but I’m consistently enjoying the process of improving my standing with each alien species. My time spent in World of Warcraft is limited compared to other players, but I’m reminded of the reputation systems and the constant grind for faction-specific loot and rewards. No Man’s Sky is such a massive game that I can’t help but feel it was wise to adopt similar mechanics to keep players interested for the long-haul.
Supplied and impelled to explore further, we set our sights on other planets in our system. Initially prompted by the game to seek materials for a warp core, ultimately, we were lured by the ruins of a long-buried civilization on a desert planet. Engaging the mine-craftian sections of our brains, we began an hour-long digging expedition. Unearthing the ruins proved to be an unexpected blast, as nothing remotely similar to this kind of activity was present in the game last I played. Assiduously removing dirt gave the ruins form and revealed artifacts used to unlock a treasure chest. Unfortunately, another activity fell victim to a glitch as the chest refused to open even after utilizing the appropriate artifacts. I’d love to chastise the game further for its janky nature; truthfully, it was so much fun excavating buildings that I wasn’t devastated when I walked away empty-handed. Upon leaving the planet, a massive worm straight out of Herbert Walker’s Dune burst from beneath the planet’s dry crust. I was so surprised by its appearance that I failed to get a screenshot! Exploration of our home system continued until we eventually settled on a planet with a friendlier climate and abundant resources. I’m determined to build a comprehensive base with all the amenities required for our adventures, and only time will tell if this ends up being the right planet for those goals.
If I were to praise No Man’s Sky for anything, it would be its flexibility and friendly nature towards the player. Numerous gameplay systems can be chased at any given time, i.e., building and crafting, bounty hunting, photography, exploration, ship commerce, and combat. I can proceed with my plans without the stress that if they fail, I won’t have to start over with a new character or fret over a tainted playthrough. When I made the rookie mistake of building the wrong items, the game always made it easy to refund the raw materials to create what I needed. This kind of friendly game design doesn’t work for every game — sometimes I appreciate feeling the sting of a mistake. But in a universe such as this, where every action I take is an indulgence of my mood and preferences at that given moment, I liken myself to a small child spoiled for choice, unfocused, and even indignant when the game parallels my undirected nature as a player. Ultimately, I adore No Man’s Sky for this. Never have I felt such inspiration to meet the horizon in all its beauty and allure.
Despite some glaring issues, I’m still compelled to journey onward. Expect another update in a couple of weeks as we’re on the precipice of some enjoyable stuff with vehicles, mechs, and living ships.
Thanks for taking the time to read this piece. For better or worse, I poured my heart into its creation. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions. I’d enjoy hearing what you’re doing to battle the encroaching darkness; what are you listening to, playing, reading? If you’d like to donate to my Patreon so I can keep doing this, I’d greatly appreciate it.