No Man’s Sky is Emptier Than I Imagined

I’ve been playing No Man’s Sky for around 8 hours now, finally getting the opportunity to forge an opinion among the extraordinary level of pre-release excitement and hyperbole. Unfortunately, thus far that opinion echoes one of the key concerns many had for the game ahead of its launch: it feels a bit too empty for a game that should, considering its immense scale, feel absolutely massive.

No Man’s Sky offers a particularly daunting universe for the player to step into initially. Mostly refraining from holding your hand outside of pointing you in the direction of your next key objective, you’ll receive text prompts that highlight how to perform tasks such as navigating your inventory, crafting, mining and so on, but you won’t be bludgeoned over the head with them as is typically the case in modern games. While there are a distinct lack of comprehensive tutorials, the systems in place are simple enough to get to grips with in a short period of time, foregoing the complexity of the likes of fellow space exploration game Elite: Dangerous in favor of allowing you to explore, both in your ship and on foot, with greater immediacy. You’ll switch between the separate inventories for your exosuit and spaceship, create upgrades for your equipment with a press of one button and then craft new items out of your gathered resources by pressing another. Easy.

However, considering the immense scale of the universe surrounding me, throughout my playtime I have been most surprised by the lack of surprises that have been thrown in my direction. Though I will stop myself before I fall in line with those who strongly believed that the game was going to be akin to the Second Coming, I was expecting an experience a little more robust than the one I’ve been offered thus far. Though flying into another planet’s atmosphere and taking in its distinctive, procedurally generated atmosphere has yet to lose its allure, in all honesty the act of flying into a new system, exploring a few planets, and then visiting its local space station because my inventory’s full after 10 minutes of exploration again is beginning to grow tedious even in these relatively early stages. 

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The main objective of No Man’s Sky may be to reach the galaxy’s core, but my journey to this goal has firmly revolved around inventory management, a mind-numbing exercise that casts a long shadow across the rest of the game. No Man’s Sky is fundamentally about survival, with the Multi-Tool you’re equipped with able to break down and destroy various objects that you can use to aid you on your journey. But while resources on each planet are in plentiful supply, meaning that I’ve yet to face my own mortality as a result of forgetting to top up my life support meter, my lackluster inventory space ensured that I would often find myself pausing to discard items, or having to make routine visits to and from a space station in order to trade valuables before I could continue exploring. This ensures that even though No Man’s Sky is ostensibly a survival game, the actual act of surviving isn’t as difficult as arranging your fancy futuristic backpack. 

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In fact, thus far the game hasn’t been very challenging in any major capacity outside of the player’s frustrating lack of storage space. Each planet I have journeyed to has been welcoming of my arrival, with the limited selection of creatures that appear on these worlds completely minding their own business as I pass them, and there being very little natural dangers to look out for aside from the odd nasty weather condition. The only threat I have faced so far has been in the form of robotic sentries, which zoom around the sky and scan the player before deciding whether or not they should attack. If they do put up a fight, they do very little damage and can be destroyed within a few seconds, before you carry on mindlessly zapping resources again. There are more powerful sentries that can be found on more distant star systems, but it still just equates to fighting robots, an activity which you do in pretty much every sci-fi game ever released. 

This means that after the initial thrill of landing on a new planet and setting off to explore it, I found myself being disappointed once again by not being given that much to do. I could find one of the bases located on its surface, talk to its surly inhabitant and obtain a blueprint for a new technology, or go look in a cave for a resource that I probably won’t have the capacity to carry, or go searching for a monolith and learn a few more words to add to my ever-expanding dictionary of alien languages. But these tasks have been mirrored on each planet I’ve discovered, with very little variety in between and nothing that would keep me glued to one world for longer than an hour at the most.

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All this stands to make No Man’s Sky feel emptier than I had imagined it would be. Though I was never quite on board with those who were convinced that it wasn’t going to be anything less than a masterpiece, I am disappointed in what I’ve experienced of the game at the time of this writing, with it feeling like more of an impressive technological achievement than an enjoyable video game. While it’s still pretty awe-inspiring to consider that you’re a small part of this unimaginably large virtual universe, if there continues to be so few interesting things to do in that universe, I can’t see myself sticking with it after I’ve reached my main objective.

Perhaps this will change as the game progresses. Hello Games founder Sean Murray has previously said that the universe gets a lot weirder the closer players are to the center of the galaxy, so maybe adding more light years onto my journey will mean that I will be met with more interesting things to do. Exosuit and spaceship upgrades which increase the size of my inventory will also be beneficial, too (nearly 10 hours in and I’m still bumming around space in the same ol’ ship), while the game’s ambiguous plot is intriguing enough that I want to keep playing, regardless of my issues with the routine nature of its gameplay so far. I really want to love No Man’s Sky, so I’m hoping that this will be the case.