No Man’s Sky starts you off as a lonely explorer with a crashed ship and a severe case of amnesia. You are marooned on a hostile alien planet in the outlying region of a procedurally-generated galaxy of 18 quintillion planets. What happens next is completely up to you.
Once you have collected your wits, start mining resources to repair your ship, so that you can blast off and explore the rest of the solar system. Later on, you can build a hyperdrive to jump between stars.
In the intervening time you could find yourself cataloguing new species of flora and fauna, learning to communicate, trading with the aliens you’ll meet during your travels, documenting places of interest, discovering new technologies, and deciding if you want to journey to the centre of the galaxy or not.
Given the massive scope of the game, your own journey is guaranteed to be completely unique to you. In fact, the very reason I have not included a lot of gameplay screenshots in this blog post is that part of my enjoyment of the game comes from knowing that I am discovering parts of the galaxy that other people will probably never see.
Let’s be honest, No Man’s Sky has had more than its fair share of rotten tomatoes flung at it recently. That seems to be down to the developers being unclear during their marketing, and leaking patched early releases of the game instead of sending out review copies for the usual channels to work with.
There were also a lot of teething problems at launch. In fact, I haven’t managed to get sound working consistently on the PC version as the game seems to struggle with the MSI-branded AMD R9 380 graphics card I use in my gaming rig. A few weeks ago I gave up and switched to the PS4 port instead myself. I lost all my progress and pre-order bonuses, which is not great, but the experience is a lot more enjoyable on PS4.
Let’s remember that unlike certain sweetheart projects that continue to empty peoples’ wallets without really delivering, No Man’s Sky fulfilled exactly what it promised in its kickstarter. Also, they have resolved most problems at launch, and even added new features like planetary bases, freighters, and the ability to stack resources and leave messages for other players on certain planets you visit.
If you are after epic space battles that take weeks to complete, then Eve: Online is probably a better choice. If you are after a space combat and trucking simulator, then Elite Dangerous is another great pick. But ultimately those are not the primary focuses of No Man’s Sky.
This game is about exploring a galaxy at your own pace. You can race around doing the bare minimum to upgrade your ship and equipment, or you can slow the pace enough to use it for ASMR videos. As someone that works a 9-5 job with a huge commute on either side, it feels great to be able to crash out on my sofa at the end of a day, and have the option of either doing something relaxing (like exploring caves and feeding weird animals), or pushing myself to do something more exciting (like breaking into a manufacturing facility while angry drones buzz around my head) depending on my mood.
No Man’s Sky also truly impresses on you the vast scale and emptiness of space, and how vanishingly rare planets with human-friendly conditions are. This very shouty YouTube video echoes my view on how refreshing it is to find a game that forces introspection and grants you maximum freedom to define what success looks like for yourself. People genuinely care about the cool things they discover, to the point they are even memorialising loved ones that have recently passed away.
If you prefer games that are action-packed, prescribe particular storylines that “branch” or offer fixed “jobs” you can choose between, then that is totally valid. But it seems a shame to attack No Man’s Sky for lacking those things, because it is the very lack of them that marks it out as a unique and worthwhile experience. I love this game, and long may it continue!