Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams
No Man's Sky is a 2016 sci-fi exploration and survival game. In it, the player travels around a vast galaxy, visiting planets and space stations. Whilst there is a 'goal' in the game, it is entirely possible to ignore this and go about your business, trading with aliens, exploring planets, building bases and upgrading your technology.
The novel idea in the game is that by using a series of algorithms, each planet, from the rock formations, encounters, and even down to the flora and fauna, are computer generated. This means each player can have a completely different experience. With a rumoured 81 quintillion planets in the game, it's quite normal for players to spend large amounts of the game making discoveries no-one, not even the game developers, have ever seen.
As a game, there is not a huge amount of depth. Much of your time is spent wandering about a planet, mining, then selling resources and buying upgrades before repeating this on another planet. The main draw for me at least, is the novelty of exploration.
Each planet in No Man's Sky is different. Some may be similar, and in fact many are, but there is always something new to find a short space flight away. Some of my favourite memories from the game:
- Being attacked by a giant bipedal bird in the middle of a toxic rainstorm on a fungus filled moon
- Defending a group of gigantic freighter ships from a pirate attack, then boarding the largest freighter and the captain offering to sell it to me
- Landing on a desert planet covered in gigantic serpentine rock formations, only to fall into a subterranean cave full of hopping mushrooms
- That one planet where I had to constantly run for my life as deer, flying lizards, and even the crabs were all out for my blood.
Many of the more memorable moments are not scripted. This helps promote exploration, and I found myself pushing ever onward, partly to find somewhere to sell my loot, but partly out of sheer curiosity at what was over the next hill.
Although billed as an action adventure survival game, for me the game shines as a 'novelty generator'.
Novelty is the quality of being new, striking, original or unusual. No Man's Sky produces interesting and unique experiences by the bucketload.
As a game experience, using novelty as a driving factor in the a game is something that is difficult in a more typical scripted game. Motivating factors in a game are often related to finishing goals or scoring points, and challenges are designed and regulated by developers and playtesting.
In using a generative algorithm to create the vast (vaaast) majority of thier game, the developers of No Man's Sky have taken their hands off the rudder and let a combination of rules and chance create thier game. This results in something quite unique in the variety of experiences found in the game.
However, the novelty does wear thin eventually. Without depth to pull players in to the game there are only so many thrills to be found discovering new vistas and slowly upgrading your gear. It's unfortunate but unsurprising that the trade off for such a broad experience is a lack of depth. I eventually found myself only touching down on many planets for a brief look before moving on in search of more excitement.
If you couldn't tell, I really enjoyed my time with No Man's Sky and had some very rewarding experiences. It's unfathomable to think that many of the things I have seen in the game may never been seen by another living person. By leaving the game and the players goals somewhat up to interpretation, the developers have done a great job in allowing the player to experience something very fresh and exciting.