Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Readers try to explain what they love about the enigmatic No Man’s Sky

Screenshot: Sony
Screenshot: Sony

After wandering its indescribably massive universe for more than two weeks, Patrick Lee stopped by to deliver his review of No Man’s Sky, the space exploration simulation from the tiny team at Hello Games. Following a protracted, buzz-filled development cycle, the game has, inevitably, proven divisive upon release, with many unimpressed by its algorithmically generated universe and the often quiet, repetitive nature of what you’re expected to do inside it. Others, like Patrick, have found that experience to be a rewarding one in itself. Here’s Captain Internet’s take:

It’s flawed but still very special. The part that still excites me is the idea that when you see a new, undiscovered system, you are the first person to see it. The consistency of the algorithm means that despite being randomly generated in a computer, it is still “there” in a meaningful sense—anyone who comes along later will see exactly the same thing. You name things, and they’re now yours. It’s not an experience you can get elsewhere, and with the intermittent beauty that it throws out the result is a truly unique experience.

It’s by no means perfect. I wish it hadn’t been full price. I wish some of the planets were completely flat barren rocks where you could go for 30 seconds without seeing another bloody alien structure. I wish it were possible to fly your ship properly on a planets surface. I wish the suit would shut up. I wish the puzzles were a bit more difficult. Hopefully, after a few updates, it’ll be a bit more together and all the angry people will calm down.


AmaltheaElanor has been enjoying the unpredictable stories that arise from those unknown places:

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed most about this is the endless capacity for unscripted moments, and this is why I love reading about other people’s experiences online. For instance, a few days back, I was in the process of upgrading to a new ship. I had wandered far afield in search of resources to repair it and wound up getting caught in a storm while 30 seconds away from a new shelter. I arrived at the entrance to discover a steel door and wound up frantically having to destroy the sentinels (lest they summon more) and the door in a short enough span of time before the storm could kill me. And there really is nothing like achieving safety after more than one of the game’s peripheral threats come crashing together at once.

I’ve been playing a couple dozen hours and haven’t even found my first Atlas Station yet, let alone Atlas passes. I know people have mentioned hitting a wall with repetition of world discovery - but I’m not even close to approaching that myself.

It’s definitely fair to say the game isn’t for everyone. And there are plenty of valid criticisms to lob at it (like the lack of planet mapping, too many icons crowding the HUD at one time, and frustrating space battles). At the same time, I do feel like some people are getting so hung up on what they thought/wanted the game to be that they’re unable to see it for what it is. And what it is, in my humble opinion, is pretty amazing in its own right.

Misskale compared it to a pretty obscure game from the early ’90s:

I think this review is closest to my feelings on the game. I actually went into it hoping for massive landscapes with gorgeous skies, mining, inventory management, trading, and a sense of solitude. I got those. I was devouring every press thing that I came across, but most of my expectations came from the Dave Gibbons interviews rather than the Sean Murray ones. If you didn’t see it, it’s worth watching.

I was a huge fan of the original Uncharted Waters, and this game very much feels like an intergalactic version of that. So maybe it’s just that the game appeals to something that isn’t common now, kind of the game equivalent of spiced whole apples or pickled watermelon rind. For people who didn’t play the original Uncharted Waters, you controlled a trader from Portugal whose father died and left them nearly penniless. You start with a small ship, some pepper, and some quartz. You have to pay your crew and carry supplies for them. Crew and supplies take away from the amount of cargo space you have, so those need to be balanced. You have no map, all the cities have the same layout but not necessarily the same facilities, items and prices differ by city, and there are the dangers of storms, seaweed, doldrums, pirates, and enemy fleets. There are a few possible goals, but the theoretical win-state is to marry the king of Portugal’s daughter.

In his review, Patrick remarked that your character is more like a pilgrim than an explorer, especially since many of the planets you’ll come across have been catalogued and even settled by other sentient beings way before you ever found them. Several commenters pointed out that finding similar alien ruins and buildings across these distant planets was one of the game’s bigger disappointments. This, coupled with some current events, got Ol’ Archbishop Fancy-Pants thinking:

This seems like as good a place as any to bring up the potential life-sustaining planet in the news recently. One comment on Facebook, linked that discovery to the Fermi Paradox, and directed people’s attention to this excellent series of YouTube videos on it by Kurzgesagt (Part 1, Part 2, and see also Wait But Why?‘s excellent write-up). So ever since then I’ve been stuck in a thought loop about the vastness of space and the terrifying limits of discovery and isolation within the universe. Obviously, No Man’s Sky attempts to simulate that impossible vastness of discovery, but, as is only inevitable, it delivers mostly mundanity.

I constantly circle back around to Lem’s Solaris, wherein an alien life-form takes the shape of an unknowable ocean. No Man’s Sky’s greatest disappointment to me is a complete lack of these ineffable encounters or even attempts to simulate them. To do so would probably be impossible, because how can you manifest something like that without making it comprehensible on some level? And beyond a Horta, how do you come up with something beyond human comprehension?

There was a browser “game,” and now I can’t remember the name of it [Editor’s note: As [screaming] points out, it’s called Nested], that was essentially an endless series of hierarchical categories that you could drill down to the subatomic level (which would then loop back and reflect sub-universes). So under universes, you would see galaxies, suns, planets, and so on. Somewhere on the sub-galactic level, you would occasionally find Outer God like creatures with impossible names composed of random parts. That’s my kind of universe simulation, something that includes things so vast and absurd that the feeling becomes less excitement and more terror. Like some Bahamut is out there swimming between galaxies, and its sight would so horrify the player that the game would just shut down.

Maybe—just maybe—like our own universe, these wild No Man’s Sky encounters are out there somewhere, and nobody has yet to see them. I mean, that’s probably not the case, but one can dream.

That does it for this week, Gameologinasties. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week.