E3 2015 – No Man’s Sky: Out of this world

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No Man’s Sky is coming to PC and PS4 and is a highly anticipated game. The fact that it’s made by the incredibly likeable Sean Murray of Hello Games feels like a footnote compared to the massive scale of the game. It may not make sense to everyone, but it should appeal to most.

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In case you don’t know, No Man’s Sky allows players to engage with a universe that is as mind-bogglingly enormous as the real one. Thanks to some incredibly brilliant maths, Murray and his team have generated a game where not even they know what can be found. Every galaxy is procedurally generated – just like in reality, not every sun will necessarily have planets around it. However, for the sake of not being totally stranded, they have included space stations if there is an absence of planets. Each planet is planet sized, with day/night cycles, wildlife, eco systems and unique environments. Even the galaxy and planet names are procedurally generated.

Players can choose their own play style. If all you want to do is travel the universe, charting the galaxies and discovering new things, you can do exactly that. However, you could also choose to be a trader, or a fighter, or a pirate. Players won’t know if the ship they’re shooting at is human or AI, and the penalties are to be expected – if you keep shooting innocent victims, you will become a wanted killer and punished.

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As you explore, you build your own encyclopaedia. Of course, the more you see, the bigger this gets. It’s a part of the game that Murray hopes to see shared – strange discoveries are reason enough for me to hit the share button with this game.

Discoveries are uploaded at beacons found on the planets – these can be new flora and fauna, or even the new planet names; that’s right, if you’re the first to discover a planet, you can rename it. However, much like usernames, there will be some limitations to ensure the community doesn’t create a universe of salaciously named genitals (although Murray acknowledge that people exhibit a lot of ingenuity in that regard and we might very well be landing on planet B4ll5ack in the future.)

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Considering the shared information element, I asked if the game always needed to be online to be played. Bandwidth starved gamers rejoice – the game can be played offline. Additionally, if you so wish, you could download and upload once a week if that’s what your internet allows, letting you still get an updated experience of your creations without sucking up all your internet ability.

When you travel to new planets, you can find resources. After shooting them (that’s one way to destroy the environment) you can mine these resources. When you gather them, they are actually in atomic form according to a strange version of the periodic table. These can then be combined to create molecules. Often, the molecules are worth more than the atoms, making it a lucrative business for those who choose to earn units as traders.

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If you mine a planet too aggressively, or choose to attack the wildlife, sentinels will come and attack. If you kill them, more will come and your wanted rating or notoriety will increase. During the demo, the wanted level become so high that eventually a swarm of floating sentinels descended, plus an AT AT sentinel walked over a nearby hill to pursue Murray. It resulted in his death, but was rather cool to see. When players die, they respawn at their ship having lost unuploaded discoveries or resources.

Your ship can be upgraded by combining resources in a specific pattern in your cargo bay. Similarly, players can spend resources to get new upgrades for guns and armour. These must be placed in free slots and arranging these can become part of the strategy. Ship upgrades include weapons and armour, although the most important is the hyperdrive – this determines how far players can jump through space. In a way, the size of the hyperdrive will be an indication of a player’s progression through the game (seeing as there aren’t levels in the traditional sense).

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Multiplayer will be tricky if your primary goal is finding your friend. Much like finding anything in the universe, it might not happen – the distances are massive and you don’t always know where you are in relation to other things. Instead, the multiplayer experiences will be through happenstance and probably won’t last very long. Players might find each other and band together for a short while, before moving on in their separate paths. There’s something almost too beautiful about that concept.

What I love the most about No Man’s Sky is its instant appeal to such a range of players. In the demo, people were asking about things I couldn’t care less about – I don’t want to play the game and shoot things, I want to travel the universe and explore, charting new planets and discovering all that there is to discover. However, the fact that some people could be so passionate about the game for such completely disparate reasons is a sign of how universal (*cough*) the appeal is. We need to reclaim the true meaning of the word awesome because it’s the only thing that fits something of this scale and design – it inspires awe.

Last Updated: June 17, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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