Review in progress: The first hours of No Man’s Sky promise near infinite exploration

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From the moment it was revealed on stage at the VGX awards in the twilight days of 2013, the main question asked of Hello Games about No Man’s Sky has been “but what do you do?”. Lead programmer Sean Murray attempted to (finally) answer that yesterday with a blog post, but it’s the first few hours of my own playthrough that have solidified some of the main hooks the game is eagerly sinking into me. I say some, because this universe still feels ripe with mystery and opportunity.

No Man’s Sky will inevitably open up a little differently for every player. I spawned on a particularly icy planet, where temperatures immediately tested the environmental protection of my exosuit. It was, however gorgeous – a nearly endless expanse filled with glowing red crystals across a sea of white frost, bending over itself at the horizon for miles in every direction. No Man’s Sky immediately sold me on the size of the worlds its creating (using math), with every inch of this celestial mass open for exploration.

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But I was limited to my own two feet for the time. To my left sat a broken spaceship, in need of thruster repairs for interplanetary travel. To do that I needed to gather some resources from nearby, which was a breeze with my equipped mining tool (which doubles up as a weapon) and terrain scanner (which was craftable after just a few seconds of tearing down iron and carbon from rocks and trees).

No Man’s Sky cleverly splits elements up into their own sub-categories, which are then colour-coded for easy reference. Red refers to isotopes (commonly used in crafting, exosuit and mining gun replenishment and more), while metals like iron and zinc stand separately. It’s a smart way of dealing with inventory clutter and confusion, with my limited starting space proving to be a nuisance within a few minutes. You’re able to beam resources straight to your ship from anywhere, but after a few minutes of walking around I quickly found myself unable to carry anything more.

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No matter though, because I had found the items I needed to repair my ship and crafted the parts from within my inventory. Before jetting into space for the first time I activated an nearby beacon (something to do with an Atlus Guide), which was added in the day-one patch you probably should download. This added some thinly veiled narrative context to what is likely going to keep me entertained for the next couple of hours, but also laid some foundational work for objectives. A small indicator kept pointing me in the direction of progress, which was handy given the bombardment of information the game gives you at the outset.

Flying off into the atmosphere (without a hint of loading times), No Man’s Sky opened up into the endless ocean of stars and space. A planet nearby in the same system now had a marker on it, with the game gently nudging me forward so as to discover the secrets of trading, crafting and interstellar travel at light speeds. Entering the new atmosphere I was greeted with an environment that was far less cold, and a lot more toxic. Quickly I found myself at a small colony outpost, and hurried inside to save my exosuit.

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Lo and behold though, an alien was waiting inside. One of the four races in No Man’s Sky, I hit it off with the friendly Vy’keen life form, offering him Carbon in return for conversation and wisdom. Languages have to be learnt for communication, so the first few interactions involved me guessing from predetermined responses and hoping that my actions rewarded me with a new word in the dictionary and not a fist on the face. Thankfully the Vy’keen are generally friendly to travellers, and so my journey continued unimpeded.

Seeking out these colonies on planets not only gives you more aliens to interact with, but computer terminals for intergalactic trade, weapons vendors and blueprints for more crafting recipe’s. It brings the gameplay loop full circle, as I now found myself exploring this new planet for even more complex resources to start work on a Warp Drive to travel to distant galaxies. No longer was simple Carbon and Iron enough, with the Warp Drive requiring items like Antimatter and specialised cells for recharging.

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This loop is what kept me engaged in No Man’s Sky for an unbroken five hours last night, and it’s what has been dying to jump back in today. On the surface, it’s like any other crafting game in the genre. Players of Minecraft or Starbound will pick up the basics quickly, as you scavenge for all manners of items for crafting, weapon replenishment and more. The more exciting bits in No Man’s Sky so far arise when just going out on a limb and exploring, especially if you’re seeking out other life.

The majority of my time was spent flying between settlements on the same planet, conversing with aliens I found at unlocked posts (to further my relationship with them) or engaging with Sentinel guards are bunkered down ones. From what I gather the Sentinel are either hated or loved by particular races, so it was fortunate that the Vy’keen I kept bumping into preferred the former. They gifted me with stronger mining tools and blueprints for my efforts, while unlocking these guarded outputs pointed me towards ancient ruins, loot drops and more.

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This constant cycle of exploration and reward was engrossing, and only became more so as more explorative options opened up. It surprised me too, given that games of this ilk have rarely had this impact on me from the outset. The idea of creating your own adventure is there, but the slight nudging of No Man’s Sky’s implemented guide helped keep my focus forward while not attaching blinkers to the world around.

And it’s a world that I feel I’ve only just started stretching the surface of. More space faring adventures filled with trade (which has its own stock market), piracy and sticking it to the mechanical sentinels await me, while more mundane offerings like scanning wildlife and plants still offer too little of a reward for their effort. But the beauty so far of No Man’s Sky is that it doesn’t prioritise one over the other yet, letting me as a player decide what interests me and what doesn’t.

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There’re compulsory pillars of gameplay that need to be adhered to of course (not mining means I can’t fly, or shoot, or eventually breathe), but I’m still sure that more will make themselves known the deeper I venture. I’ve only jumped once to a new solar system right now, in  my quest to reach the center of the galaxy. The beauty is not that there is a pseudo end goal in a game this varied, but rather that it isn’t one that you need pursue if you choose not to. My next few days will be spent seeing if the allure of discovery manages to hold my attention though, as No Man Sky’s endless universe beckons.

Last Updated: August 9, 2016

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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