Everyone knew that at the very least – and the very least is what they gave us – that No Man’s Sky would have us gathering and managing resources so we could make our way to the center of the universe. Why? “Because! That’s why!” Its real appeal stemmed from a procedurally generated universe, as it promised each player would embark on a truly unique journey. Nobody would ever share the same experience, and because of the size of said universe, you might not even encounter another player online.
Problem was, the game really didn’t deliver more than the whole ‘procedural generation’ thing. You’d go from world to world, breaking things down with a tiny ray gun to collect resources, satisfy a multitude of needy ‘feed me’ meters (health, suit, ship shields, ship fuel, ray gun energy, etc.), and craft various other things that are necessary to finish the game. That was it. Blast, blast, blast. Mine, mine, mine. Occasionally you’d be harassed by drones that serve no purpose other than to slow your game down. Maybe you’d see an animal or two, meet a trader in an outpost, scan the environment with your info gathering techno-goggles, and not much else… unless you left the planet, at which point you might have a few space pirates trying to take you down. Rinse and repeat a gajillion times, and that’s No Man’s Sky in a nutshell.
At first, it wasn’t a horrible way to spend your time. If you wanted a ‘chill’ game that provided something different than the usual loud action most modern games provide, No Man’s Sky could scratch that itch, at least for a little while. It’s so easy to be fascinated by the one thing this game does that nothing else in the AAA scene has: Planets are large and any place you see, you can go there without hitting that ‘sandbox wall’. And hell, you can even look up to the sky, see a planet or two, and say, “Gee, I’d love to go there”, and then actually do it. Between that and seeing the various styles of world the procedural generation formula could create, it was enough to keep players hooked for hours…
…Until you realize that it’s all basically the same. All that ‘freedom’ came at the cost of actual gameplay. Sure, one planet might be red and lush with plants, while another would be dark and rocky… but because the game has to be careful not to strand you on any given planet, you’re mining the same resources no matter where you go. All the abandoned bases you come across look the same, as well as the space points spread across each planet. There’s always a trader outpost, some sort of facility to break in to, and some alien monuments where you can learn bits of language. Once you’ve had your fill, you leave one planet to hop to the next, only to find you’re doing the same shit over and over again, regardless of how each planet’s been ‘dressed’.
Coming to that realization is when I started to feel more and more disgust for the game… because for all the comments I’ve made about Destiny being an empty shell of a game, it’s No Man’s Sky that earns that ‘accolade’. A lot of others felt the same way, too… and I’m talking about the people that actually tried the game without letting all the ‘Sean Murray lied’ stuff affect their objective opinions.
But that disappointment quickly ruptured into something else… hatred. Sean Murray made a couple of passive-aggressive remarks at launch and then POOF, just disappeared. A lot of people were upset that there was no more transparency. Hell, they weren’t even sure if their $60 investment would amount to something greater, or if Hello Games had simply disbanded as a result of the shame their product had generated. Couple their radio silence with Shuhei Yoshida throwing the studio under the bus, and it seemed like the future for No Man’s Sky was basically dust in the wind.
And now, out of nowhere, Hello Games have resurfaced to release No Man’s Sky version 1.1. And to be clear, this was the best possible way to come back to the gaming community. Sean Murray did enough talking prior to the game’s release. Anything they said post-launch would have been met with more and more skepticism, so they only thing they COULD have done was shut up, and work on their game. Now that they have something to offer, they’ve broken that silence.
So, version 1.1 allows you to claim a home planet, build new save points across planets, build self-owned outposts from uninhabited bases, transportation and even teleportation of materials you’ve collect to freighters in space, create tools which will actually auto-mine while you’re off doing more important things, additional aliens inhabiting trading posts (there’s now two where only one used to be), you can hire aliens to work in your home base, and they’ve even added new, challenging modes that cater to a variety of play styles. I’m writing off the top of my head here, but I believe there’s a pure creative mode where you can do and build whatever you want, ‘normal’ No Man’s Sky but with the new gameplay features added, and a ‘Survival’ mode where it’s still No Man’s Sky, but with permadeath as a penalty.
So, does this resolve the issues the game had at launch?
This is one of those ‘the answer must come from within’ moments. Because if mining and hopping around a planet is all you want out of No Man’s Sky, then sure, this patch is going to make for a substantially better experience. The fact that you can actually do more with your resources than fix, fuel and fly is going to appease you, making this the ‘Sci-fi Minecraft’ you probably wanted from the get-go. However, if you actually wanted a world that’s brimming with life and activity, then you’re going to dislike the experience just as much as before.
I’m in the latter camp, because what really sold No Man’s Sky to me was not just the chill playtime it offered, but a universe that actually looked… well, alive. That’s what No Man’s Sky really needs. Not this base building crap, but ships making space and the skies on any given planet look busy. We need alien races that do more than sit or stand behind a counter waiting to sell you stuff, and more importantly, THEY need to have some sort of history. There need to be factions that unite or rebel, and that needs to be seen and felt based on the solar system you’re visiting. How about seeing some miners in some of those caves? Or just some aliens in space suits hopping around a planet’s surface just for the hell of it? How about seeing more wildlife? Some of these ideas are a personal wish list, but others were blatantly shown in early advertisements and shown off in early footage.
Oh, but don’t tell the ASA. They have apparently made a ruling on whether or not No Man’s Sky’s ads were misleading or not, and they basically said, “Nope! All’s good!”
Anyway, there’s an even larger problem with these improvements: They completely go against the game’s core objective, which is to ‘get to the middle… you know, because, just do it’. No, patch 1.1 basically wants you to settle on a single planet and whittle tens of hours away on building a home and research facility.
But the first argument that’s come up when I’ve discussed this with friends who are savvy about video games has been, “But, Minecraft doesn’t really have a real end game. People just create or play the survival mode, and they’re more than content just staying in the same little world. So, why should people get pissed at No Man’s Sky for doing the same thing?”
Well, the simple answer is, “No Man’s Sky is not Minecraft.” It never was. It never will be. Minecraft is about surviving in a given area… period. A world is generated, and it’s your job to create and adapt so that you can have food, shelter, and whatever weapons are required to fend off the dangers that come at night. What you’re doing is playing a ‘stay put, and make this your home’ survival game. There is no end goal. Not even an arbitrary ‘get to the middle of the whatever’ sort of thing. No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. The point is to gather resources not only to survive the harsh conditions of any given planet, but so that you have what you need to keep moving. How much different could the objectives possibly be?
And a lot of people fall into the trap of comparing No Man’s Sky to Minecraft, not just the friends I speak of. And, not to offend them or anyone else, but why is there any compulsion to compare them at all? Is it because they don’t fall into the typical mainstream classification system of third-person/first-person shooter, stealth, RPG, or racing game? They’re survival games, and that’s where their similarities end. Hell, Don’t Starve has more in common with Minecraft than No Man’s Sky does.
So what does this Foundation Update tell us about No Man’s Sky and the ‘vision’ that Sean Murray and Hello Games had for it? Well, I think it tells us an awful lot… just not what people want to hear. Honestly, I don’t think No Man’s Sky was ever going to realistically deliver everything they had shown us. Sean Murray got a case of Peter Molyneux brain – wanting his ‘baby’ to be everything a standard development cycle could never provide – but at the end of the day, No Man’s Sky would be lacking that ultra-idealistic vision, and the game would disappoint. No Man’s Sky probably could have been more at the time of release, but I think an unrealistic wishlist kept this team’s focus away from building an actual game. So, once time and money was up… well, we saw what happened. “Here’s our universe of nothing. Get to the middle.” And now that they’re trying to ‘fix’ the game… are they working towards finishing that original design they had showed off a couple of years back? Nope. They’re instead building whatever they feel they have the time and resources for, original intent of the game be damned.
I’ve seen people online actually recommend re-buying No Man’s Sky because update 1.1 is THAT different.
You’ve been burned once already, OK? Don’t be a sucker two times over.
Like most other games, people bought this thing sight unseen. No Man’s Sky was pre-ordered so much, you’d think it was going to be the last video game ever released. No reviews, no actual day 1 gameplay, no word of mouth… just people buying a game based on hype. Hype that was created by Sean Murray, Sony, and of course the media. Ain’t that a vicious circle? Company wants to sell you something, the company catches the media’s ear, the media reports to you, you get excited, and because you’re excited and want more, the company continues to upsell, the media continues to act as a shitty marketing echo-chamber, and you eventually decide to buy shit without even knowing what it is. If you were to temper your expectations and hold on to your money until a game is released, this cycle would break. The major players in this industry would have to adapt. And, if they can’t get you to bite on a game BEFORE it’s released, what would they have to do? Make a game that’s actually worth your time and money in the first place, right? Right. Otherwise, their product would be dead in water.
Last but not least, the Foundation Update has been poised not as a ‘hey look, our game is better’ patch, but an ‘our game is going to GET better’ patch. That’s right. They’ve dropped this as sort of the new ‘foundation’ for the game, and they’re going to build off of this. This is, somehow, supposed to make us excited. Maybe it would if this were an early access game we paid $20 for, but it isn’t. It’s a game that was shown off on Sony’s E3 stage, had appeared on Colbert’s late night program, and was subsequently sent to factories so discs could be pressed, placed inside plastic cases, and shipped to your local retailers. For $60. Sean Murray had been told by Geoff Keighley – who’s an epic douche for not telling everyone how problematic this game seemed mere months prior to launch, by the way – that he should probably pursue an early access route, but nope. Murray said, “LET THERE BE A $60 PRICE TAG!”
And so it was.
And so it was hyped.
And now, because they delivered a modicum of substance in a single update, people are getting excited that No Man’s Sky is going to be some great game again? Have you learned nothing? And what good does rebuying the damn game do, anyway? Let’s say you spent $60 at launch for this. It was only a matter of weeks – IF THAT – before Gamestop was offering something like $12 for a trade-in copy. So, let’s say you traded this game in for $12 in store credit. You essentially paid $48 to rent the game for a little while. It’s now $28 at the time of writing on Amazon. So, Foundation Update and all, if you rebought the game today, your total investment in No Man’s Sky would be $76 plus tax. If it wasn’t worth the $60 before, do you really think it’s going to be worth $76?
A little reason here, folks. A little reason.