I’ve been waiting excitedly for this game since a friend told me about the first time, back in spring. Minecraft but in space, she called it. The original Minecraft appealed to me, with its ambling about and resource gathering, but I always was left with a feeling of now what? I’m not really hooked on building giant 3D pictures of real life or fantasy cities, that sort of thing. I just want to potter about. Well, guess what, that’s exactly what No Man’s Sky is about. Among other things.
Pottering about and picking up everything that isn’t nailed down means you need inventory space. Guess what you don’t have a lot of at first? Yep. It proves an interesting challenge, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, while you hunt for the exclusive trading outposts and space stations where raw commodities can be turned into sweet, sweet cash.
What do I want cash for? Well, guess. Bigger ships with more inventory space. Also bigger shields and bigger guns. At some point I want my exosuit to be upgraded to let me survive on freezing cold ice balls or irradiated toxic waste balls. I want to carry so much loot that the space station director starts to drool when he spots my ship. And I want to have the guns and shields to defend it, because you know what sucks? Jumping in from hyperspace to land among a pirate fleet. You learn to fear that ‘hostile subspace scan detected’ chime. Space combat is very much a thing.
The first hour or so you play through some very simple situations to teach you how the game works. You wake up on a random planet, your ship in pieces. Go forth, brave one, and collect everything you need to repair it! And while you’re out there, could you please catalogue every life form, be it flora or fauna… And don’t forget, some of those life forms think you would make great dinner.
My starting planet looked like a dark brown Swiss cheese and I kept getting lost trying to walk around holes and mountains. As it turns out, my little space self and his magnetic boots are actually pretty good at running up almost vertical surfaces, and a jetpack upgrade really made things easier. It all felt very overwhelming at first, but the controls are surprisingly intuitive. After an hour or two, I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing anymore, and I’m not very good at this sort of thing. I still run face first into walls in War of Worldcraft, for Pete’s sake.
Once I was ready to leave my initial star system I had a stroke of great luck; I ran into a trader who sold me a decent newbie ship at a remarkably low price (those of you who play will agree with me that four hundred thousand units is very, very cheap). Then I jumped into what turned out to be a gorgeous star system with a beautiful red planet. I named it the Aeson system, after a friend whose roleplaying character has a fondness for scarlet.
Lynne Prime, as I named it, had lovely weather, a pleasant range of temperatures, no particular toxicity or radiation, and lots of rare minerals. It had a beautiful colour range, red grass, green trees and cobalt blue shades of minerals. Interaction with offworlder aliens was scarce, granted, but it was a short hop to the system’s space station to sell my loot. The local space pirate gang only caught me once.
When at last I felt like taking on new challenges and perhaps meet exciting new aliens with exciting new technology, my luck ran out. I hyper jumped from system to system, and flew from planet to planet, without finding a rock to put my feet down on. I jumped right into a stellar battle. I landed on planets so cold that I froze almost solid before managing to close the door to my ship again. Planets with acid rain so intense that my exosuit caved like plywood. Planets where the sentinels were so aggressive that —
Did I forget the sentinels? Well, those are the robotic overseers of the universe and they don’t much like change. Blast a few rocks to pieces to get at their valuable minerals, sure enough, these little robotic pests turn up. Fortunately, they’re not very smart. If you’re already done when they get there, they’ll usually just fly around and be confused. Or, if you’re on a high security world, they’ll attack you without the slightest provocation. I thought it a tad ironic when I had to take out four sentinels after they tried to kill me because I killed a dog-lizard-thing that tried to eat me. That’s taking wildlife preservation a little too far.
Planets and moons are generated following a complicated formula that guarantees that their ecosystems make some kind of sense while not two are alike. My second lucky shot got dubbed Arizona Prime because it reminds me of pictures from there. Also, I like the word Prime.
This world gets a little chilly at night, some minus 50 degrees Celsius or so, but my exosuit can handle it and fuel is in ample supply. Day temperatures range around 20 degrees and the views are quite something. There’s no radiation and no toxins, and most of the wildlife is quite friendly (except the unicorn dogs, I shoot those little bastards on sight).
Extreme environments can be handled with upgrading your exosuit and in many cases, by seeking shelter. This can be a literal shelter at an alien outpost (you’ll want to search around those for new technology anyway), or hopping into a cave to get out of storms. Arizona Prime is unfortunately prone to some really, really violent dust storms.
So what do I love about No Man’s Sky? The pottering about, searching everything, poking everything with my multitool, learning alien languages one word at a time, trying to speculate in trading goods (markets fluctuate from system to system), the grand over-all quest to get to the core of the galaxy (I think, it’s a tad unclear), the beautiful vistas, the smooth and elegant user interface… I like all the options. There are countless things you can do in the game, and my choosing to be a peaceful merchant and explorer doesn’t mean that you can’t be a vicious space pirate.
But stay off Lynne Prime. That’s the world I plan to retire to.