Following a recent report that No Man’s Sky, one of the most anticipated games since two E3’s ago, lost 90% of its player base, I entered a discussion about exactly why this game fails so miserably. Before I start rattling off my opinions, I must let you know, dear reader, that I have not played No Man’s Sky. I have, however, combed through a few hours worth of game play footage and page after page of reviews to collect as much information as possible.
The short version is this: No Man’s Sky is boring. There is very little to do and things start to feel very tedious, very fast. A game that promised exploration in a procedurally generated world focuses only on the latter part of that equation and makes the player little more than a camera with which to take pretty pictures.
The longer version is that No Man’s Sky wrote checks it couldn’t cash. Imagine if we had something like E3 for books in the 1950’s, and George Allen & Unwen were presenting J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The crowd explodes into applause over promises of experiencing a grand adventure set in a world rich with its own unique lore and culture. Then, imagine if the publishers knew Tolkien wasn’t capable of delivering on those promises.
The book is published, eager fans rush to stores to pick up their pre-ordered copies, and when they turn the first page it just reads, “There are elves.” Okay, no so bad right? Maybe this just leads to something bigger. At least I know something about the world. Okay, next page. “There are swords.” Wait, what? Alright, alright. It’s only two pages. Surely this isn’t indicative of the entire book. Let’s try one more. “There are wizards.” Okay, screw this. This is boring. We were promised an adventure and world to explore. This is not that.
This is the story of No Man’s Sky’s release. Too much hype and too little delivery. Exploration is not just moving around in a space. It’s about having things in that space to discover and learn about. The things in that space need to relate to it and not just simply be in it. No Man’s Sky does give you a gun to shoot stuff, and for some reason, collect resources with but that is the height of your interaction with the world. Admittedly, there is an initial sense of wonder when you land on a new planet for the first time, but that quickly wears off when you realize mining the next resource node is the most exciting thing you’re going to do.
Along with the boredom, No Man’s Sky is rife with technical glitches. Flying through a black hole should be thrilling and instead ends with a frustrating game crash. Resource nodes inexplicably float in the air. Players can’t even see each other or interact in any way. Other games released in such a poor state are torn to shreds by the community and industry. I don’t see any reason this one should get a pass.
Hello Games, the studio that created No Man’s Sky, is not triple A. It is a small indie studio looking to do big things. Even so, I can’t be sympathetic. Gamers have gotten the same treatment over and over every year. We get hyped up for a title, treating it as the messiah of gaming, and every time we are disappointing. I get it. We’re passionate about our hobby and our industry. We want to see and experience and do great things. But it’s past time we grew up and grounded ourselves in reality.
It may hurt us, given the emotional investments we place in highly anticipated games, to admit that sometimes these games are bad. It’s time to simply be honest. No Man’s Sky is a failure.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
If a thing is bad, then there are obviously ways to improve it. I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some interesting features that could be added to No Man’s Sky.
- Make players able to see each other.
- Even if they’re just walking by and can’t interact or even communicate, this at least gives you the feeling that the universe you’re in is alive. You can see what other players do and learn from them. If Journey could pull this off years ago, so can this game.
- Make resources useful.
- There’s already some crafting in No Man’s Sky but it has no real effect. Let me build cool parts for my ship like new boosters and guns. Hell, just let me make newer, better guns for myself. Let me craft new clothes and armor even. This doesn’t have to be super in depth but at least make the time I spend shooting rocks and trees worth something.
- Let ME fly MY ship.
- Ships in No Man’s Sky are the Mini Coopers of outer space. I should know, because I drove one for two years. They look neat on the outside and odd on the inside but under the hood, they lack any real character. Just like Mini Coopers, the ships look neat but feel sluggish. They are just a way to get from point A to point B. Let me zip through canyons or cruise over the canopy of a large forest, drift aimlessly through space or hit warp speed in seconds. Just give me control of my own craft and stop magnetizing it to the ground whenever I get close enough to a planet.
- Better AI please.
- Some creatures blindly charge at you, others are advanced enough to take shots, but that is the extent of AI in No Man’s Sky. Where are the stealthy monsters who hunt me down or the inquisitive creatures who curiously watch me from afar? Where are the aliens intelligent enough to communicate? This is part of filling your world with stuff.
- A Job System
- No Man’s Sky touts a few RPG elements, but exploration requires some kind of focus. Whether you want to experience a place you’ve never been before, track down the remnants of an ancient civilization, or catalog wildlife that no one has ever seen, the framework for these things exist within this game. If the game combined this with true, active co-op play, it wouldn’t be such an improbability, as the developer put it, for players to run into one another. They would seek each other not just for camaraderie and companionship but to complement each others interests and abilities. When your group comes across aliens it can’t understand, your linguist who’s spent all their time reading language stones can translate. Need someone to drive off hostile drones? Call up your soldier buddy who’s got some of the best hardware in the universe.
I’m sure those who have actually played No Man’s Sky have better suggestions than this, and I’ve seen a few. Check the link dump below for interesting videos on the topic.