No Man's Sky: Some Thoughts

No Man's Sky is out, and the reviews have been - well, appropriate, for the most part. This was a hugely hyped, hugely ambitious game that just fell short. It gets more annoying when you realize just how close to the mark it was and how just a bit more polish could have made the game just flat-out better.

So with that in mind, here are some of the ways I felt the game fell short:

Hugely Repetitive Planets

The entire selling point to No Man's Sky was the huge number of procedurally generated planets you can visit. And you can visit a huge number of procedurally generated planets.

They're all very samey. They all contain the same pre-generated points of interest. They all contain the same generic "rolling hills" geography, with a few caves and canyons hidden in the hills. They all contain the same generic sets of resources. Sure, some resources are only located on certain rarer planets - but since you can't scan for resources, this mechanic is just obnoxious, and really doesn't change the fact that it ends up being "the same thing, but a different color" every single time.

The Annoying Survival Elements

"Life support system low." Be prepared to hear that a lot. And it's lying: you get a warning at 75%, then 50%, then 25%. There's no need for the 75% warning and recharging it is trivial: you'll never be at want for "energy" resources. It's there, but it doesn't serve to limit, only to annoy.

The same applies to the "hazard meter" that appears on hazardous planets. It's there, but it's trivial to refill, making it just obnoxious rather than something you have to prepare for.

The same applies to your starship's fuel: space is literally made up of chunks of starship fuel (who knews?) so you never have to worry about finding yourself stranded in space.

It's never a question of "will I have enough resources to survive until I can locate more" it's "oh look, more plutonium on the surface of this world for no apparent reason."

The Annoying Upgrade/Crafting System

Did you know that if you place upgrades next to the system they upgrade, you get a bonus? I didn't. Despite having generally done it for aesthetic reasons. The game doesn't tell you you're getting some form of bonus. It doesn't tell you how effective the bonus is. Is this something you really want? Is it almost worthless? I have no idea.

The other thing the game barely makes clear is what the upgrades do or how effective they are. There are upgrades that increase how much time you can survive in a given hazardous environment. Turns out, they're useless: they require rarer materials than the base "shield" to operate and they discharge far faster. Essentially, you discharge them first, then you discharge your "main" shield. The "main" shield discharges far more slowly and is easier to recharge.

Upgrades are not sorted in any fashion. You can filter them by type, but you can't sort them by strength or function within a subtype. There are four basic types of "hazard" and therefore four types of "shield" you can get: hot, cold, toxic, and radiation. These get all jumbled together along in the various strength tiers. It's a mess, and an unnecessary mess.

You can't view the blueprints you have unless you try and craft it. There's no "tech tree" view to show you what you're missing. There's no way to compare the relative strengths of various upgrades that do the same thing. Some upgrades indicate their relative strength with a "+x" indicator. Some (such as the hazard shields previously mentioned) don't. It's weird and unpolished.

The Annoying Combat

A whole bunch of upgrades are for the combat system. The combat system is annoying, there's really not much else to add to that. The base Sentinel droid just stays in one place, shooting at you while you shoot at it. There's essentially no cover system, so you just point at the droid and then shoot it until it's dead. Repeat until they're all dead. There, you're now "out of combat" and don't have to worry about sentinels until you re-aggro them some how.

The problem with Sentinels is that they're basically the "fun police." They don't guard specific rare resources (sort of), they're basically there to get in your way. They're not fun to deal with since the combat system is so bare-bones. They're just annoying.

Space combat isn't much better. Pirates randomly attack. Apparently the generic advice for pirate attacks is to just let them kill you because the death penalty is so slight that it just isn't worth the time spent dealing with them.

The Annoying Controls

And then there's the controls. I haven't tried the PS4 version but I have tried the gamepad controls on the PC version. Hello Games have managed to create the worst of both worlds: the PC controls feel like an obvious console port, and the PS4 controls feel like an obvious PC port. You'd think you'd use the D-pad to navigate menus. Nope: you move the mouse cursor with the left analog stick. Why?

You can't control the camera when on the ship with the keyboard and mouse. This is annoying when flying around, trying to look for things on the ground. You can look around with the gamepad. (Which is less useful than it could be.) The game desperately needs a "look straight down" button to let you manually scan the planet's surface for points of interest and to help you land where you want to land.

And Then What

After all that, there's one overarching thing: and then what?

Once you've explored your first several planets and realized that there's basically nothing new, you're left with that question: Now what?

Do I continue the "story" and see if that goes anywhere?

Do I try and make it to the center of the galaxy in the hope that there's some point to doing that?

I've basically given up on seeing anything interesting in the game. Right now, my plan with the game would be to try and upgrade my ship as far as possible, and then just basically go straight for the center of the galaxy in the hope of finding something that makes me hope that there's more to the game than I've found so far.

Some of the things on this list are fixable. The controls could be cleaned up. The crafting UI could be greatly enhanced.

But the planet generating algorithm is presumably set in stone now: the game is out, planets are being generated. In order to ensure you always end up in the same place, the algorithm can't be changed. And for a game that's about "infinite discovery," the lack of things to really discover is somewhat disappointing.

And that leads on to one last thing:

Why Am I Even Bothering?

You can name and upload your discoveries. But you'll eventually realize this is pointless: no one is ever going to see the planets you've "discovered." Even if they do, they're never going to come across the waypoints you've found (planets are truly enormous), about all they might see is the planet names and the creature names you came up with.

But why bother naming anything? You can't share your discoveries with anyone you know. Someone might randomly discover your planet, but it's not like they're likely to care about the things you've named.

There desperately needs to be some way to share your "discoveries" with other people to give some point to discovering things. Even without true multiplayer there desperately needs to be a way to "visit" the same area of space some other player is in.

But there aren't.

So what's the point?