You will die a lot in No Man’s Sky, the space exploration game from Hello Games. Why do I say that with such certainty? Because the game was built to detract attention from the actual gameplay. It’s not all about the verb. You will die because you will be busy watching an Ewok-like creature dancing with its family around a tree or following a group of baby alien triceratops when someone attacks unexpectedly. You will die because No Man’s Sky feels like paradise, albeit one with lush reddish trees, and because all that art direction will make you feel as though you can’t die.
You can. You will.
After spending almost 20 hours inside the No Man’s Sky universe, I can confidently say that the game is, at its core, a survival simulator. While you walk around, checking out glowing elephant, you will receive an alert: “Your radiation protection is at 10 percent now.” You’ll either react or perish. There are ice planets as cold as Hoth where your body temperature sinks drastically the moment your heating system fails. No Man’s Sky asks players to hunt for an equilibrium. In that sense, it’s like both life and the real world search for habitable worlds.
Strange as it might sound, a press event is typically a good indicator of whether or not a game will work. And the recent event put on the promote No Man’s Sky in conjunction with the European Space Agency went off beautifully. The fine gaming reporters of Darmstadt, Germany were charmed despite doing their best to find problems. Why do I have to walk 10 minutes in the same direction just to get some Heridium?” one journalist asked another. See, to fix the pulse engine on your ship, you actually need 200 units of Heridium. To find it, you need your scanner. But that’s broken too, so the first 30 minutes or so are basically all about finding the necessary resources to fix broken technology.
Again, the game is weirdly realistic while being totally fantastical.
That means the experience is a mixed bag for those more accustomed to modern game design. The likes of Assassin’s Creed often reward players on a constant basis. There is points, experience trees, skills, or upgrades almost every 10 minutes. No Man’s Sky isn’t that kind of game. It’s a game that wants you to get lost because that’s the point. Moments where you end up deep in a cave filled with crystals, or where you go completely off-mission just to follow a family of cute critters.
But it’s also slow — like really, truly significantly slow in progression. This is not a game for folks who want a clear structure. For those that want something like: First planet, fix ship, go to space, find the first space station, meet the first aliens, farm the surrounding planets to be able to afford upgrades, and go to the next solar system.
No Man’s Sky is not that. It’s not a quick affair.
This is a game for people that love exploration and are fine with quite a high level of pressure. Because your suit is always broken because of radiation or heat or cold or toxic conditions. So you constantly have to adjust, go off the beaten path (or what passes for a beaten path) and invest resources in something different than you planned just to survive. No Man’s Sky is very much a game of never having enough – and desperately wanting more.