No Man’s Sky: My First Impressions

This post is a part of Blaugust 2016!

NOTE: Many things have changed since NMS was first released — here is my re-review of the game a year later.

So my weekend has mostly revolved around No Man’s Sky. I debated whether or not to get this last week, then decided to take the plunge because I need some sandbox in my life. I knew what this game was and wasn’t. I’ve put a number of hours into the game and have enjoyed my experience so far.

That being said, I have a lot of thoughts for this post that’s going to sound like I have a more negative impression of NMS than I actually do. I like the game. I can’t recommend it for everyone. Not in this state, and not at full price, at least. I see a lot of potential and room for further development.

Let me explain.

Things I Love

I’m a sandbox player, so I can handle a slower paced space exploration game. If you love space and exploration, then this game may scratch your itch. Here’s what I love about the game:

  • Massive randomly generated universe
  • Lots of space eye candy
  • Exploring new worlds (and naming them)
  • Discovering new creatures (and naming them)
  • Mysterious overarching story that doesn’t butt into exploration too much
  • Three different kinds of progression (exosuit, ship, weapon)
  • Relaxing exploration and resource gathering
  • Learning alien languages (woot!)
  • Discovering cool new ruins and locations
  • I’m okay with lack of multiplayer… glad I don’t have to worry about someone PKing me or something

Overall, the foundational systems are here. This is everything that you need to build upon and have a great game. I know a huge complaint was optimization and bugs, but I didn’t have any trouble running the game on my PC (and I don’t have the best gaming computer on the block). I guess I don’t fret about things like FPS, but I rarely saw hitching or lag during my game.

I ran across a couple annoying known bugs, but nothing that broke the game. However, for all the things I love, there are a lot of areas I feel the game can improve upon. This is from my limited time playing the game, so if there are things that “fix” the following issues at a later time, I don’t know about them yet – sorry!

Things I Don’t

Long… long… long… loading screens. Both at startup and when warping between star systems. These are the kind of screens that you get up and grab a snack because it takes several minutes just to launch the game.

Slow. So very slow. I’m not talking about FPS, I’m talking about the gameplay itself. I’m okay with a relaxed game, but NMS is almost too slow for even me.

Just walking (which you do a TON of) has two speeds: snail-slug slow and a little less slow. The “running” doesn’t feel like running, just a slightly faster walk. I’ve seen how I can upgrade stamina, but I don’t know if that just lets me run longer, or actually speeds me up. For worlds that are this huge with so much to see, it’s discouraging that we can only move through them at turtle speed.

Interacting with aliens starts to feel like it takes an eternity. You get something like a cut scene, then the alien takes forever to speak to you and then the relevant game text slowly fades in. Using things like scanning beacons, which I tend to do a lot, also feels like it takes forever to load in the text, select your search and wait for the beacon to find a location.

The first few times I interacted with aliens and scanners, I was patient. After that, I start to feel like saying “Okay, I’ve done this before. Hurry it up already.”

Inventory constraints. Just bad. I know you slowly increase your slots, but that seems to be the only real progression when it comes to ships and suits. There is never enough room for any of the things you find. To add salt to the wound, ship and suit upgrades also permanently take up precious inventory slots. So you’re always deciding between adding a cool upgrade and losing inventory space.

Lack of quest clarity. I’m okay with a game that doesn’t hold my hand, but I feel like the the little bit of tutorial we do get is not very clear. For example, I got stuck on the part where I needed to create a warp cell to fuel the hyperdrive. In order to do that, I needed an antimatter. However, I couldn’t craft one yet, and had no idea how to get a hold of one. I saw other people asking the same question on forums, so I wasn’t the only one lost on this… this cost me at least an hour of frustration during a rather early part of the game, which is not a good new player experience.

I ended up Googling it, and seeing that some folks said you could buy antimatter from time to time from ships coming into the space station. So, I spent a LONG time running from ship to ship trying to find one for sale with no luck.

I almost thought I’d need to restart (if that’s even possible), but then I got into my ship and randomly the game told me to use “C” to scan with my ship. Now, I’d hopped in my ship over and over, and never saw it tell me that before. So, I scanned, and the game indicated there was a signal from a nearby planet. Heading out there, I met an alien who just handed over the antimatter so I could finally progress.

But why did it take an hour to find this in the tutorial?

From then on out, I paid a lot more attention to the random things that pop up in the bottom right corner. This usually leads you to the next objective you need to do.

But sometimes, even this seems really scrambled. Like, about 10 hours into the game, it was finally telling me to fix my lifeform scanner (which I’d done in the first 30 mins) and scan a new creature (which I’d already done on my first planet)… while on a planet with no animal life. Go figure.

Exploration starts to feel redundant. You do the same sort of thing on every planet – find discarded ships, fix them up to upgrade your ship. Find new upgrades for your weapon and exosuit. Scan for things. Gather resources. Sometimes the game surprises you, but it’s far and in between. You’ve seen one outpost, you’ve almost seen them all.

Now the exception comes when you happen upon a cool living planet with creatures to scan and things to really explore. But most of the time, the planets I find don’t have many lifeforms. The general consensus is to keep moving until you find a fun planet, then spend your time there. Makes sense, but it’s rather sad that the majority of randomly generated planets are bummers.

Like this one below. Hey, I name it like it is.

Constantly pacifying Life Support. There’s no eating in this game, but you have to “feed” the life support to keep your exosuit systems online and not die. Depending on the planet and the situation, you may have more than one system to keep up with (life support and shields), which can get doubly annoying. No, life support, 75% energy is NOT “low,” so stop nagging me!

No way to easily toggle UI to take nice screenshots. So there is a way to completely turn off the HUD in the PC version, but it requires you to go to the Options menu and turn it off in a setting every time you want to take a screenshot. I don’t have that kind of patience. For a game that looks this good and has so many special on-the-fly moments to snap pictures of, not having a keystroke toggle is a crime.

This would have been a nice screenshot if the icons didn’t get in the way!

Space Pirates. They haven’t killed me yet, but man, they’re a pain in the behind.

Ship navigation. I like that you can’t crash your ship… or I’d be doing it all the time. But it bugs me that I can’t fly down lower over the surface of a planet, and how much a pain it is to estimate a landing on a planet.

Static world. No Man’s Sky feels like a very static world in that you never see aliens just going about everyday life. You dock in the space station or trade outpost and its always empty of activity… until you’ve been there a little while. Then other ships start landing, but you never see aliens get out and do anything. No one else is walking the ramps or in the reception area (aside from the standard NPC receptionist).

You find some aliens in outposts, but they’re always huddled inside a building. Always just one at a time. Never interacting with each other.  They’re never out in the world. They’re not gathering resources or food. They’re basically just lifeless objects for you to interact with.

My Feedback

So, again, I know that list of negatives make it seem like this is an awful game and I hate it. I don’t. I’m looking forward to loading it up when I get home from work this afternoon.

I feel like there’s a number of things the devs can do to improve this game, however. Here’s some thoughts:

Building! I need to build things and make something of my own. Right now, I just drift from world to world, but nothing has any personal worth to me. I know base building is coming. Depending on how it’s implemented, this is a step in the right direction.

Land vehicles! Let me build a little moon rover or hover bike or something. Anything that speeds up exploration. These planets are HUGE and I’m not going to run out of content if you let me travel a little faster. This will also fix the issue of not being able to fly down and skim over the world in my ship.

I currently just jump in my ship for any POI that’s more than a minute away by foot anyhow. I want to explore, but the rate of travel is painfully slow.

Give life to NPCs. I love learning the alien languages and earning reputation with different races. But see above for all my complaints on how static the aliens are right now.

Bookmarks, maps or quick return. I need a way to be able to mark and return to places I’ve explored before. Right now, the game encourages you to just explore new worlds and forget the old discoveries while moving on to the next, which is a bummer.

There’s no mapping system for each planet, so once you leave a POI, good luck in ever finding it again. We need a way to map our discoveries and visit them again if we want!

Better inventory management!!!! This is in dire need. Come on. In a game that gives so little inventory space, at least let trade items stack. Make stacks bigger than 250 units for resources. It’s silly that 50% of the “progression” in NMS is focused on the fact that you have so little inventory space… so that ship and suit upgrades are mostly about getting increased slots (one at a time)!

Separate upgrades from inventory. Not only do you have so little space in your inventory, but if you want to upgrade your suit or ship, this also takes up an inventory slot… permanently. This is not cool.

Online encyclopedia. This is a pipe dream. But what’s the point in discovering all these cool things if you can’t show it to someone else? I’d LOVE an online encyclopedia of your discoveries — a webpage that you can pull up that shows the worlds and creatures you discovered. Something you can link to and send to other people.

This is probably too big a feature for the size of the game, but in a perfect world, I’d love to see this.

Again: NMS has changed a lot. Did it address my initial issues? Find out in my re-review of the game a year later.

So, do I recommend No Man’s Sky?

Only to the right sort of player. This isn’t a game for everyone. This is a game for the extremely patient space explorer.

I don’t know that I feel $60 is worth the price of admission. I feels like an Early Access game that’s missing a lot of content. It’s hard to suggest this when compared to much cheaper and deeper sandboxes like ARK or 7D2D. As a matter of fact, playing this made me want to pick up Starbound again (and I did).

It’s got a foundation, but it needs to expand. If they can do that, then this could eventually become something very awesome. I hope that it does. I want to see massive living worlds with active, buildable space bases and land rovers and all sorts of cool things!

I plan to post some of my NMS experiences in upcoming days. So stay tuned!