”˜Why?’. It is a very nebulous question and one that seems to be at the heart of most No Man’s Sky discussions. The focus largely revolves around whether or not there is enough of a game to keep people interested. Will the allure of endless exploration dwindle at some point in the near future and snuff out enjoyment and fun? Everyone seems to be searching for their own answer to that question in No Man’s Sky.
For me, it is the simple draw of the unknown. Of doing something I have never done before. In my time with No Man’s Sky, by developers Hello Games, I am the explorer “Spaceman Skatch”, forever looking towards the next horizon, pointing my ship to the unknown and rocketing forward to the next mysterious rock with no other reason other than, “because it is there.”
That line, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek V, is in regards to climbing a mountain. In Kirk’s view, it was THE most important reason to climb the mountain, simply because it exists. This moment from that film echoes for me every time I touch down on a new world in No Man’s Sky. It is the reason I will hunt down every alien lifeform and scour the planet for alien monuments and long-abandoned settlements…because they are there.
This is not to say that some of the criticisms against the game are not warranted. I myself find this universe to be far too empty. No one lives anywhere. There is this lingering impression that all of this was built just for me, to satisfy my exploration itch. That is not necessarily a bad thing until it disrupts your suspension of disbelief, which happens when you visit the tenth uninhabited campsite that resembles the previous nine.
There are technical problems as well on PC, my platform of choice, that can not be overlooked. While I have not had any issues launching and playing the game, one need only look to the Steam reviews to see the plethora of problems people are having. The only issues I have encountered is the common alt/tab bug which can be fixed by pressing the ”˜play game’ button on Steam to bring the game forward. I have also had an issue where, after some random time of play, my framerate drops to unplayable. Closing the game and reloading seems to be the quick workaround, but it can be rather annoying.
On the gameplay side, menus are clunky and no one will defend the horrid inventory management which can drive you bonkers as you struggle to make room for everything you need. The combat is merely serviceable, on ground or in space, and seems to exist simply because it must. Flying your ship is certainly a joy, as is navigating with your jetpack through the alien worlds. Resource gathering, the bulk of what you are doing, is, for the most part, quick and easy.
Once again, the exploration is where the game really shines. As you planet hop from monument to monument, uncovering words from alien languages and meeting other beings in your travels, you do get a sense that something else is going on. There is a puzzle to be solved in No Man’s Sky, though what it is or what will be revealed is left to mystery. It is extremely satisfying when you speak with an alien being after you have uncovered some portion of their language and can decipher their intent from the few keywords you know.
This, in turn, feeds that drive to keep going, to figure it all out. Along the way, you will earn money and upgrade your ship and weapons. You will be able to gather resources faster and catalogue untold locations, flora, and fauna but all of it is in pursuit of that one lingering question…why?
In some ways, that question looms large over No Man’s Sky much like it does in real life. Why are we here? From the start of the game, this question begs to be answered. Why is my ship crashed and how did I get here? You don’t even know who you are. Is the player even human?
It is the question that needs answering that pulls me forward in No Man’s Sky. There is a zen-like quality that can be attained when you shut everything else out and simply exist in this gorgeously rendered digital universe and seek to understand its ways. There is a rush of excitement when you learn a new word or find an amazing cave full of wonders and resources.
Perhaps that will fade after countless hours of gameplay. Maybe, in the long run, the search for the answer will become mundane and the excitement of the unknown will dim. For now though, I am simply “Spaceman Skatch” out here floating in a tin can, boldly going into the black.