Capsule Review: No Man's Sky

(A note on versions - No Man’s Sky has received many significant patches since its original release. This review is based on the 1.5 “NEXT” update.)

An exploration and survival game with building and space sim elements. Explore procedurally-generated alien worlds, scan the wildlife, and collect resources and artifacts. Craft technology and upgrades, build a base, and trade with aliens. Fight space pirates, command fleets of ships, and investigate the galaxy’s mysteries.

It’s a very ambitious game that constantly gets in its own way. Most of the gameplay is not particularly refined or compelling, but the real problems are the places where the design actively damages what would be enjoyable about the game. The spacious and often beautiful landscapes are made for relaxed exploration, but that’s rendered impossible by a tiny inventory and the constant need to refuel the equipment that enables your exploration. Your space suit’s two types of life support, your multi-tool’s two types of mining beam, and your ship’s three types of engines all take different fuels and are always running out.

You need to constantly collect and carry so much stuff and don’t have enough room for it, let alone any space left over for whatever interesting things you find along the way. On top of this, the inventory is overly complicated and difficult to use with multiple different sub-inventories with different stack sizes. Your chill exploration is constantly interrupted by your suit barking at you that you need to refuel something or having to suffer through terrible menus to manage your inventory which is full of exploration-enabling fuel.

You burn so many resources just in collecting more of that resource to fuel the tech you need in order to collect that resource. So much of your time and energy is spent just making sure you can continue playing the game. There’s so much friction between you and the positive parts of the game experience - including from dealing with the terrible interface and from many other small things that may or may not be bugs, like your radar markers for certain collectible resources not clearing when you collect those resources, meaning you can’t actually rely on those markers to lead you to new resources. On PC, it’s possible to circumvent some but not all of these problems with mods, but these are often broken by game updates and may themselves be updated slowly or not at all. I just checked back on the nine mods I used when I played a few weeks ago and two of them no longer exist.

No Man’s Sky is a game with some impressive tech, but it uses it to deliver a sub-par experience. Some things can and may be fixed with additional polish, but a lot of the problems seem to be core to the design the game has had since the beginning. The result is a game that throws up barrier after barrier, seeming almost deliberately to make itself obnoxious to play.

I Stopped Playing When: After fifteen hours or so, I got tired of continually updating or replacing the mods I needed to make the gameplay tolerable and dealing with the many smaller inconveniences for which there are no mods. The final straw was when manipulating the terrain near a cache of valuable artifacts in order to make them easier to collect caused the artifacts to simply disappear.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.