Friday, August 19, 2016

No Man's Sky - 52 hours

It's been three and a half days and I've finally come up for air. In the last week, I've spent more time playing No Man's Sky than I have at my job (although, to be fair, a significant portion of that time was at my job). I honestly think I could keep playing this game for weeks, at least.

Nonetheless, it's time to move on. The main impetus for this decision is the fact that I have a year-long goal I'm eager to complete - if I finish 13 more games in the next four months, I'll have gotten back to my starting point with the blog. Dallying with a single game, no matter how compelling, puts that goal in jeopardy.

But the other big reason I'm quitting now is that No Man's Sky still has some serious bugs. Every couple of hours, it starts to slow to a crawl for no discernible reason. It doesn't always load at startup. I get some annoying screen tearing when I play the game in windowed mode. As much as I like the game, I'd like it even more if these issues were cleared up (I may also need a more powerful computer - I've had this one for about a year and a half and it was mid-range when it was new).

So how do I sum up my feelings about this game? After fifty-plus hours, it feels more like an art installation than a game. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the gamey aspects of No Man's Sky - the grinding for materials, the inventory management, the sometimes tricky navigation over uneven terrain. It's just that I feel like it's main feature is its sheer bigness. And that bigness, except to the extent that it makes getting to the galactic core a more daunting task, isn't really a gameplay mechanic.

Instead, I think the mechanics are meant to convey and establish the game's feeling of bigness. They are supposed to make you feel small and alone in this science-fiction world. Even more so than the sentinels or the occasional predatory creature, it's the game's scale, and the accompanying loneliness that are No Man's Sky's true antagonists, and you can never really triumph over them, like you would in a pure game. Instead, the goal is to find the beauty and the grandeur in them and make peace with the fact that they're never going away.

That's why I think the planets are so obviously designed for loveliness rather than being functioning gameplay entities. You really don't need a planet-sized planet for anything. No one is ever going to explore that much territory (let alone do it 18 quintillion times). In fact, the mind boggles just trying to comprehend it. But if your goal is instead to hit players with the cold and undeniable knowledge that for every square foot of ground they cover, they are deliberately ignoring another million, then the scale works very well.

I think No Man's Sky is a pretty easy game to figure out. If you're paying attention, you get what it's trying to do early. And though I haven't got to the end of the Atlas quest line and I'm still more than a hundred and seventy thousand light years from the galactic core, I'm not sure that it's holding anything back for the endgame. Yet though the broad strokes are easy to suss out, the individual details are constantly changing? No two places are ever exactly the same, and many of those differences are spectacular to behold, but it's rare to be categorically astonished. The game does some pretty cool things, but they are the sort of cool things you've come to expect after your first dozen planets or so.

Ultimately, its longevity as a game is going to be extremely reliant on how the player, as an individual, values novelty. If you're the sort of person that requires the endgame to be a dramatic evolution of the early game's premise, you're not going to like No Man's Sky in the long run. If, however, you're like me and you don't mind playing basically the same game at hour 50 as you were playing at hour 2, then there's no reason not to stick around for hour 100 or beyond.

Or at least, there won't be once the game is patched into functionality. Hopefully, I'll have some more free time by then.

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