Before I get into this review, I have something of a disclaimer. The scale of this game is far too colossal for me to have managed enough playtime to do a complete appraisal, so this review is based off my initial impressions and will be devoid of any substantial speculation as to what the game ‘might’ hold later down the line. It clearly has more content that I have not yet broached. However, as I have no idea where that content may lead and may not have any idea for maybe 30-100 hours more gameplay, I will not try and fill in the blanks.
Hello Games’ technically ambitious project has fallen short on many fronts, however it remains a fun and engaging experience in many ways despite it’s flaws. The underlying lore of the universe is intriguing and interestingly written with each sentient race appearing to play a slightly different role within the universe itself. Unfortunately No Man’s Sky on the whole, feels like a very large empty space with not a great deal to fill it. That said, there are usually enough more interesting planets to break the potential monotony for a while at least, although it does not stave off the creeping feeling of stagnation inevitably.
On the gameplay front, NMS offers nothing new or special. The combat is average, as are the movement mechanics, and the farming. Exploring each individual planet becomes tedious relatively quickly due to the ship's launch thrusters requiring constant fuel re-supply and each planet basically being a continuous copy paste of the same asset sets. However, sometimes flying a while to look for useful locations can be rewarding. Each planet appears to be made up of one ecosystem and so far the only planets that differ from that norm are ones that have a reasonable amount of water. Even then the only differing ecosystem is present underneath the water. There are different types of stars that apparently feature different types of planets orbiting around them but sadly on my journey I have not yet collected the correct upgrades to allow me to travel to these systems so my current knowledge of how interesting their orbiting bodies may be is non-existent. The average yellow star system becomes fairly boring fairly quickly with regards to planetary exploration. Some have problematic weather conditions that mean you can only stay outside for certain lengths of time before your suit stops protecting you, but your elemental protection is recharged quickly by entering your ship or by entering a building. On some planets this becomes more tedious than others and occasionally planets will suffer from frequent and aggressive storms which makes being outside at all almost impossible.
The procedurally generated animals are also peculiar. Essentially the vast majority do just look like the result of a childs drawing session, with many creatures just looking simply anatomically impossible with their bodies being too short to fit their limbs on or their legs being extremely thin or the combination of appendages looking utterly ridiculous. The plants are less bizarre but a lot of the general shapes are repeated extremely often.
The building design does differ between sentient races but the variation in the building set for each race is very limited and the landscape is generally populated with small outposts that feel extremely two dimensional.
The discoveries available on each planet can be divided into four categories. You can find ‘in use’ buildings with sentient life inside them, abandoned buildings containing some sort of plague, beacons that scan the area for buildings containing sentient life, and relics which come in the form or plaques, ruins or monoliths. Each of these places offer the opportunities to further your knowledge of each races language and locate upgrades. Furthering your understanding of each language generally enables you to choose the right option when faced with choices given by the sentient lifeforms or by the mysterious monoliths. Choosing the right options provides you with a reward and increases your standing with the relevant race. The universe's lore appears to be linked into the ‘Atlas’ which is explained extremely slowly and is a path that generally points you towards the center of the galaxy and is presumably the lead up to the discovery of what is at the center. The monoliths gradually teach you the Atlas language if you successfully choose the right option in the ‘tests’ they give you.
The graphical content of NMS is again, nothing special. The game looks nice enough on the whole but it certainly isn’t overly breathtaking. The colour palette is lovely and vibrant which does enhance the frankly mediocre graphics but the main negative point on the graphics is the grainy fade-in used to render objects and the environment as you approach. The grainy fade-in does just unfortunately look poorly done and somewhat tacky. The buildings, space stations, and ships all look nice enough but the environment itself does feel lacking in appearance on the whole.
An utterly excellent aspect of the game is the soundtrack. Hello Games chose well when they asked British instrumental Post-rock band 65DaysofStatic to write the music for the game. The soundtrack is perfect and truly does support and emphasize the atmosphere of the game with each wonderfully crafted sound fitting perfectly in with it’s relevant section of gameplay. The environment sounds however are not as nice. Sadly the in-game noises sound somewhat obnoxious and the electronically voiced notifications are incredibly annoying. It feels somewhat disappointing that the soundtrack is so beautiful and yet marred by the occasional horrible game sounds.
No Man’s Sky is a huge game with too little content in it. It is fun and it is enjoyable on many levels but sadly suffers from unfulfilled promises and in some places lazy game design. The universe is too big and the procedural generation has failed to fill that universe with anything truly substantial. It’s sad to see that this project didn’t turn out as hoped and for many people it is definitely not worth it’s substantial price tag.