‘No Man’s Sky’ – The Interactive Painting

No Man’s Sky is a truly ambitious video game that aims to set the bar for open world environments. The PC and PlayStation 4 exclusive was developed by Hello Games and they have done an incredible job of bringing to life this vast, open world that continues to feel fresh and new every time you start up the game. Unfortunately, the game lacks many crucial elements that could have taken the experience to the next level and made it a home run.

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Toxic Planet with sun and moon in the distance

Visually, No Man’s Sky looks as if you are playing through an interactive painting. Each planet has something unique about it and there are amazing photo opportunities that can be captured throughout the game. The world is filled with gorgeous lighting and weather effects and each new planet you discover features different combinations of visual elements, making each one feel different from the last. The visual presentation is one of the greater elements of the game and it’s a primary reason for playing it.

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Traveling to an undiscovered planet

Where No Man’s Sky seems to lose focus is in its story direction or lack thereof. From the moment you start up the game there is absolutely no sense of direction or storyline for the player to follow. The game simply hints you to create tools that will allow you to fly the seemingly random ship that is just sitting next to your starting point.

There is no context of how you arrived on the planet you start on, nor who your character is, where your character comes from, or your reason for being there. You simply exist on whichever side of the galaxy you start on which is a strange concept considering the game only features a single player mode. The game also doesn’t feature any tutorials or explanation of how to craft new items to repair the ship. This forces you to learn by tinkering with the menu yourself which is not a problem, but it does leave you lost at first.

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New space ship and pretty mountains

Once the beginning tasks are completed, there is a dialogue option from some kind of advanced A.I. and this part of the game is the only indication of a story, which is almost nonexistent after that point. After you make your decision, the game simply shows a waypoint for you to fly to another area. Once you reach the area, you are on your own.

I was hours into the game when I came across an anomaly (which winds up being just another alien NPC) when I figured out what my mission was. According to the dialogue options I was supposed to travel to the other side of the galaxy and it was possible to take a shortcut there. This gave me an idea as to what I was supposed to be doing and where I should be going, but there was no justification for traveling there.

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The anomaly NPC that informed me of a shortcut

I would have felt much better if there had been a legitimate reason for making the journey to the opposite side of the galaxy. If the primary goal was to save an alien race, or to stop an alien war from happening, or even to find your own home planet this would have given me more incentive to get there and find out what happens next.

I would have been more interested in traveling further because I could potentially learn something about my character or become emotionally invested enough to explore my way to the game’s conclusion. I will admit my examples of a potential storyline are pretty general and probably would not have made the game better, but I would have still appreciated something to look forward to story wise.

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Choosing the next location to travel to…

Because the game has no story, it makes it difficult for me as a player to keep delving into the galaxy. It felt like I needed to use my imagination to justify why I would keep collecting new elements on new planets. I put in many hours and gave it a chance to see if a story would develop later on in the game but honestly it never happened.

Exploring planets continuously without having a story or a reason for doing so can be redundant, but it would actually not be so dry if there were more things to accomplish on each planet. Because the objectives are simply to collect new elements, find new locations, collect alien words, and document wildlife, the process of exploring quickly becomes stale due to the large amounts of time you spend in dead open spaces searching for those items to collect.

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Large baron lands/Beautiful scenery

Many times I found myself just walking for hours through barren, open land on multiple planets. There were so many planets with no wildlife and simply nothing happening. These moments are what dragged down my experience with No Man’s Sky. The little bit of action that happens in the game comes in the form of combat with the sentinels.

The sentinels are like safety drones of the galaxy. They generally leave you alone, but on some planets where resources are low, they will attack you on sight, but this kind of scenario rarely happens. Tragically the combat is also held back because of the lack of variety. You only fight against two different forms of sentinels throughout the game.

For me, the combat felt simply underwhelming. It was a chore to fight the sentinels and it left me wanting to face off against something greater especially considering how big the game actually is. There are also aerial combat “dogfights” that take place in space but they usually end quickly and were also a rare event in my play through .

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Enemy aircraft explosion

Another area of the game that I found lacking was in the repetitive and uneventful dialogue with alien species. In order to have conversations with the alien races you need to learn their language words which is achieved by finding “plaques” or “knowledge stones”.

You can also learn new words from the aliens themselves, but only if you have reached a high enough relationship level with that particular race. At first this I found this interaction to be pretty cool especially since I did not know there were aliens in the game. Where this started to lose my attention was when I had entered into a completely new area and the main base was exactly the same as the last one I visited.

At the same time, the alien stationed there was literally the same character model as the former with alternate colors. This repetition really watered down the experience for me and made me feel like giving up on the game overall.

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Dialogue with Vy’keen alien

What also doesn’t help this whole experience is the fact that the game uses a similar menu interface to the similarly themed FPS game Destiny which features a slow circular selector to highlight items. Because you need to use the menu often it becomes frustrating to drag the selector to refill a key item, most especially when you are in tough situations.

I would have preferred a menu with a normal selector that can be controlled with the D-pad and allows me to select items at my own speed. Being able to drag and drop items quickly would have cut down time which would have helped me during combat scenarios where I needed to refill my ammo for the mining tool in the middle of a firefight.

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Fighting a level 3 sentinel search party

Ultimately, the game felt like an enhanced combination of Destiny’s interface and MinecraftNo Man’s Sky has elements of both with a dash of dialogue interaction from Mass Effect. The developers may not have been inspired by any of these games directly but the result feels as if all three of these games have been mashed together with a new art style.

My main problem with the game is simply that it does not keep the player engaged for very long. One would think that with 18 quintillion planets there would be a never ending supply of engaging objectives to complete. Unfortunately that is not the case for No Man’s Sky.

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Tops of tropical trees

Sadly, I really wanted to love this game so much, but each time I played it I found something else that made want to leave it. By no means am I saying that No Man’s Skyis a bad game. Instead, I believe it is a fantastic interactive work of art and should be categorized as an interactive painting.

Changing the category it falls under reflects how it will be received by the player and I would have felt better about the experience had the game been labeled as an exploration simulator or as an interactive sci-fi painting rather then an action/adventure game. No Man’s Sky is a very beautiful game, and the art style and feel of the gameplay is unique, and at times even stress relieving, I just feel it should be labeled as an interactive art piece instead of an action video game.

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Milestone completed in a beautiful field

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