‘No Man’s Sky’ and the Battle of Expectations

Brandon Marcus

The buzz on No Man’s Sky is nearly as massive as the game itself. Announced a couple years ago, the project from Hello Games has promised the impossible: an explorable universe that’s seemingly as large as our own. Nothing off limits, no rules and no quests to complete. No Man’s Sky gives you a ship and the great expanding abyss to enjoy. Go have fun and do as you want.

With buzz also comes trepidation and fear of disappointment. It’s a tricky balancing act that games before have attempted and failed at. On one side, there is ravenous hype. On the other, assured disappointment. In between is an important lesson about letting any sort of art – whether it be games, movies, music or books – figure itself out and be what it is meant to be.

Expectations are so tricky. If a game developer or movie producer sets them too high, they’ll open the door for angry fans who feel slighted. If they don’t set them high enough, people won’t be excited at all. It’s about finding the sweet spot and promising just enough. That’s hard to do with a game like No Man’s Sky though because Hello Games is trying to achieve something never done before. If they accomplish even a fraction of what’s promised then they will go down in the history books.

However, the letdown with No Man’s Sky won’t come from its mind-blowing size, it’ll come from its story. Or rather, its lack of story. Like Minecraft before it, Sky will be completely hands-off when it comes to the player’s journey. You will do what you want, when you want. No story, no side quests, no timers or cut scenes. The sandbox is yours and you can truly do as you please. That’s where things will get difficult because modern gamers need something to keep them motivated and keep them happy. Even the most open of open-world games like Fallout 4 or Dragon Age: Inquisition have quests, lots of them. To give players a limitless world with no structure is inviting some to get burnt out or feel aimless.

But if that’s the game No Man’s Sky is going to be, that’s the game it should be. Is it more important for Hello Games to give people a product that follows the same structure as other games or to create something radically different, even if it lets people down? It’s about being true to themselves. Sure, Hello could have created several dozen quests similar to what you’d find in Elder Scrolls or The Witcher. But perhaps that would take away from the game’s ambition to allow true exploration. The vision for No Man’s Sky has always been this hands-off approach. We as gamers should respect that.

You see this sort of debate when a movie comes out and is marketed poorly. A movie is a dark comedy but is sold as a light-hearted laugh riot. Or maybe an upcoming horror movie is advertised as a thrill-a-minute scare ride when it’s actually a slow-burning homage to previous films. People are let down and take to the internet to show their anger.

It’s vital to take a step back from the advertising and your own expectations and examine the art (movie, game or otherwise) on its own merits. Take a look at the project objectively and judge it that way. Was the horror film well-made with a strong script, deft direction and impressive performances? If it was, you can’t really consider it a bad film. Once you look at it on its own, without your wishes and desires, you can see things differently.

That’ll be important to remember when No Man’s Sky hits stores next month. There are going to be folks who end up disappointed. The lack of story and meandering nature of the universe will be hard on some. Many might need more structure, including yours truly. That’s when people will need to examine the game again through the prism of its goals. What was the game that Hello wanted to make? How true is it to their goals? If you were to play the game on day one without any prior knowledge and hype, would you like it?

There’s a lesson in No Man’s Sky that all fans should learn. A game or movie or book or show isn’t bad because it’s not what you want. There are plenty of other aspects to view critically. Sure, there’s a chance No Man’s Sky won’t be a good game. But because it doesn’t have a story or doesn’t play like other games or doesn’t fit into preconceived boxes isn’t a reason to disparage it.

Keep that in mind in the coming weeks and months as people flock to the web to decry No Man’s Sky for being a bore. Expectations are important but they must be weighed against the vision of creators. It looks like Hello Games made exactly the game they wanted, whether you like it or not.

Brandon Marcus
A pop culture lover from birth, Brandon has previously written for VeryAware.com, NerdBastards.com, Trouble.city and CHUD.com. He has complained extensively about inconsequential things on all those sites. Brandon resides in the Pacific Northwest but his heart belongs to Gotham City.
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