After what felt like years of waiting, gamers are finally playing No Man’s Sky — or at least they were. If the SteamSpy’s numbers are to be believed, the game has seen a 90% decline in hourly concurrent players since launch. The project rode into the world on a wave of feverish anticipation and many expected it to be a great savior of video games, something unlike anything else. Many people (including yours truly) thought that it could be a game you played for years and years. That may be true, but not for the reasons advertised. The more I play the game, the more I wonder: Is No Man’s Sky an unfinished game? If so, is that necessarily a bad thing?
Very few games have entered the world with as much hype as No Man’s Sky. Hello Games created a beast even before it hit stores. The promise of an endless universe and limitless possibilities seemed almost too good to be true. Surely it wouldn’t live up to the lofty goals set by the developers. Surely it would be a letdown. I wrote about the anticipated backlash to the game but didn’t expect that No Man’s Sky would leave me so cold. I didn’t expect to be wanting more so soon.
A Big (Repetitive) Universe
This is how playing No Man’s Sky works: You hop into your nifty little starship and set your sights on an undiscovered planet. After a fiery entry, you land your vessel and wander around the planet, using your multi-tool to mine various minerals. With limited space for inventory, you will soon have to cash in your minerals to buy a new ship. Or you can use the discovered items to upgrade your starship, exosuit, or multi-tool.
And after that? Well, then it’s onto the next planet to repeat the same routine. Land, mine, cash in, upgrade. While there are more goals in the game (reaching the center of the universe is the official quest of the game) No Man’s Sky is actually rather small. It’s a massive playground to fly around but there’s not a whole lot you can do. Yet.
That’s the frustrating — and exciting — thing about No Man’s Sky: Iit’s not done. This is just the beginning. Many have compared the game to the launch versions of Destiny and Minecraft. Those comparisons make sense because all of these titles started off rather bare bones, setting the stage for ample updates and improvements over months and years. Many were bummed with Destiny at launch after being promised an MMORPG/first-person-shooter hybrid that would change the gaming landscape forever. Over time, Bungie turned the game into something much more robust and worthy of players’ time. The same thing happened with Minecraft, which is currently radically different from what it was at launch. Thanks to persistent fans and hard-working developers, Minecraft and Destiny are much bigger, much better games than they used to be.
The Future of No Man’s Sky
There’s so much Hello Games can do to improve No Man’s Sky (Just this week we offered a list of our own suggestions). That’s what makes it so promising but also so aggravating. Is this the game what we were promised? No, not really. The game is repetitive, many planets feel barren, there are bugs on bugs on bugs.
Yet, you see the foundation for something great. Right now you collect minerals to minimally improve your ship and suit but maybe someday soon you’ll be hoarding those items to make a home base. Or perhaps you’ll be using what you collect to craft a giant freighter. Maybe some of these abandoned planets will have small villages in the near future. Perhaps you’ll see more NPCs roaming around and feel like there’s actually life in this vast universe. Maybe — just maybe — you’ll eventually be able to run into other, real players venturing through the cosmos.
Creator Sean Murray has already promised a few of those updates. He’s been on record saying he wants to work on this game long into the future. They want to start a dialogue between developers and fans, working together to continually evolve the game.
Right now No Man’s Sky is a big (very freaking big) canvas with a base layer of paint applied. You can see where the artist is going, you understand the intent. But there is just a splash of paint on the thing. Beautiful paint, of course. Lots of beautiful paint. Yet, there’s a long way to go before it’s as all encompassing and engaging as you had expected. In sixth months to a year, perhaps things will look very different. And imagine a couple years from now, what type of game it will be then?
It’s hard to admit but No Man’s Sky isn’t blowing me away like I had hoped. But I’m sticking around. In fact, the game still excites me. I have faith in Hello Games and I believe they’ll try to follow through with their ambitious plans for the future of the game. I enjoy flying around, I enjoy mining and trading and upgrading. But I feel a bit let down, a bit bored. There’s two ways to look at that: I can look at No Man’s Sky as a game full of unfulfilled promises or I can look at No Man’s Sky as a game full of possibilities.