Tuesday, January 03, 2017

No Man's Sky - a video game review

This is just a warning for what is to follow: THIS IS ABOUT A VIDEO GAME

2016 held an exciting event for gamers. One of the most anticipated video games was being released. Since its initial introduction, No Man's Sky was a game that hard core gamers were chomping at the bit to experience. It seem to offer a totally new and exciting way to handle the space exploration genre.

When the game finally arrived, all of that anticipation turned quickly into frustration, disappointment, and outrage. Many features that were seemingly promised were not incorporated. There were bugs (nothing bugs a gamer more than bugs in a brand new game!) that compounded frustration  by making the game unplayable for some. But mostly, purchasers felt cheated. No Man's Sky has been revealed to be the highest selling game in 2016. But it was also returned for refund by many gamers.

I didn't buy it when it released. I rarely purchase a game when it is new. Since I play games on a PC, instead of a console, I get most of my games through online retailers. And typically within months of a release, new games go down drastically in price. I am glad I waited. The frustration of those who were early "investors" put me on guard. The game was released in August. When I read the reviews and articles about the problems, I was content to wait.

Waiting bore out two results. The first was that the price did drop. Secondly, the folks at Hello Games worked out some of the bugs and release patches (for anyone who stuck around after the warning - patches are code that are inserted into the program to deal with errors, enhancements, and performance tweaks). So when the winter sales of 2016 arrived, I added No Man's Sky to my collection.

As of today, I am 26 hours into the game. I have started two games with slightly different play styles. The first game was about getting off of the starting planet as quickly as possible and experience multiple planets. The second game was slower paced and I have stuck around on each planet longer to see what it has to offer.

No Man's Sky is not a game that holds your hand and tells you how to play. You are free to go about the storyline. So far, I haven't found much of a plot to the story. There are some threads you can follow. As I explore more, I may find more substance. At this point, though, it is an open ranging experience. For people who like a solid story to carry you through a game, don't start looking here. I like open world experiences, though. I have enjoyed both styles of game play. And spent too many hours at one time playing through the slower paced style.

It is a pretty game. The planets are nicely rendered. The plant and animal life get a little redundant (at the "level" I am playing). There are some hard to achieve objectives. And there is a LOT to see. The planets are huge. And then the galaxy is expansive. The core "goal" of the game is to reach the galactic core. For people who have to reach the finish line, it is possible to do it quickly. At least I have heard of people doing it quickly. But this game is meant to be taken at a slower pace. The universe is meant to be explored.

No Man's Sky is solitary. You character interacts with other species of intelligent life. But there is extremely limited multi-player interaction. This is not a game for the social gamer. If you want to squad up with 3 of your buds and take on space pirates, you need to check out a different game. This is an introverts dream, though. You can explore peacefully without the constant chatter of a chat stream. You can interact with programmed bots that allow you to choose how you will respond. You have little markers that let you know that someone else was here before you. You leave little markers that let others know you have been here. But there is no real social interaction with another living soul.

This is a Trekkers game, not a galaxy far, far away. This is not a game of exciting twists and turns. It plays out slowly. It is more exploration than adventure. This is Star Trek: The Next Generation at its purest (without the need to inject romance/intrigue/action). This is an effort to go where no one has gone before. It is a mind game more than a button mashing game. You cannot experience this game waiting for the next bad guy to pop up. You can experience this game anticipating what is over the horizon or when you break through the atmosphere.

Hello Games took a beating in reviews because they didn't deliver the game that gamers were expecting. I sort of let my expectations go away. I entered the game with a bit of trepidation that it would be a waste of time. But I have enjoyed it. It has turned into one of those "just 10 more minutes" kind of games. My wife is probably a little miffed that it consumed as much time as it did. And I will be backing off of it now that the extraordinary schedule of the holidays are passed. But I will be coming back to it again and again.