Still No Man’s Sky

Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.

Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.

Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.

And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”

Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station. 

Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game. 

But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.

After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet. 

Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.

Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.

The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.

But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.

I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.

I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.

Posted on October 15, 2020, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What I am perplexed is that they still require long long grind to do anything. Yes they have the explorer mode but I do not dare it as I understand it removes everything. If it was a game that provide microtransaction I would umderstamd this infinite grind. But could they provide a chill spatial life simulation where I can just explore and have the feeling living the life of am explorator? I am not paying anything more than the original price, could they make a 20h game out of their game ?
    I came back to this game every year, strongly enjoy the first 5 hours, and then hit a grind wall that set me off after 2 hours. Even with installing some grind reducing mod.
    I will wait a bit until the mod are updated for the new release and retry it. Maybe this time…

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    • I guess there is a question about what you consider to be the early-game grind. The start of the base-building quests? The (somewhat related) path towards actually unlocking additional bag space on yourself/your ship/your base? Collecting Salvaged Tech pieces so you can skip the quests?

      From my experience, it does not actually take that long to achieve a state in which full galaxy exploration is… well, “trivialized” is a strong word… maybe “assured.” The main hump is getting enough cash so that you can buy 4000+ Sodium/Oxygen/Chromatic Ore at a space station without it being a big deal. Once you do that, you can pretty much recharge your shields/life-support within two seconds and otherwise not bother a whole lot about planet environmental dangers. Further progression just gives you more time between needing to press those buttons.

      What I consider the grind is when you’re warping to a new system, popping into the space station, grabbing the one backpack upgrade, and then warping to the next system to repeat the process 48 times. Or repeatedly tracking down Abandoned Outposts to steal ~1.5m Units worth of Whispering Eggs at a time. Or spamming Derelict Freighter encounters so you can get like 1 additional upgrade slot on your ship/Multi-Tool.

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  2. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode?

    Speaking as a fan of the current state of the game (there are simply enough toys/exploration hooks to keep me interested) it would have to be done carefully.

    I do think Hello Games want to increase challenge – the ‘dungeon’ structure of the Derelict Freighter is a step in that direction (and you do have hostiles on those freighters) but I just don’t really like fighting in NMS very much. One of the consistent negative jolts in the game for me used to be finding an interesting or pretty planet suitable for a side-base, only to have it crawling with frenzied sentinels. Which meant having to fight a boring escalation every time you went outside.

    It’s interesting how conditioned we are to see combat as important to video games. Having it included but only as an afterthought or aesthetic flourish seems weirder than the presence of other fairly useless systems.

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