As of Battle for Azeroth, WoW professions have become almost entirely disposable.
I noticed this last night as I was puttering around on some of my alts. Three of them wear leather armor, so I was hopping onto each one trying to remember which had Leatherworking. As it turns out, none of them did. So, without much thought, I dropped Skinning on the rogue and then… paused. “Leather is cheap, but those Blood-Stained Bones are relatively expensive.” Then I decided that my druid would likely be more efficient at AoE farming for leather anyway, so I logged onto her and then dropped Enchanting without a pause and gave her Skinning.
If you have not been keeping track at home, Blizzard had been moving towards the Single Expansion Relevance model for a while now. Professions used to start at 1, and you would need to dedicate tens of thousands of gold/hours farming to level them up to 300+ just to get near where current-content gear was. If you kept up, you were sitting pretty, because everyone else just coming back from a break or brand new players had a huge grind ahead of them.
It was not a particularly elegant model, but it still felt… reasonable. Plus, the constant need for old-world mats for newly profession-ed characters meant that lowbies had a good shot at become rich by just gathering herbs/ore as they leveled. There was a whole micro-economy that existed there, including the savvy Auctioneers who were able to throw together a “profession kit” that would allow someone to max out to current content within 30 minutes. The dedication needed to remain in your own professions would inspire people to level alts just to have additional options, who then needed to be leveled and geared and fed a diet of AH materials, and so on, and so forth.
Then things started to change.
The first steps were allowing players to harvest current-expansion nodes even as a starter herbalist/miner. Blizzard made sure that the product extracted was basically junk, or 1/10th of the normal result, but you could at least tap the node. And that was reasonable, especially for the gathering professions, as it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to force high-level characters to be scouring old Azeroth for Tin nodes.
Then came the gimmie recipes for crafters, which allowed them to use current-expansion resources to rank up 400+ levels. One would think that such a feature killed off the old-school profession kits, but all it really did was set a price ceiling at which it was cheaper to just buy new herbs/ore. This was especially true at the beginning of an expansion, when the latest herbs/ore were selling for hundreds of gold apiece.
Somewhere in there, Blizzard also introduced profession books, which would allow you to “relearn” all the recipes you had lost when abandoning a profession.
With BfA, the circle is now complete. Professions are entirely stratified into expansion-specific tiers. Profession bonuses, which were the bane of hardcore raiders, were watered-down and diluted into irrelevance. Once a part of your character’s identity and story, professions are, at most, a (temporary) economic decision. Hell, in the heady days of a new expansion release, it can sometimes be worth the 1000g fee to relearn a profession if you can make ten times that amount in a night of being a temporary whatever. Blizzard helpfully removed most of the dungeon requirements for 3-star ranks, so the barriers has never been lower.
And all of that is probably for the best.
I sat here a while, exploring my feelings on the matter, before coming to that conclusion. I am a huge critic of any game design in which someone can lose on the character select screen, and WoW’s profession bonuses combined with the grind back up to max rank was just another form of that. That is on top of the ~5%/month churn rate which could see your entire MMO population turn over every 20 months. A new expansion is usually released how often, again? It’s just not a good design IMO to require people to pump out thousands of useless pieces of junk to increase a number to a sufficient degree to get to starting line.
Nevertheless, yeah, there is a part of me that had fond memories of the old system. My namesake paladin has been a Jewelcrafting/Alchemist since 2008 and none of that matters. I spent hundreds of hours leveling up a fleet of alts to cover every profitable base each expansion, and now the same thing could be done by one toon and a willingness to drop 1000g.
I am sort of waiting for the day when Blizzard just goes full GW2 and lets you buy extra profession slots for real money and otherwise just be done with the restrictions altogether.
(e.g. Why I Stopped Playing: The Forest.)
Let me start off by saying that The Forest has almost ruined other survival games for me. Nearly everything about it is incredibly slick and intuitive. The titular forest feels (and sounds!) like a forest, and walking through it can be a relaxing experience.
The crafting and building game is on point as well. Instead of filling your inventory with hundreds of rocks so you can craft a furnace in your pocket, you instead lay out a blueprint out in the world. From there, you start building it piece by piece, by essentially “using” the items in your limited inventory. Most of the larger constructions require logs, which you cannot fit in your pocket. So you are out in the world, chopping down entire trees, and then either hauling 1-2 logs on your back or crafting a sled to move ~10 or so at a time. This makes each structure feel important, as you spend a lot of time crafting it and seeing it come together a piece at a time, in a way that doesn’t exist just chopping logs for abstracted resources. It’s hard going back to any other survival games after this one.
That said, the game lost me when it went from being The Forest to The Caves.
Basically, nothing you do out in the world really matters – story progression is essentially exclusive to the cave system that snakes through the landscape. Sure, you need sticks and stuff to craft bows and your other weapons, but the experience of slowly creeping through dark, linear passages and encountering scripted amounts of enemies is basically the opposite of everything that led up to this point in gameplay. Those elaborate traps and your fortified treefort? Pointless. That house boat you built after felling a hundred trees? Pointless.
I mean, I get it. This game is technically a survival-horror, and even the craziest mutants lose some of the horror bits when you see them roaming around in the overworld instead of stumbling into them in a poorly-lit cavern. But really, these are two different games. The most you are crafting in the caves is a tent as a temporary Save location, so what was the point in expanding your carrying capacity? Or exploring the different biomes?
So, I stopped playing. The caves are both nerve-wracking and boring, simultaneously. I have heard that I’m pretty close to the point at which the plot starts to unfold in interesting ways, but that plot is at the end of more caves, which is further from the truly fun and innovative parts of this game. And that’s a real goddamn shame.
Going forward though, I do hope every survival game copies certain elements from The Forest. Don’t let us keep Furnaces in our pockets, especially if we’re basically allowed to build them out anywhere in the world anyway. Make things feel more grounded in the open world. And, yeah, please keep the open world and not goddamn caves.
Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.
Not really… but kinda.
The first thing I want to say about Conan is that this is perhaps the first survival game I have played that has completely nailed the setting and tone. In a lot of these games, you are a faceless protagonist, or a random nobody who just suddenly is completely fine with butchering cannibals within minutes of regaining consciousness. In this game, you are a barbarian, in a barbarian land, doing some very barbaric things. And it fits.
In ARK, you tame dinosaurs by beating them unconscious with clubs, rocks, or narcotics. Then you… put food and more narcotics into their inventories. In Conan, you beat warriors/cooks/etc unconscious with a club. Then you… tie a rope to their legs and drag them along the ground back to your camp, and lash them to your Wheel of Pain, feeding them gruel or even human flesh, until their will to resist finally breaks and they join you. Crom would be pleased.
Like I said, it fits the theme and tone of the game. All of that is further reinforced by the demonic mobs, corruption of mad gods, and other sort of weirdness that permeates the land. It feels right.
Having said all that, there is a lot of jankiness all over the place. I’m not just talking about the typical survival game tropes like carrying 500+ stones in your loincloth inventory, or how your Thralls will sometimes unequip themselves of their weapons. I mean the very consistent outright bugs, like how attacks don’t register if you are fighting under a tent. Or the overall jarring inconsistencies in progression, like the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to complete the early-game Journal task of “skinning a creature with a knife” (literally a dozen+ steps). Or the general incongruent nature of a more “realistic” game in which you cannot simply loot the items that NPCs are wearing, or interact with any of the set pieces that dot the land.
I think that, more than anything, there is one thought that is draining most of my enthusiasm away from playing Conan: “Elder Scrolls Online did it better.” Can you slaughter a camp of people and drain the Unfulfilled Desires from their corpses to fuel your ritual offerings to Derketo in TESO? No. You can, however, interact with the world in a meaningful way, like… you know, sitting in a chair, opening a crate, stealing a bowl. Certainly the whole dungeon thing works a hell of a lot better when death does not send you back across the map, naked and alone.
For the record, my experiences in Conan have been from the viewpoint of someone playing it single-player on a local server. I ended up cranking up the resource gain to x4 rate, which is probably too high, but farming iron ore for days and days is just dumb. It was dumb in ARK too, but that was on purpose: you were meant to tame dinosaurs to make collecting resources more efficient. In Conan, it’s just mindless labor meant to create PvP opportunities in which someone jacks all your stuff.
We’ll see how long interest lasts. I tried my first dungeon the other day, and was slaughtered by the boss all the way at the end. Despite having admin powers and the ability to spawn all my equipment back on my body and teleport back to the area, there was a very tangible part of me that felt like that was an interest-terminating loss. I never felt deprived in ARK for not seeing the bosses there while playing single-player, but dungeons in Conan are more of a thing. Probably because there are less “things” in the world otherwise.
Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.
That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.
Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.
Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.
Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.
Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.
At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.
One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.
Project Zomboid (PZ) is an Early Access, isometric post-zombie apocalypse survival game set in Kentucky. While the pared down graphics and isometric camera might give one pause, I was fairly excited to give the game a try. What I discovered is possibly one of the more “realistic” survival games out there… and that realism is way overrated. And less fun to play.
Honestly, I was actually surprised how much I disliked PZ almost immediately. After character creation, you take control inside the one for-sure non-zombie house – your own. From here, you go through houses and find… normal stuff. Fully stocked refrigerators and freezers. Ovens to cook raw meat. Working lights. Faucets that deliver fresh water directly to your mouth. While your character starts with no skills, you are fully capable of surviving quite a while just fine doing nothing.
That does not last for long, of course. Within a month or so, both the electricity and water will shut off permanently. So the game’s central conceit reveals itself: how long can you survive?
In the abstract, this is not dissimilar to, say, Oxygen Not Included, wherein there is no win condition per se. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find myself immediately repulsed by PZ, conceptually. When you wake up naked on a beach in ARK, there is a very obvious, grokkable progression path towards survival. All of that is turned on its head with PZ. I found myself ransacking houses for supplies, and then asking myself why.
The answer is supposed to be “to prepare for self-sufficiency and safety after the lights and water turn off,” but that feels like such a weird, abstract endgame. It’s definitely unique in this particular genre, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it’s probably unique for a reason, e.g. it feels bad. You aren’t building up to self-sufficiency, you’re building down. It is also harder to feel any particular sense of urgency without metagaming the entire experience.
I dunno. There is technically a starting game mode which takes place 6 months after the start of the zombie apocalypse, which features the water and lights already off, and most things already looted. In other words, a more typical survival game experience. But after spending a few hours with the base game, I don’t know that I feel it.
This is definitely going to be one of those Early Access titles that needs more time in the oven.
After becoming a bit impatient with Oxygen Not Included, I decided to buck my principles and buy the never-on-sale RimWorld. Technically though, I did get a discount through the Humble Store (10% off), so that’s the way I’d recommend going.
If you have not heard of it before, RimWorld is a sort of colony-management game in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, with the visuals of Prison Architect. In the default scenario, you pick three survivors of a starship crash, and shepherd them through the trials and tribulations of life on a titular RimWorld. There is technically an end-goal of researching technology/production far enough to send at least one person back into space, but it’s a bit more of a sandbox than that.
Much like with Oxygen Not Included, your colonists are basically controlled via a granular priority system, augmented by their own mood and predilections. You can request that trees are cut down and the wood used to build a new room, for example, but it’s possible your colonists will start playing horseshoes or lay down on your solar panels to gaze at the clouds.
They can and will also do things like plop down a stack of turkey leather right in the doorway to your freezer, letting out all the cold air and potentially ruining your entire meat supply. There’s no real way to force a person to do one particular thing (aside from Drafting them for combat) – the best you can do is prioritize one thing to the maximum level, disable everything else, and hope for the best.
If the above examples seem silly… that’s kind of the point. Each colonist has an entire background narrative, with expanding needs and desires that influence their actions at any given point. Romances will form between two people, then a break-up, and suddenly one or both might experience a mild (or major) psychotic break due to the mood penalty said break-up causes.
Well, that social interaction plus seeing the colony pet terrier get killed by a Cobra, the fact that their bedroom is too small, and a number of other interactions over the last few days. Butchering the dead dog for its meat and then turning the leather into a hat probably also didn’t help things.
The emergent narrative formed by these random, interacting systems is the heart of RimWorld.
Speaking of “random,” at the beginning of the game you get to choose the AI Storyteller and difficulty of your game. The default AI will throw increasingly difficult encounters your way (modified by game difficulty), ensuring that you never reach a point at which you become entirely stable. The other two AI choices give longer periods of calm, and completely random ones at random intervals, respectfully. I can appreciate the transparency of the system, even though it makes things… a bit game-y, I suppose.
In any case, I am enjoying my time thus far. There are still a lot of game elements that do not make complete sense – the Research system in particular is difficult to wrap my head around – but the sort of little narratives that emerge are pretty interesting. So, we’ll see.
Oxygen Not Included (ONI) is a base-building and resource management game currently in Early Access, in the vein Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld. At least, that is what people tell me, as I have not played either one of those. What I have played is Craft the World (pt1, pt2), and ONI is basically that, minus the dwarves and goblins.
The premise of ONI is actually kind of compelling. After picking three Duplicants from a roster of randomly generated ones, they appear in the middle of an asteroid. The ostensible goal is to survive as long as possible using what resources you have available. Instead of controlling them directly, you the player can generate and prioritize tasks like digging out certain squares, constructing machines, etc, and your Duplicants will work to make that happen. Contrary to the title, some basic oxygen is included in the form of oxygen-generating rocks, but it is not nearly enough to last long-term.
Indeed, oxygen-management is indicative of what you will be working on over the arc of the entire game. In the beginning, you will create machines that convert algae (mined from special squares) into oxygen to supply your base. However, your Duplicants exhale CO2, and that will gradually accumulate in the lower reaches of your base (science!). So, eventually, you are going to need to either research technology to convert that CO2 into some other form, or at least pipe it elsewhere. Meanwhile, you also have to grow food, find water, and research some method of disposing of all the poop (or polluted dirt, if you prefer) your Duplicants generate. Have I mentioned there are germs and stress to worry about too? And the fact that you are in the middle of an asteroid, so the whole “pump the CO2 elsewhere” is really just delaying the problem for another day?
As of right now, I do not believe there is a story or “campaign mode” for ONI, and I do not know if there is any planned either. The goal is to survive as long as possible, and there are some very optimized base configurations out there to ensure that is the case. However… I’m not sure that is enough for me, game-wise. Klei’s other popular game, Don’t Starve, also features an implicit goal of surviving as long as possible against escalating threats. The end-state of death there though, usually comes from violence or mistakes rather than slowly running out of finite resources. I felt much more agency in Don’t Starve, in other words, even if the outcome was very similar.
What I will say is that Oxygen Not Included grabbed my attention very early with a compelling premise, and makes me wish there were more Terraria/Starbound/etc survival games out there that I haven’t already played . Hmm… maybe it’s time for RimWorld then…
Right from the start, let me say that No Man’s Sky is often intentionally vague in order to engender a sense of wonder and discovery. In that respect, the following Quick & Dirty guide might constitute spoilers because I will be explaining some of the game systems as they exist in version 1.38. If you feel like that might take away from your enjoyment of the game, by all means, stop reading.
For everyone else, let’s roll.
1. Land on planet
2. Collect resources
Seriously though, in the beginning, do not worry too much about anything in particular. A large part of this game comes down to Inventory Management, and you are never given enough space to collect all the things. If something seems like a super-rare thing, trust me, it’s not. You will find a planet with tons of it later on.
What you will want to keep an eye on though, at all stages of the game, are the following:
- Plutonium: It costs 50 to lift your Starship off the ground.
- Zinc: Basic way to recharge your environmental protections, once crafted.
- Thamium9: Primarily for recharging Life Support, but used in Farms later on.
You will always want to keep a stack of those elements handy at all times, at every stage of the game. Once you get a decent Unit (e.g. cash) stream, all of them can be acquired quickly and in bulk by visiting a Trading Post on a planet in any economically successful system. We’re talking buying 1500+ at a time for like 40k Units. Much faster than farming, especially with Thamium9.
Walking, and even Sprinting, seems really slow and never gets much better.
The better way to get around is to Melee+Jetpack. Basically, start walking in a particular direction and press the Melee button (Q on PC) and your Jetpack (Space on PC) at the same time. If done correctly, you will surge forward a few steps, and meanwhile that faster momentum will carry over onto your Jetpack. For best results, start Sprinting (Shift on PC) before the Melee hit and you’ll be able to traverse wide swaths of the world, as long as your Jetpack lasts.
How Do I Upgrade X?
Personal Inventory: Drop Pods can be found on every planet, and are specifically searchable by building a Signal Booster. Enter the Pod and purchase the additional slot. Each Drop Pod is only usable once.
Keep in mind that there are three different player inventories. The General Inventory can contain both items and tech upgrades. The Technology Inventory can contain only tech upgrades. The Mass Inventory can only contain items, but at Starship-level stack sizes, e.g. 500 elements, or 5 items per slot. While the General Inventory is cheaper to expand at first, if you place too many tech upgrades in there, you are simply limiting your ability to store goods later on. Luckily, you can scrap tech upgrades and rebuild them when you unlock additional Technology Inventory slots.
Starships: You do not upgrade Starships – you buy new ones or fix ones you find.
To buy a Starship, you need to go up to one that has landed somewhere, like at a Space Station or Trading Post, talk to the owner, and then choose Buy Starship. At that point, you can see how many inventory slots it has, what techs might already be installed, and so on. If it looks good, and you have the cash to cover the difference in price between your current ride and the new one, it’s yours. The sale is not final until you take off though, so you have some leeway in attempting to move over inventory that might not have fit, or that you forgot to move in the first place.
Note: you do not get a cash refund for buying a lower-priced ship, so don’t bother.
The alternative method is to find a crashed Starship on a planet and then claim it. This method can allow you to significantly leap-frog any sort of Starship progression, insofar as you can find and claim a 48-slot Starship way before you would ever have enough Units to purchase one outright. The catch is that crashed Starships have broken inventory slots that can only be repaired via increasingly higher numbers of Units; the first slot might cost 33k to fix, but ten slots later the cost will exceed 1.5 million. The result ends up about the same, e.g. it costs X amount to fix everything, but this nevertheless allows you to “upgrade” your ship as money allows rather than needing a bulk purchase.
Finding crashed ships in the first place can be tricky though, as the “traditional” method involves discovering Communication Towers, solving a logic puzzle, and hoping it leads to a crashed ship. Alternatively… just fly around a planet and spam the 1 key, which is basically “target nearest ship.” While you will sometimes tag NPC ships flying around, especially near Trading Posts, this method otherwise allows you to comb a rather huge portion of the planet’s surface while flying around. If something pops up on your radar, fly down and take a peek.
Multi-Tool: Similar to Starships, you only ever find new ones.
While you can get new Multi-Tools from Monolith or creature interactions, the more common method is simply finding them out in the world in display cases. Curiously, these display cases still require you to “purchase” the new Multi-Tool, even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
How Do I Unlock Y?
AtlasPass v1: Follow the story and it will unlock for you.
AtlasPass v2/v3: Same as above, but you’ll need some achievements.
Farms: It’s the last in a series of quest-chains related to base-building.
Exocraft: It’s one of the first in a series of quest-chains related to base-building.
Blueprints: there are basically three methods. First, randomly as interaction rewards, from talking to people or Monoliths or crashed ships. Second, as rewards for certain Missions. Lastly, bought from Tech traders by using Nanoclusters – each Star Base has a slightly different list that focuses on Starships, Multi-Tools, or Exosuits.
Technically, there is a fourth method, which is via questing. Unlocking specific farming crops requires completing quests from the Farming Specialist in your base, for example. There are also some specific blueprints tied to the Atlas questline and achievements therein, just like with the AtlasPass v1.
What’s the Best Way to Get Units?
Sell things. That’s… basically it.
In the very early game, pretty much your first cash-crop, so to speak, is going to be mining and selling Emeril. You can sell pretty much anything, but Emeril goes for 200-300 Units apiece, is easy to find on many planets (mineral around sinkholes), and isn’t used for pretty much anything else. You can do the same thing with Gold later on, but Gold is used in a few recipes and is usually found on more hostile planets.
Also in the early game, go ahead and sell any weird items you might pick up. Neutrino Controllers, Gek Charms, whatever. While they have functions later in the game – from recipes to increasing Faction reputation – you will find plenty in your travels, and it’s not worth the precious inventory space when you’re slumming around with less than 20 slots.
Later on, you have more options and a few more considerations. Keep in mind though, that whenever you sell something on the market, you will get a worse price the next time you leave the screen. So when selling, do so in bulk.
Missions: these are the Radiant-style random quests you can pick up from the Mission NPC on every Star Base. Each time you successfully complete a Mission, you get faction reputation and the stated reward. If the reward is a Blueprint you already own, you’ll get ~88k Units instead. The other items you receive are a bit esoteric and usually vendor trash, but sometimes can be worth a surprising amount of Units.
No matter what method you end up doing, I recommend filling your Log with Missions at each Star Base you encounter. Many of them can overlap, such that you can fulfill several at once from the same activity (e.g. killing Sentinels, etc), and you can turn in successful Missions at any Mission NPC. Plus, as you move up the reputation ranks, the standard Mission starts awarding 250k Units by itself and the items can be worth several million.
Farming: This is pretty much the ultimate source of Units in the game. The idea is build a base, plant some crops, harvest said crops, and then turn the material into more expensive things that you then sell. Example:
- 100 Frost Crystal + 200 Solarium = Heat Capacitor.
- 100 Cactus Flesh + 200 Star Bulb = Poly Fiber
- Heat Capacitor + Poly Fiber = Circuit Board
- Sell Circuit Board for 1 million+ Units apiece.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide, see this Reddit thread. Circuit Boards aren’t the priciest item you can create, or the easiest for that matter, but that’s the basic idea.
Trading: If you have a lot of starting capital, a LOT of free inventory space, an Economy Scanner, and plenty of Warp Cells, you can make some money buying vendor trash from one system at a discount and selling to another at a profit.
Next time you’re at a Trade terminal, look at what items are for sale. At the top of the list are likely some random items with a little green Unit symbol and the text that they are -X% cheaper than the market average. These items have tool tips which then tell you which systems need them more, e.g. will sell for over the market average price. So, buy as many as your Starship will hold, fly over to the target system, and sell them all. Then at this new system, buy the next set of goods, and sell at the next system. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Scanning: this is more of a side-hustle than anything else, but Units are Units. Basically, each time you touch down on a new planet, go ahead and scan as many plants and animals as possible.
With zero upgrades, you only get about 200ish Units for each discovery. With two Scanning upgrades though, suddenly each new plant will give you 20k and animals will sometimes break 100k apiece. I have as yet to find the third upgrade for either Scanner, but I’m looking forward to the boost in income from doing something I was going to do anyway.
Gathering Kelp: While you can grow or purchase pretty much anything you might need for crafting purposes, the exception are Kelp Pods. For these, you need gather them manually, and they only exist on planets with water.
The best way I have found to gather them is using a Nomad, aka hoverbike:
As pictured, drive over the water on the Nomad and use it’s mining laser to collect the Kelp. This method is significantly faster than trying to use the Roamer to drive along the bottom, and much better than the default method of actually swimming around.
Before its release in August 2016, the hype train for No Man’s Sky was insane. Something like 17 trillion different planets in a vibrant galaxy full of procedurally-generated lifeforms. Do anything, go anywhere! Reality hit people hard, including me, even though I did not buy the game at release.
I did buy the game a week or so ago though, and I can say that after a year of actually substantive updates, No Man’s Sky is almost ready for its debut. Mostly.
The first hour or so of gameplay is not that great, and can be worse depending on the randomly generated planet you start on. The vast majority of planets have hostile weather that necessitates the constant recharging of suit protections, driving you to seek shelter in your ship or a cave or farming Zinc from plants. Your ship needs Plutonium to lift off the ground each time, and your Life Support systems can only be charged with Thamium9. And you have to juggle all of these competing element requirements with a micro-inventory that gets worse before it gets better.
That’s really the summary for the game: No Man’s Sky gets worse before it gets better. Mostly.
After getting a few upgrades here and there, especially getting a better ship, the game opens up tremendously. You still need all the survival elements, but you have the space and cash to stockpile a few stacks. Then there is the forward momentum that comes from the primary quests, assuming you did not choose to free-roam. Things progress quite nicely, especially after unlocking your base and assorted goodies like Exocraft, e.g. vehicles.
Here’s the thing though: the core gameplay loop is incredibly tiny. On each non-lifeless planet, there will always be the following: Life Pods, Habitable Buildings, Trade Posts, Crashed Ships, Monoliths. All of them will look the same, although there are a few different types. All of them will be randomly scattered around, but the scattering itself will be very uniform across the entire surface of the world. By all measures you can actually fully upgrade your Exosuit before leaving the original planet you spawned on (assuming you somehow got the cash).
Planets are literally the size of real planets, but everything you could really ever need on any individual one of them will exist within 10km of wherever you land. Each star system has a Space Station, and each Space Station is set up exactly the same way. You can accept “missions” from an NPC there, and these missions are essentially Radiant Quests ala Skyrim. Kill X number of Y, collect Z resource, kill some space pirates, deliver this item, etc. As you increase your reputation, more lucrative quests unlock, which feature harder to find Z resources, or tougher pirates.
Some of the gameplay elements remain half-baked. Early on, you will find many rocks that contain Deuterium, which you are unable to mine. After unlocking Exocraft, e.g. vehicles, you can finally mine them. I was pretty excited… up until the moment I realized Deuterium is only used for Exocraft upgrades. Once you install the ones you want, the element has no purpose anywhere else in the game. The same applies to another element that comes from “raiding” (read: blowing up) protected silos. Why would you ever mine Deuterium or raid the other element again? It not being used for anything other than the thing it was needed for seems comically short-sighted.
It’s not obvious at first, but No Man’s Sky is more of a game about economics than anything else. Each plant or creature you scan gives you Units. Some elements exist only to be mined and sold as vendor trash. Completing missions gives you Units, and unlock better missions that grant more Units. Some of the base-building requires specific elements, but for the most part its Iron which is everywhere. Pretty much the biggest reason to have a base at all is so your can start a Farm, which lets you “grow” special elements. That you then turn into unusable-but-very-sellable items. So you can eventually buy a Freighter for 186 million Units… to have more inventory space. For Units.
I’m at over 50 hours at this point, and I have no idea why I still find this fun, but I do.
The key, I think, is to temper your expectations. This is not Minecraft in space. This is not 3D Starbound/Terraria. I’m not even sure if it’s all that good for Explorers, given that procedurally-generated terrain/plants/creatures generally all look the same after a while. That said, I do find the Primary quests to be interesting, and I very much enjoy the ability to just fly around and do whatever. Want to stop what you’re doing and warp to a different star system? You can. Want to just make a bee-line to the center of the galaxy? Go do that. Want to make the perfect farm so you can mass-produce Circuit Boards and sell them for 1 million Units apiece? Yeah, I’m on it.
No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of updates since release, and it seems as though more might still be on the way. I ended up buying my copy for $20, and at that price I feel like I got my money’s worth already. In a few months, it might even be cheaper with more content and better gameplay loops. We’ll have to see.
I may have mentioned it before, but I really enjoy Survival games. For the most part.
I am currently playing The Flame in the Flood, which is a Survival roguelike, and not at all a catchy Vance Joy song. The experience was immensely frustrating for my first run, as I felt like I never had enough of any supplies, and was about to uninstall and set the category as Finished in Steam. The second run, which I have been playing for the last five hours or so, has reached that point beyond which eventual victory is all but assured. Nevertheless, I hit up every single location I can, hoarding ever-greater numbers of probably unnecessary supplies for some kind of nightmare scenario. Which kinda makes sense in the vague, post-apocalypse setting.
Hitting that equilibrium moment in Survival games though is bittersweet. It’s like the middle of every Civilization game I have ever played – the game part is over, and now you must go through the motions towards inevitable victory. Ideally, you would want the challenge of the game to match up with the game’s end, and not midway. Some games like 7 Days to Die will try extending the challenge with escalating enemies, but there comes a moment when the escalation outstrips the whole Survival aspect and the underlying game becomes something different entirely, e.g. a shooter.
Then there is the opposite problem, in which the game’s challenge doesn’t ever really end, and part of the reason I added the “for the most part” caveat. I have not played it since its release from Early Access, but I never felt good in The Long Dark. There never seemed to be enough food, or fuel, or supplies. You were always on the precipice. And that’s the goal, right? The precipice is where all the fun is had. But while the surviving part is fun, I feel like there’s an invisible Anxiety Meter that fills up for me, and once it tops off the fun drops to zero.
Plus, sometimes Survival games are bullshit. I frequently found dead bodies in The Long Dark, searched them for candy bars, but could not, you know, take their clothing. I get it, things are simplified and balanced accordingly. Still, it gets a bit annoying when you come across dozens of boarded-up buildings in The Flame in the Flood, but “Old Lumber” is a relatively scarce resource you have to specifically loot from places. Or that Flint is a consumable resource for making a Campfire. Or that nothing could be salvaged from a sprung trap you just made.
Makes me wonder though. Would a more “realistic” Survival game be any fun? Seems like the more realistic it is, the less the game could actually be about Survival. At least, unless you set it out in the straight wilderness. Which kinda brings you back to The Long Dark.