No Man’s Sky: can it possibly live up to the hype?
No Man's Sky

Forthcoming space adventure No Man’s Sky is one of the most hyped games in years

Hitting PlayStation 4 and PC next week, the sci-fi sandbox saga is a remarkably ambitious indie experience that sees players explore a procedurally generated galaxy.

You travel around it on a spaceship landing on numerous planets; collecting resources to upgrade your gear, discovering and naming the fauna and flora that reside there – and contending with hazardous situations.

But while there remains a huge level of excitement around the title, there are suggestions from certain quarters that it is simply impossible for No Man’s Sky to live up to the hype.

Here, we assess that question.

The weight of expectation

It’s fair to say that No Man’s Sky’s creators, Hello Games, have found themselves in somewhat uncharted territory for a small indie developer.

Their baby has attracted mainstream media attention, been heavily publicised by Sony as a flasgship release for the PlayStation 4, and made its mark on popular culture already.

When you can land Rutger Haeur as a voiceover artist for the trailer (referencing his role in Blade Runner no less), and get yourself a plum slot on a major American talk show, you know you’re in business.

But such a weight of expectation is arguably out of sync with the title’s low-key origins.

Given the ambitious nature of No Man’s Sky, the anticipation around it and even the simple fact that it’s priced at a Triple A level, you have to continually remind yourself that this is NOT a Triple A game. It was developed by a ‘micro studio’ of 15 people based in Guildford.

If said people really have created something as game-changing as the hype-train would have us believe, then huge kudos. But it’s reasonable to have serious doubts.

Lost in translation

These doubts are compounded by some of the confusion that surrounds the nature of the game itself.

Despite Hello Games repeatedly attempting to clarify and explain the nature of the gameplay and goals (as exemplified by the recent ‘explore’, ‘fight’, ‘survive’ trailer series), there are still people asking: ‘What do you actually DO in No Man’s Sky?’

Rarely have so many potential gamers been so unclear on the nature of the experience they’re eager to play. To the extent that a great many still seem to think they will be delving into a multiplayer universe which they can share and experience with their friends – a sentiment that is wildly inaccurate.

No Man’s Sky is effectively a single-player game. It is certainly not an MMO. Hell, the experience does not even require PlayStation Plus to run.

Director Sean Murray has explained that players can leave messages for one another, similar to Dark Souls, but that the chances of them actually encountering another player for real are slim to none.

“If you want a first-person shooter-sci-fi-around-on-a-planet game play Destiny. We’re not trying to do that.

“What we want is for the player to play with a sense of that other people have been there before. So what will reasonably happen is going to a planet and discovering that someone else has been there before you. You will see traces of them, like creatures they’ve named and things they left behind.”

There seems to have been a lack of clarity from Hello Games on certain issues (whether the setting is in fact a ‘universe’, or ‘galaxy’, for one), while some gamers seem determined to expect a wildly different experience from the one they’re likely getting.

This may not bode well.

Down to earth with a bump?

Ultimately, it’s the execution of the game itself, and its core mechanics, which will be the most telling factor.

Worrying for some, a gamer who spent more than $1000 getting themselves early access to the game shared insights on Reddit that suggested certain elements of the game may not have come off quite as hoped.

They have voiced criticism of No Man’s Sky’s ships (“basically ships are 100% cosmetic…I bought one ship 3 hours in and I’m still using that same ship because I haven’t found a single upgrade to it the entire time”), reported a number of recurring, distracting bugs and, perhaps most controversially, claimed they took 30 hours to reach the centre of the game’s galaxy – when the developers previously claimed it would take “hundreds of hours”.

They also noted that they “still haven’t found a planet flush with Plants and Fauna as some of the trailer planets”.

Of course, it’s important to be fair here. This is one person’s impression of No Man’s Sky in its pre-release state, and the same individual was also full of praise for certain other aspects of the game:

“The terrain and overall vibe of the planets has been surprisingly refreshing. I never really have moments where I land on a planet and say, ‘Oh no, not this one again.’

“Everything is very smooth. The space combat, the entering/leaving your ship, the warp jumps, all of it just feels really sharp while you’re playing. I really enjoy the space flight, it’s quick enough that I don’t sit around twiddling my thumbs but it’s long enough at times where I legit feel like I’m traversing a realistic space-distance.

“The noises and sound in this game are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. The animal noises are incredible. They set the mood in such fantastic ways – you’ll hear them from quite a ways off and it really sets the tone for that planet. It’s very immersive.”

A question of expectations

No Man's Sky

First off, it’s important to note that the game is priced at a Triple A level – $60 for US buyers and around £45 in the UK. And as such, many consumers will be expecting Triple A quality.

Whether or not No Man’s Sky delivers that will likely have a considerable bearing on its reception.

But undoubtedly the most telling aspect is going to be the nature of player expectations themselves.

Do you want an expansive, atmospheric exercise in solo space exploration, where you never know what you’re going to find next? Or do you want an action-packed epic full of spectacle and incident, where players interact meaningfully, and every planet you land on is full of jaw-dropping creatures?

If the incredible hype is largely built firmly upon the former, then this game may yet live up to the giddy anticipation. But if most players expect the latter, we could be in for a bumpy ride at launch.

No Man’s Sky is out on PlayStation 4 on August 9, and PC on August 12

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