On No Man’s Sky

Well, the day has come for me to post some thoughts about No Man’s Sky, seemingly a very divisive game based on what other people have been saying. Mostly due to people feeling mislead about the content, or having bad PC experiences. The thing about this game is that for the longest time I wasn’t sure I was going to even buy it. I don’t remember being particularly impressed by the early trailers, but gradually started to look forward to a game that in my eyes was something I could just sit back and relax while playing. I had originally planned to get it for the PS4 when I was first thinking about getting it, but decided to go with the PC version for two reasons. Reason one was I had just bought a new gaming PC and assumed that it would be able to run any current games with no problems. Reason two was several people I know were also getting it on PC and I wanted to be able to talk to them while playing.

One of the more controversial aspects to the game is that there really is not any multiplayer or cooperative experience to be found here. Which, really in the end makes sense if you think about it. You play as an explorer in a vast universe and it was stated at some point the likelihood of running in to another play was small. The problem with this is that maybe that wasn’t communicated clearly early on. I personally thought that even if it wasn’t likely that I could still somehow tell a friend where I was and have them get to me somehow. There was even an instance on the PS4 where two player supposedly tried to meet up on a planet but couldn’t see each other. This was a bit of a let down for me, but in the end it doesn’t bother me that much. While it is classified as being online, that really only covers uploading your discoveries. I don’t think that the planetary cycles are run off of a central server, but managed by the users system clock which is used to randomize stuff like weather and day/night cycles. So while two players could theoretically be on the same planet they would essentially be in two different phases of the same world.

The other big issue that has come up with the game is the performance issues going on with the PC. Apparently the minimum specs that were listed on Steam turned out to be somewhat inaccurate, or that for some reason the PC was poorly optimized. Now I haven’t talked to a whole bunch of people about the PC issues but a couple of the Aggrochat folks had poor PC experiences even though they own computers that shouldn’t have had any issues (mentioned in this podcast episode). So, I haven’t had many negative experiences happen on my system, so I’m not sure what the deal is. I did have some framerate issues the first time I booted up the game, but that was solved by updating my graphics driver. The only other problem I had was alt-tabbing out and then not being able to get back to the game, forcing me to kill the game through task manager and set it to windowed borderless. The other thing is that the game defaulted the settings to mostly Medium quality with a 1920×1080 resolution set to 30FPS. I haven’t tried bumping that up any, and I’ve never care about frames per second, probably because I’m mostly a console gamer and used to 30 FPS. So maybe that is the reason I haven’t experienced the bad performance other people have had, and I don’t mind playing with those settings. I do still hope that the developers get this sorted out because I want their game to be a success. I figure it’s probably very disheartening for them to be proud of their game and having to listen to all the negative feedback about their game (justified or not).

Just for reference my PC specs are as follows (this is one of the base Alienware Area-51 models):
Processor: Intel i7-5820K
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 with 4GB GDDR5
RAM: 16GB Quad Channel DDR4 at 2133MHz
HDD: 4TB 5400RPM SATA 6Gb/s

Now, my personal experience with the game? I have been having tons of fun. I love exploration, it is one of my favorite things to do in games. I spent countless hours in World of Warcraft finding every nook and cranny of the map. I roamed the countryside in Witcher 3 for hours and hours just to see what was there. So for me to have an entire galaxy to explore is just amazing.That isn’t to say it is perfect, but it still scratches that itch for me. I do see the patterns in the game, because it is procedurally generated. I can see the common elements in the terrain and the creatures and plants that live on them. But you know what, that doesn’t bother me. At least for the moment I don’t care enough to let it get under my skin because it’s a game that I enjoy playing. Maybe if I was playing it 10 hours straight it would start to bother me, but I tend to only play for an hour or two at a time. So far this has mostly been spent trying to catalog all the lifeforms on a planet, or to look for the alien outposts where you can learn new words of whatever dialect is for that region of space.

I have found though that I am terrible at coming up with names for anything that I find and I’m trying really hard not to be stupid about naming things. I find that other then planets I’ve had little interest in naming anything so I just upload the randomly generated name just to get the credits. There usually is a sizable bonus for finding all the creatures on a planet, so I’ve been trying to do that. Usually I can find most of the creatures easily and then it comes down to one or two that I can’t find anywhere. This drives my exploration of the planet. As an example of this over the weekend I needed one more creature to get all of them for the planet I was on and spent something like 3 hours trying to find it.

So, while I do really enjoy this game I will say there are a couple of things I am not terribly fond of that could use some improvements.

First of all the inventory system is not exactly the best. You start off with a limited number of slots that you can use with several of those being taken up by your equipment. I can understand the limited space, but I really wish that your default equipment didn’t count against your total. You can increase your storage up to I think 50 slots (I’m currently at 20) by finding upgrade pods on planets. The price for upgrades increases 10k units every time so it does get quite expensive later on. You do have additional storage on your ship, but the only way to increase that inventory is by finding or buying larger ships. Over the weekend I spent close to 900k units to by a ship that had a couple more slots then mine, and then last night I found the one pictured above that has 25 slots. Though only 9 of them were available after all the ship modifications that it came with. So, really it seems like no matter what any ship you find will always have at least one more slot then the ship you have, but it might come with more stuff pre-installed on it. I have seen much better ships from traders, but I have typically not been able to afford them. So right now my biggest issue is with the inventory system.

The other issue I have, at least with using keyboard and mouse is space combat controls. Generally speaking flying around with the keyboard and mouse works great, but when you get in to space battles it can be a bit difficult to maneuver. I’ve given serious consideration in to swapping out for my Xbox controller when flying in space. Now, if you’re just flying in space just to go from one planet to another then keyboard and mouse is fine, it’s just the combat that gets a bit wonky.

So while I probably spent more time on the negative things I still think this is a great game. I have a lot of respect for the dev team that put it together and it at least appears that they are very proud of their work. Look at any discussion Sean Murray has about the game. He always appears genuinely excited to talk about it, which is something I think is great. Many game producers you see at conferences don’t really care about their games, but you do occasionally see the ones from the smaller studios that are passionate about what they do and the game they are making. Maybe he did promise more from the game then people feel they got, but honestly I can’t fault him for that. Maybe he wanted to put more in to the game that they just couldn’t deliver on time. But look at the result and what we got. Sure there are some performance issues with the game, but there have been far worse launches recently from games with a much larger staff. They do seem to be actively trying to fix things and have said they have brought in additional quality assurance testers to help find bugs.

So for me this game is what I want from a space exploration game. I get to hop in my ship and go explore. I’ve read several reviews from people saying they don’t feel that the game is worth the $60 (US) retail price, and I’m not sure. I personally feel like I’ll be getting my money’s worth out of it and it goes to helping pay for them to continue working on improvements to the game. At least they didn’t ask you to pay full price and then stick microtransactions in to the game.

Now I didn’t really get in to what you do in the game other then exploring and cataloging stuff, because that’s pretty much what you do. There is inventory and resource management that you have to do. Your ship requires fuel and your weapons and life support require energy. As you find new resources you can build modifications for your multi-tool, exosuit and ship that allow you to explore more hazardous locations. I’m sure eventually the inventory system will sort itself out once I upgrade to maximum capacity.

-wow that turned in to a lot of words.