I’m in a weird place with respect to No Man’s Sky. There’s been an ongoing critical discussion with respect to what NMS actually is, and how the reality of what NMS presents may or may not conflict with what people wanted NMS to be, and whether the hype that NMS generated was warranted (even if, from my point of view, the “hype” was mostly about people’s self-generated expectations based on the very vague statements that Hello Games was willing to impart), and that’s a fine discussion to have. But the reality is that, well, I spent $60 on this thing and I’m trying to figure out how to have fun with it.
I am not terribly attracted to truly open sandboxes. Minecraft, as the most obvious example, has never been my cup of tea; I was always the sort of kid who followed the build instructions that came with my Lego sets, and so I always felt a bit at sea without a guiding hand pointing me in some sort of direction. Even the Hitman franchise is somewhat impenetrable, if only because I never feel like I have enough of an opportunity to improvise before everything falls apart.
NMS is a bit more guided than I originally thought, though it wasn’t until I had a quasi-epiphany about how to play it that I figured it out. We’ve always been told that our primary goal is to get to the center of the galaxy. And I’ve read enough stuff online that strongly urges you to follow the Atlas questline in order to get there more quickly that I’ve opted to go that route (even though those Atlas stones are killing my ability to properly manage my inventory – would it be too much to ask for some sort of Village Chest analog, where I could safely store the stuff I wanted to keep and it would automatically be available at each space station? I suspect, actually, that it might).
But even those two arrows are still a bit too open-ended – getting to the center of the galaxy could very well take years unless I pay proper attention to what I’m doing. And so, to that end, I’ve decided that each play session will be devoted to accomplishing one specific task. Last night I wanted to finally buy a new ship. So first I decided to suck it up and fully discover each of this particular planet’s species, which netted me a cool 325,000. I then mined the hell out of as much expensive shit as I could find (keeping the starred inventory items at the Galactic Trade Portals in the back of my mind), and eventually I happened to find a ship at a spaceport that (a) represented a decent inventory upgrade (22 slots, up from 19), (b) had better built-in upgrades than my current ship (more effective shields and cannons), and (c) hit my price range. This took about 2 hours or so, and now I’m feeling like I accomplished something.
Tonight’s goal is to upgrade my warp drive, which means I need to farm certain specific elements and buy a Dynamic Resonator or whatever it’s called (I do have the recipe to craft it, but in terms of managing inventory space I’d rather just have it already so I can mine the other stuff). And once I do that, I’ll be able to push a bit farther along each time I enter warp.
(I’ve read some hints as to how to get better versions of those Atlas Passes; I may try to do that, too, since apparently the v3 passes open up doors that contain warp materials.)
So I’ve managed to turn the unstructured chaos into something manageable and do-able, and so that’s something. The problem is that I don’t know how much longer I’ll find it interesting.
The bummer with respect to such a gigantic universe as NMS is that I can’t really tell you about any exciting adventures I’ve had. If I were to describe my average session, it would almost certainly sound a lot like yours. There’s no real possibilities for emergent narratives to form, because there’s almost nothing to interact with. The creatures all look a bit different but they don’t necessarily do anything particularly interesting; the sentinels either attack you or they ignore you; sometimes there will be space battles, but you won’t necessarily reap any rewards if you didn’t have any open inventory space on your ship before you got started. Unlike The Witcher or the Elder Scrolls games, there’s not much of a reason to explore neat-looking caves, because aside from mining materials there’s nothing to find. The algorithm that created this universe is certainly impressive, but nothing feels hand-crafted.
In a way, though, NMS also reminds me of what I’d hoped there’d be more of in Destiny, which had a much smaller universe that I only saw tiny portions of, and which provided almost no incentive to venture off the beaten path. Perhaps it’s just because a lot of NMS’s UI feels like a straight-up clone.
I remain intrigued, and I suppose I’m glad there’s something of a lull in the release window at the moment. I do not know if I’ll make to the end.