No Man’s Sky has been out a few weeks now, and its fair to say a certain feeling has emerged around it: disappointment. From accusations of Sean Murray and Hello Games lying about how the game’s multiplayer works to the videos and memes making fun of the differences between the first trailers and the final product, the feeling is there. Couple that with technical problems out of the gate, and No Man’s Sky has a bad reputation, regardless of the strides Hello Games has made to fix those problems in the past couple weeks.

But despite that pervading feeling of disappointment, No Man’s Sky is not a bad game. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s not bad. I wrote the Gamespresso review of No Man’s Sky, and you can find a discussion of the title’s flaws there. But as the general perception for No Man’s Sky has taken a downturn, there are many things that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. And by that, I mean the many things No Man’s Sky gets right, features that scratch that explorative itch and should definitely pop up in other games down the road.

No Man’s Sky Lets You Get Lost

No Man's Sky

Getting lost is almost always the worst thing a game can allow. Countless, brilliant designers spend each and every day constructing game maps with the sole purpose of making sure players never feel lost. And Hello Games came along and kicked that thought process right out the window. Getting lost in No Man’s Sky is the point. And it feels strangely good.

Because of the procedural generation at the heart of the title, Hello Games is able to create a feeling unlike almost anything else out there. That first moment you open the star map and zoom around a bit, that combination of slightly overwhelmed and more than slightly astonished, is something few games come close to. The nearest comparison would likely be that first moment you step out of the cave or vault in a Bethesda game and realize you can go anywhere and do anything. But Hello Games managed that with a fraction of the people and resources.

Other games, like Minecraft, are huge and continue on until the code literally breaks down, but No Man’s Sky makes a point of letting you feel that size. Knowing, no matter what, there will always be something new to discover is freeing, if a bit daunting. While other games allow exploration, No Man’s Sky requires it.

Your Journey Is Yours to Own

No Man's Sky

In the course of all that exploring, you collect resources, upgrade your equipment, and rack up a few of the progression-tracking Milestones. It’s the type of progression you can find in almost every game. But each planet you visit it much more than just the resources and the upgrades, it’s also your discoveries. No Man’s Sky lets you lay claim to your journey in a way few games do.

Similar to the feeling you might have in a Bioware or Telltale title, where your story is just that, your story, defined by your decisions, Hello Games found a way to give players ownership of exploration. I’ll admit I didn’t name the majority of the animals or planets I found amongst the stars of the Euclid Galaxy, but when I did, it meant something. The list of every system you’ve traveled to isn’t simply a list of destinations; it’s a list of accomplishments, made important through your ability to name them.

For instance, whether anyone ever comes across them or not, there is now an entire cluster of star systems, tucked away in No Man’s Sky’s universe, all named after different Pokémon. That’s just where my head happened to be on that particular night, and that’s the lasting effect my brief presence has had on that part of the game. But it’s my effect, and those are my star systems. In a completely unique way, without adding building or branching narratives, No Man’s Sky manages to make even just planet hopping into a personal experience a player can look at and say: That’s my journey.

No Man’s Sky Has as Few Seams as Possible

No Man's Sky

And when it comes to planet hopping, it’d be wrong not to talk about just how amazing it feels to actually be able to do it. Run around on a planet, hop in a spaceship, take off, fly to a new planet, touch down, get out, run around some more. All without a loading screen. It’s enough to make any sci-fi lover’s mouth water.

Gamers have hoped to live that simple dream for decades now. But No Man’s Sky pulls it off, and its only one of a handful of modern games beginning to do so. Along with other, smaller indie games, we also have Star Citizen and Dual Universe, which feature a similar ability with procedurally generated planets, and even Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which has shown gameplay of jumping into a starfighter, launching into space, and blasting into a battle.

Is it too much to hope that Mass Effect: Andromeda or Destiny 2 will see equally seamless transitions? Probably. But for the time being, it’s an experience worth enjoying and appreciating.

It’s a Sci-fi World Where Language Matters

No Man's Sky

And finally, there’s the fact that Hello Games actually figured out something cool to do with alien language. Far too often in sci-fi stories, from Star Wars to Mass Effect, everyone simply speaks in understandable languages. And if there are differences, it’s quickly translated for convenience. No Man’s Sky embraces that complexity however.

There are four alien races in the game, each with their own language. Finding ancient ruins or simply talking to the aliens can teach you words for the different languages, translating portions of the dialogue each time you strike up a conversation. The more words you know, the better you understand whatever the alien is telling you or asking you to do. It’s a simple system, but it works. It turns knowledge into a resource and makes struggling to understand a foreign language into a surprisingly addictive game mechanic.

Going for broad appeal, most games usually shy away from opaqueness like this. Much like getting lost, if a player doesn’t understand what’s happening, it is generally considered a failure of communication on the developer’s part. But again, Hello Games flips this and allows the potential misunderstanding that comes with different languages to be a part of the game. Not only is it unique, it’s a refreshingly immerse take on a sci-fi universe.

No Man’s Sky isn’t perfect. Its flaws have disappointed a lot of gamers. But for those willing to look past those flaws, there are a handful of great accomplishments at the center of Hello Games’ latest. Not even counting the absurd size of the universe, the title taps into seldom-used emotions and bucks traditional game design to create interesting situations that you rarely find elsewhere. And because of this, No Man’s Sky is unquestionably new and different, exactly what makes the indie scene as special as it is.

  • Sid

    Agree with your assessment, good article on a lot of the aspects I enjoy about this game.

    • Sean Timm

      Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  • Alana Fearnall

    Haven’t played No Man’s Sky myself, but I love the idea of it having as “few seams as possible”. Hopefully more sci-fi games will follow suit 😀

    • Sean Timm

      Definitely. The only time there is a perceivable loading screen is when you go from one star system to another by ‘entering warp.’

      • DarthDiggler

        @disqus_wYPtWvzRB2:disqus

        Technically it’s not a loading screen though. Its something to fill the screen in lieu of a loading screen, but serves the function of showing your ship move from one system to another. Its just like Naughty Dog’s hey I need your help to hold up this board so I can walk through. Just a way to hide the loading screen.

  • DB

    Nice article, man. I understand the disappointment, but that has not stopped me from enjoying the game and what it does right. I’ve been gaming since Pong and then the Atari 2600 waaaay back when. What we have now is just mind boggling to contemplate. I think too many games lack perspective and have an immediate gratification attitude. For me, this game is a joy and I am really digging the peaceful nature of it. And I think it is just a matter of time before more content gets added. So until then, I will keep having fund just exploring and upgrading and eventually finding my way to the center of the galaxy.

    • Sean Timm

      Thanks for reading it. And I think that is a great way to look at the game, just a peaceful universe to slowly chip away at.

      • DarthDiggler

        @disqus_wYPtWvzRB2:disqus Thanks for pointing out this game isn’t total garbage like many are saying it is. I am sick to death of over entitled gamers who whine and cry about everything. Change your diapers and grow up please.

        So many articles are just parroting what Reddit has said and none of them are pulling any other quotes to put things in context.

    • himdeel

      Totally echo these sentiments. Relaxing game that allows me to have my own adventures and explore space in whatever way I choose.

    • DarthDiggler

      @Ripperhed:disqus

      Is this DB the DJ? 🙂

      I agree with you 100% and oddly enough I cut my teeth on Atari 2600 and Pong. I would have shit my pants had I played No Man’s Sky back then. These kids don’t understand just how good they have it.

      No Man’s Sky is very much a slow burn kind of game. You aren’t going to have these huge rewarding moments all the time and those moments will get father apart as you dig more into the game.

  • Ryan Brooks

    Many of the “missing features” are actually in the game, such as Space Battles and Portals. As mentioned, you won’t find these things on a speed run of the game. Think of Star Trek. Their mission was to explore. Now think of what’s covered in say, one episode or even one feature film. It’s a true linear narrative. Now imagine if you really were Captain Kirk on a 5 year mission to explore the galaxy. In No Man’s Sky, every play session is an episode, every 2-3 hours a movie. However unlike Hollywood, not everyday do the Klingons attack, a planet faces impending doom or you find an artifact with grand significance. The real job would take time. No Man’s Sky takes time but temper’s the mundane with more than a supposed reality, and less than a 2 hour story. You’re meant to explore, walk across a desert, swim oceans and climb mountains. Record your journey by uploading your discoveries and get paid for it. It’s fun.

    • DaveTheJackal

      Working portals are in the game? O.o

      • Ryan Brooks

        Yes. Look to the Atlas path.

        • DarthDiggler

          @disqus_R5OgsNt8KZ:disqus

          You say that as if you have found these portals. What do the portals do and how do they work? If you walk through them what happens to your ship? Can you turn back around?

          Do you mean Black Holes or something different?

          • TorpeAlex

            Black holes. He’s talking about black holes. There’s no need to be vague about it, most people know what black holes are and probably expect them to be in the game already. In No Man’s Sky they’re just a free warp drive jump, basically.

            • DarthDiggler

              @TorpeAlex:disqus

              I think Ryan can speak for himself. They are not a free warp drive every time you use a black hole it breaks something on your ship.

    • Sean Timm

      This is an awesome point. I love the idea of it being the unedited journey of Star Trek.

  • DaveTheJackal

    Try Hiking too. I turn my back on my ship and just keep going until I find a landing pad or one of those landing beacons which will summon it. Furtherst i got was about an hour and a half away. Really seems like a world after a while. I 100% that one.

    • Sean Timm

      Wow! I start to get nervous when I’m a couple minutes away from my ship. I might have to try that out.

      • Victor

        I do that all the time, it’s awesome! Find a nice lush planet with mountains and tall grass and beautiful colors. If the weather is nice and the sentinels are chill it’s even better. Although once I did so with high security sentinels, but the weather was nice and it was a lush, colorful planet. It was covered in gravatino balls, so I went on a run, yanking them up and running from the sentinel force lol it was wild I got about five hours away from my ship, and was being chased by a giant creature that looked like a reptilian hyena only about the size of a giraffe.
        I jumped off a HUGE cliff and free fell, cushioning my fall with the jet pack. Right there was a trade station, the end of an awesome session

  • Asterick

    well you cant be lost if your never really going anywhere. yeah the maps are seamless but it doesnt have a huge universe feel to me because you cant travel out of a system without hyperdrive “loading” your next map so yeah that just kills that. everything in space is just static and makes it just depressing. i dont have any choice in my journey being anything else but my own but looking at screenshots we are all sharing it. i have seen every variation posted lol. the fix for the game add some more features give modders full support so they can build hello games a proper game.

    • DarthDiggler

      @disqus_mS2iczYV4S:disqus

      yeah the maps are seamless but it doesnt have a huge universe feel to me because you cant travel out of a system without hyperdrive “loading” your next map so yeah that just kills that.

      How did you expect them to allow you to fly from System to System, Galaxy to Galaxy? Manually taking days to get there?

      I don’t see how what you are saying is even a complaint. It is a game play mechanism. If everyone had the ability to move between systems right away there would be no meaning behind the Warp Drive system and the fuel to run it. There would be little motivation to explore and discover. The warp drive is a carrot. All games have carrots. Without them you don’t have much of a game.

      • Asterick

        All the game has is a carrot the one carrot we cant eat that forever.

        • DarthDiggler

          @disqus_mS2iczYV4S:disqus

          Yeah you didn’t acknowledge what I said about the warp drive so you must realize what you said sounded kind of dumb.

          That being said the game has multiple carrots. Atlas Path is one, Path to the center of the universe, sometimes materials are a carrot for trade or repair, sometimes the drop pods are carrots, sometimes the crashed ships are.

          Just depends on what you are looking to do.

          • Asterick

            lol all of that is in either playthrough only differnce is the path it trys to give you the gameplay is the same either direction. also there was no point acknowledging any part of the warpdrive its not even a gameplay function and flight mechanics are crap. after you max out your invetory the main pull is gone. after 40 hours of play time i can say i enjoyed about 2 of it

  • BelAirBoss

    I’m enjoying it. I’m a single player gamer almost exclusively, and the hook to me for No Man’s Sky has always been exploration. I couldn’t care less about space battles or trading or any other thing that was mentioned in the lead up to release. Just give me a ship and let me find stuff on my own. I’m not sure how I’ll feel after sinking 50 plus hours into it, whether the resource grinding will get tedious or not, but for now I’m happy to explore at my leisure, finding new creatures and worlds.

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