Video Games Weekly: No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky has gained a lot of media attention in the gaming community over the past few weeks. It was one of the most anticipated games of 2016 for the PC and PS4, but has flopped almost as hard as the hype after its release. The number of users simultaneously playing No Man’s Sky on the PC dropped 90% last week, which is way more dramatic than what it sounds. Still, many gamers are disappointed with No Man’s Sky, so much so that the game has brought around the discussion of the ethics of game returns. So, what happened?
Platform: PC and PS4 (I played through on my PS4)
Single or Multiplayer: Single
Background: No Man’s Sky is a ginormous space exploration game. Unlike other space adventure games, or really any game before it, No Man’s Sky has algorithm-generated 18 quintillion planets in the game. I’m not making this up; it would take players five billion years to visit each planet for one second. Each planet is unique with various animal species, alien races, plants, minerals (like Carbon and Iron), artifacts, atmospheric levels, and terrain. This was the top selling point to No Man’s Sky, but it functions like a double-edged sword. On one hand, holy crap this game is huge and still manages to have beautiful graphics even though it is all generated by math. On the other hand, the game gets boring after a few hours because it’s like there are the same floating balls in space with different pretty colors and there isn’t much to do.
Storyline: Your character, called “traveller”, wakes up to a spaceship wreck. I’m not sure if your character is a human, alien, or what…who we are is one of the great mysteries in the game. Your first mission to is to harvest all of the materials needed to keep yourself alive and to rebuild your spaceship. Along the way, you learn about Atlas, which is this mysterious diamond-shaped thingie floating in the sky. Supposedly, Atlas is a central computer system where all data is stored (get it? Like how Atlas holds the sky on his shoulders?). Everything the traveller learns, from alien languages to the names of species, comes from Atlas structures. That’s…pretty much it. The game is an exploration game, so the plot is minimal. If anything, it feels non-existent, and I struggle to say if that is even considered the “plot”.
Controls: The controls are simple to navigate around planets and it feels like a first-person shooter. The one thing that is annoying is the lack of a formal tutorial, so you’re left to your own devices to figure out how to create items in your inventory, recharge items, and equip new items. Sure, there are tiny pop-ups in the bottom right-hand corner that give you tips and instructions, but they’re really easy to overlook.
Gameplay: The first time I played No Man’s Sky, I spawned on a horrible starter planet. The planet was desolate, had really high toxicity levels in the atmosphere, and no artifacts that I could find. I was so frustrated because I had to spend equal amounts of time harvesting minerals to prevent my exosuit from deteriorating and collecting materials for my spaceship. I also kept dying from stupid drones, which is extremely aggravating in this game because you spawn at your broken down spaceship and have to go all the way back to where you originally died in order to recover all of your inventory items. At first I didn’t mind dying because the game’s loading screens were quotes from famous science fiction novels, and of course I thought, “OHHH LIBRARIANS WOULD LOVE THIS!” but it got old after like, five deaths.
After a few hours of attempting to rebuild my spaceship, I raged-quit and started a new game. The second starter planet was much, much better. I found new aliens, found plenty of artifacts, and it only took me a half an hour to rebuild my ship!
Okay, but is it fun?: The short answer was it is not fun for me personally because the game made me feel ridiculous lonely. For one thing, players have to learn alien languages in order to converse with other NPC-aliens. This is a cumbersome task because players unlock a handful of words at a time, and often have to make decisions based off body expressions from the other alien. Players can’t even interact with the animal creatures on the planet…they tend to run away or attack you when they see you! Together, these experiences isolate players from other living beings, which can get depressing.
The game is “multiplayer” because technically human players are zooming around the same 18 trillion planets; but the likeliness of you finding another human player is very very low. Even if you manage to land on the same planet as another person, you can’t see them. Sure, you can talk to other humans online while playing the game, but it’s not the same experience as interacting with each other in the game.
I often thought to myself while playing, “this is what the Mars Rover Curiosity feels like every day” and then I was ultra sad thinking about how it sings “Happy Birthday” to itself all alone up there in space. But, is this loneliness experience a bad thing? I suppose not, because this game successfully manifests the idea that every human on Earth is just a teeny-tiny speck in this endless universe. It’s the same as the mix of humbling, scary, and existential feelings I had when on standing on top of a mountain in New Mexico while on vacation. It’s pretty remarkable to experience that same mix of feelings while sitting in my living room. So, kudos to No Man’s Sky for that.
Now, is the game fun? I would argue for a few hours, yes, but the unfortunate thing about No Man’s Sky is that weighty loneliness is felt playing the entire time. There isn’t a whole lot to do in No Man’s Sky other than harvest materials, roam planets, and contemplate big philosophical questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”.
Audience: This game is for a niche type of gamers, and I am simply not part of that group. While No Man’s Sky did nothing for me but trigger an existential crisis, other players who love to grind the hell out games will flourish in No Man’s Sky. What I mean is there are certain types of gamers who love completing repetitive tasks in games, which is called grinding. The thing that brings these types of gamers joy is the experience of exploring new planets, species, etc. over and over and over again. The planet combinations are endless, and there are definitely gamers out there who are going to do their best to discover and explore all 18 bajillionwhatever planets even if the math proves it is IMPOSSIBLE to do so.
Verdict: After a few days, I grew tired of No Man’s Sky. The game is too repetitive and overwhelming for my taste. All you do is find a new planet, land on it, explore, gather materials, maybe learn a few alien words if you’re lucky, rinse and repeat. This game is great for gamers out there who love to grind in video games, but I think those gamers are the type who will go out and purchase the game for themselves.
I recommend this title as an additional purchase for circulating library collections. Your average gamer will tire of it quickly, and those who will love this game will most likely purchase their own copy.
Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!
By: Alanna Graves
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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