No Man’s Sky: Space for busy people

It takes two years to train as an astronaut. They must undergo intensive training in how the space shuttle and International Space Station functions, further sciences, medical procedures and survival training. If they are to crew the ISS, they will also need to learn Russian so they can communicate with the Russian Mission Control centre. You also need to be selected in the first place and applications are numerous whilst places on the training program are few. There are no clear guaranteed routes in, but it’s safe to say you have to be pretty high up in your field to qualify.

It takes 45 minutes to watch an episode of Star Trek. Anyone can watch Star Trek.

Pulse engine space travel effect No Mans Sky

A stunning blend of Star Wars’ jump to hyperspace and the psychedelic colours of 2001: A Space Odyssey

No Man’s Sky is to most of the space game genre what Star Trek is to real world space travel.

Of course, a lot of players dabbling in the space game genre like the idea of massive universes with planets and stars respecting the right scales in terms of travel, but then once you get down to it, there’s a lot of waiting around between moments of wonder and sometimes we don’t have time to wait.

No Man’s Sky cuts out a lot of the waiting. Instead it jumps from moment of wonder to moment of wonder very quickly. You blast off from a planet and leave the atmosphere, you engage the warp drive, you arrive in a new system, you land on a new planet, you name your discovery and you come face-to-face with a giant flying hippo-wasp. The problem with this is that if you present a moment of wonder too many times in quick succession, then it stops becoming a moment of wonder and instead becomes the norm. Ironically, an experience that is literally full of wonder is not wonderful, but merely just ok.

No Mans Sky planet with sphere trees

One of the first worlds I landed on had these bizarre sphere-trees everywhere. I’ve not seen them anywhere else since.

According to developer Hello Games, No Man’s Sky has 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets in its universe. It would therefore take approximately 5 billion years, If one were to visit every single planet without stopping for lunch, to see everything that No Man’s Sky has to offer.

Five billion years to see everything.

Or, you know, five hours.

It should be clear to anyone, even those without a shred of knowledge on the game development process (and let me be clear, I do only possess a shred myself) that 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 is far too many planets to have been crafted by hand. These are all the entities generated by an algorithm tweaking a set of variables and coming out with a near infinite number of results.

No Mans Sky ship landed on tree

Yup. I meant to do that. Yes I know it’s not a landing pad. Yes I know it’s some kind of mushroom.

The number looks a lot less impressive, when you think that something as simple as a four-digit bicycle lock has 10,000 potential solutions. If you therefore have something with a lot more variables than four, then it’s not difficult to see how that number gets big quickly.

Of course, that big number is very easy to understand as a product of marketing. It is a technically accurate statistic – the best kind of statistic! Nobody can call it a lie and nobody really cares about the quiet voices that pipe up with qualifiers that it’s maybe too big and would suggest that actually, there is less variety in these different planets than advertised.

No Man’s Sky’s simplicity is its strength, not its weakness

No Man’s Sky is space for busy people. If you want something deeper, that exists already. Elite: Dangerous has a to-scale distance between galaxies and planets, planets that orbit stars and a system by which if you see a star in the sky, you can plot a course and fly to it. It also has complex controls that make basic manoeuvres like docking your ship in a space station feel like an event. To land in Elite: Dangerous, you need to:

  1. Request docking permission
  2. Enter the station
  3. Locate your designated landing bay
  4. Slow down to an appropriate speed
  5. Deploy landing gear
  6. Approach landing pad
  7. Descend
  8. Make sure the ship is level with the landing pad
  9. Touchdown
  10. Disengage engines
  11. Ensure you do all of the above within an allotted time

To land in No Man’s Sky, you:

  1. Hold down the land button.

You don’t even need to do that in a space station – you just fly into the hole in the front.

No Mans Sky space station interior

All the space stations are basically the same and require zero skill to land in. I can’t always find the entrances however.

There’s also a lot of dead space and waiting time in Elite: Dangerous between notable events. Moments of wonder are spread far and wide, but when you do encounter a breathtaking space anomaly or find yourself gazing out at the star you nearly warped straight into, it does feel like you’ve earned it.

Elite: Dangerous isn’t the only modern example of a space game that players might be comparing No Man’s Sky to. Eve Online also has a comparably large universe and deep systems with regards to ships, loadouts, equipment and economy to say nothing of the complex social emergent multiplayer aspect to the game. In Eve, the quality of your ship is defined by factors including:

  • Mass
  • Volume
  • Capacity
  • Level of technology it can deploy
  • Maximum velocity
  • Inertia modifier
  • Warp speed
  • Powergrid output
  • CPU Output
  • Capacitor recharge
  • Hardpoints
  • Rig slots
  • Shields
  • Armour
  • Ship structure
  • Shield recharge time

In No Man’s Sky, the quality of your ship is defined by:

  • Number of inventory slots you have

This is only a problem if you go in expecting those aspects of depth and complexity and maybe a lot of people did because it looked a bit like a complex space game that we’ve seen before, only with dinosaurs.

Is No Man’s Sky worth £40 right now?

This is a boring question which befits a boring answer. It depends.

The pre-release hype vs. the actual reality is neatly summarised by this video that I can’t stop watching:

Of course, I would happily pay full price for either. Sure, the marketed version looks stunning and is definitely one of the best outcomes for that random world generator, but I love a system that can produce goofy looking gangly be-hoofed legged accordion T-Rexes.

The systems are shallow, but not everyone has the time for a deep dive into a rich space game. I’d personally love to play more Elite: Dangerous and equally generate a clone of myself so one of me can play Eve Online full time, but that’s not going to happen because of boring real-life responsibilities and time constraints. Also lack of cloning technology. A game where I can skip to the good stuff is therefore going to be something I will thoroughly appreciate.

No Mans Sky creature

A lot of my creatures have goofy names that don’t quite fit. It’s surprisingly difficult to name creatures after you’ve used up all of your good names.

I’ve spent eight hours with No Man’s Sky, I don’t have a burning desire to go back to it any time soon, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. From hunting down giant wolf-boars to what should have been a tedious task of scraping together fuel for my hyperdrive to learning alien languages through ancient monoliths, there was enough subtle variation to keep me engaged.

It’s by no means perfect – the wanted system from Grand Theft Auto is the last thing I expected to find in No Man’s Sky and the attack drones that hunt you down if you’re too greedy or happen to land on a high security world are horrible to deal with. Also, the space combat feels highly unsatisfying and floaty, but that I’ve found that doesn’t matter.

Purple night time landscape in No Mans Sky

There is frequently a genuine haunting beauty to this game. Not all planets are stunning, but some of them really do give you some stunning photo ops.

What this feels like most of all is lurid indie walk-em-up Proteus, but with a few more actual mechanics and space ships. If you liked Proteus, you’ll probably like No Man’s Sky. Hello Games have made a masterpiece and whilst it might not be the masterpiece that was expected or even in some cases promised and is far from perfect, it’s still a high calibre of game and you could do far worse than picking this up new.


There is of course a possibility that some of us are much softer on No Man’s Sky than most because we remember the hype and delivery of Spore.

No Man’s Sky is currently available on Playstation 4 and through Steam on PC. This article has been based on impressions from the PC version.

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