Why I’m not concerned about “the point” of No Man’s Sky

Apr 13, 2016

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Soon, there will come a time when you will be able to fly through the stars and visit alien worlds, conquer danger, discover lost relics, catalog knowledge of unknown life forms, engage in star system-spanning space battles and interact with intelligent civilizations.

“That sounds cool, but what do you actually do in No Man’s Sky?”

It’s a question that people have seemingly been asking since the concept first went public. And it’s an understandable line of reasoning: the ambitious space exploration epic from indie studio Hello Games asks players to take a lot on faith. Curious gamers are told that the adventure is driven by their own choices and that something “worth it” waits at the center of the game’s universe.

Scattered across the game's endless planets are outposts where players can find save points, NPCs and new spaceships.

Scattered across the game’s endless planets are outposts where players can find save points, NPCs and new spaceships.

Most of the time, when a game is this light on story details, there is usually a multiplayer element to take the center stage. This isn’t the case with No Man’s Sky. On the other hand, games without a competitive and/or cooperative multiplayer focus often present a plot trailer to establish a defined setting, characters and their motivations. Also not so with No Man’s Sky.

So what does that leave us? No Man’s Sky presents itself as a completely player-driven experience. There are no scripted moments, no pre-set teams or scenarios to pit players against each other. Players choose what they do, when they do it. Granted, this can be said of nearly any open-ended game, of which there are hundreds. The difference is that, as far as we know at this point, Hello Games is not giving us a path to follow when we get tired of exploring and side quests, aside from a general directive to move toward the universe’s center, where a vague payoff is said to reside.

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For all intents and purposes, the main story is an open-ended adventure.

This is a concept almost utterly foreign to many among the Playstation 4 and PC audiences. The unfamiliarity of this idea makes players skeptical at best and entirely dismissive at worst. For the most part, the gaming public isn’t accustomed to being set loose in a sandbox (a universe-size sandbox, no less) without so much as a main villain to aim for after a few dozen hours of mixing main quests and side quests. The lack of structure perceived in No Man’s Sky leads people to assume the planet-hopping process will get boring after a dozen procedurally-generated worlds.

In my humble opinion, these people, who often demand to know what “the point” the game is, are in fact missing the point.

Not to get overly philosophical, but No Man’s Sky, in some ways, parallels the uncomfortable truths of real life. Human beings are born into a vast, indifferent universe and are expected to find their way in it – much like the ambitious project by Hello Games. Who hasn’t gazed at the night sky and wished for the opportunity to explore the stars? No Man’s Sky gives players the tools to do just that, with virtually infinite worlds to uncover. It’s not a traditional gaming experience, but that is yet another part of the charm.

Players may come across armed conflict among rival factions during their journey. Taking a side, attacking indiscriminately or bypassing entirely is their decision.

Players may come across armed conflict among rival factions during their journey. Taking a side, attacking indiscriminately or bypassing entirely is their decision.

Based on the trailers and interviews released to date, it’s safe to say that No Man’s Sky is shipping to stores with enough mechanics, features and interactive content to compete with the majority of triple-a releases hitting the market this year, let alone titles coming out of small indie studios like Hello Games.

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Built upon the foundation of combat and exploration on vast, uncharted planets, No Man’s Sky also comes with a crafting system based around the myriad resources players will collect in the travels. Recent information coming from Hello Games also indicates an involved language system, which requires players to learn new vocabulary for alien dialects in order to interact with the various races of NPCs. These races form disparate factions that players can build relationships with – whether it’s trade partnerships with inventive races or military alliances with warrior populations, these connections make it clear the No Man’s Sky universe is a living one, not a simple collection of dusty landmarks.

In the end, it comes down to preference. Some gamers crave structure and others embrace the notion of a highly personal, intimate journey through the vast celestial ocean.

Some of us look at the stars and see the possibility of what stories we can make for ourselves, not what stories are handed out to us.

 

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