No Man’s Sky Will Disappoint and That’s Fine
No Man’s Sky is one of the most hyped original video games coming out this year. The trailers promise an entire galaxy to explore, spaceships to customize, harsh environments to endure and alien threats to overcome. It’s a game that claims to have hundreds of hours of content thanks to its many planets’ environments and wildlife being procedurally generated as opposed to being handcrafted, and something resembling a traditional story that’s meant to compel players to reach the center of the universe. Everything about the game’s marketing promises a sandbox the size and scale of which we have never experienced before.
But with the game’s release around the corner and critics getting advanced copies, a lot of that hype is already turning into backlash before it’s even out to the public. This is mostly due to a certain dedicated fan of No Man’s Sky buying a leaked physical PS4 version of the game on Ebay for about $1,300 dollars and uploading footage of gameplay. The gameplay vids were quickly taken down by Hello Games but the player in question, Reddit user Daymeeuhn, then proceeded to finish the main story of the game in roughly 30 hours. Apparently, since things weren’t 10 hours longer, the fanbase of No Man’s Sky is afraid the game isn’t absolutely everything they hoped for. But what game could even live up to all that hype? This reaction isn’t unheard of considering it’s a marketing department’s job to sell a product.
In recent memory, there was the passionate and angry fan outcry of the ending of Bioware’s Mass Effect 3. An entire sci-fi space opera trilogy where players commanded their version of Commander Shepard as they made difficult decisions that determined the fate of alien races, political alliances and friends in war… only to have the climax of the game be a simple choice to determine one of three different colors. Some even tried taking the developer to court for blatant false advertising, stating the game did not have the satisfying ending the marketing promised.
An extreme example to be sure but it’s also a perfect contrast with No Man’s Sky. Mass Effect 3 had a massive following and monumental expectations heaped upon it by a studio that created impressive work in the past like Jade Empire and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not to mention most of the game’s fanbase weren’t just playing the latest installment in a game but a prolonged conclusion to what was easily a 100-hour long epic and wanted absolute closure on every single element, subplot and character arc they invested in. On the other hand, No Man’s Sky is a largely original and unique experience developed by a team whose last big project was a download only stunt bike game with tight-lipped but evocative PR buzz. Instead of healthy skepticism, Hello Games have done a great job selling their game as something grand and expansive. And if there’s one thing the gaming community loves to praise and embrace more than anything else, it’s the idea of an experience being something original and claiming to be “The Last Game You Will Ever Need.”
It’s an idea that’s heavily romanticized in the community. The desire to only pay one price for one game that will have all of your specific desires scratched from here til the end of time is a pleasant dream. However, it’s an idea that forgets video games are judged in a myriad of ways than just content offered. Do you play a video game to explore and discover? Bethesda has made two massive RPG franchises built around doing just that. Do you play to defeat enemies based on reflexes and quick thinking? Hack and slash games and fast-paced first-person shooters have your number. Do you play to humiliate other people online with your mad skills while blasting obnoxious dubstep? Call of Duty. What about video games that can easily be finished in a weekend but are such narrative tour de force’s they have inherent replay value like The Stanley Parable, Silent Hill 2 or Spec Ops: The Line? It isn’t just about how much content the game provides, but how much of that content is worthwhile.
Which brings things back to the leaked footage of the game by the No Man’s Sky fan with shockingly deep pockets. After so many promises and scripted footage by Sean Murray and Hello Games, the footage and opinion given by Daymeeuhn have taken the bloom off the rose before it has even blossomed. In a way, it’s undoing all of the attempted whimsy and discovery the game was meant to instill. This is why the community backlash has seemed more potent and ferocious. Despite an industry that uses day-one patches far too often, first impressions still matter.
So No Man’s Sky will probably disappoint you. However, there is no need to send even more death threats to Hello Games or do some other man-childish gesture of outrage. Strip away the PR garnish and what’s left is a game that does everything to capture your imagination. In the purest and simplest terms, a game that ambitiously uses complex math to make hundreds of planets full of interesting animals plants and structures. The complete distillation of the infamous phrase, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” There was no way this game was also going to have sharp writing, a fully voice-acted cast and heartbreaking drama. Going for something that tightly designed on top of something so hard to program means creating hundreds of unique locations, which would make the whole thing a production nightmare.
But in the end, that’s still OK. I have been excited for No Man’s Sky since it was first announced and even after the dodgy way Hello Games have been handling review copies, the games journo equivalent of blood in the water and Daymeeuhn’s ridiculous investment in the game, I still want to get into a spaceship and see some pretty planets. Sure, I’ll probably be disappointed by small nitpicks and issues, it comes with the trade after all, but as long as it keeps to its singular vision it will still be a success to me.