This is the Euclid Galaxy. It has more than 18 quintillion worlds, and an almost infinite expanse of space between them. From desolate, crater-smashed wastelands to verdant jungle biomes, windswept crags to luminous oceans. Abundant deposits of plutonium and iron and zinc. Rhino-lizards and buck-tigers and goat-o-saurs. Esoteric alien monoliths and derelict colonial outposts. Stuff that looks sort of like regular grass and trees and shrubs but they’re different colours so you know it’s sci-fi.
It’s audacious. It’s intimidating. It’s beautiful.
And it’s the most boring place in the universe.
Like everybody else, I start out on some random, procedurally generated planet with an entirely unpronounceable name that I could change but don’t because the game’s vocabulary filter prohibits swears. My ship is broken, and I have to fix it. Most of the replacement parts are simple enough to acquire close by, but I also need something called “Heridium”, and the nearest source is more than 10 minutes away, real time. That’s quite a slog for what’s basically a tutorial, but whatever. So I walk. And walk and walk and walk. And sometimes I use my jetpack, but it doesn’t go very far and it’s kind of clumsy so I mostly walk. And wh-
LIFE SUPPORT POWER LOW.
Okay. My life support system is out of oxygen or atmospheric pressure stabilisers or biscuits or something and needs to be recharged. So, I have to make a detour to find some other minerals to do that, then get back to my mission. And wh-
RADIATION PROTECTION FALLING.
What? Oh, now there’s a storm, apparently, and it’s depleting my hazard protection shield. I’d expected that, in the future, we might have invented tech sophisticated enough to hold out for more than two minutes in bad weather, but maybe it’s raining nukes or something. So, more minerals required. You know what, I’m just going to stock up on heaps of that so I don’t have to keep getting distracted from other, more important tasks like extracting other, more important minerals. And wh-
LIFE SUPPORT POWER LOW.
Seriously. Why? I don’t know. I’ve hardly even moved, but I’m gasping on the murky precipice of mortality. Flip up the inventory screen, select “Exosuit”, select “Life Support”, and cram it with, like, rocks. I don’t know how that works, exactly, but I can breathe again. And wh-
WEAPON CHARGE DEPLETED.
NO FREE SLOTS IN SUIT INVENTORY.
LIFE SUPPORT POWER LOW.
… I should think about getting a new job.
And when I finally find the Heridium, I shoot at it with my Multi-Tool’s mining beam until a lot of it has transferred to my inventory, and, um, that’s it. I got the Heridium, you guys. What a very dramatic turn of events. And then I walk back for another 15 minutes or so, and fix my ship. Now I can leave the planet! So I do that. And then I have to go do something else for a bit, so I shut down the game, and when I restart, it hasn’t saved so I have to do all of that over again.
One hour in, and I’ve accomplished exactly nothing, but I’ve also experienced pretty much everything there is in No Man’s Sky.
Oh, I’ve encountered the occasional sentient species from time to time, but they’re not interested in anything besides the most banal and perfunctory and incomprehensible of exchanges, and if I want to keep talking, I have to pay. My presence in these parts is obviously somewhat presumptuous. Or maybe not. It’s impossible to tell, but it probably doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve engaged hostile starships in space combat, but the flight mechanics and control scheme are so awkward and ponderous that, after one or two instantly regrettable failures, I’d go into low planetary orbit to avoid them instead. I can also scan the local wildlife and copy-pasted construction assets and dingy beacons and other things and upload them to the Atlas, a sort of galactic Wikipedia shared with other players that swaps cash for data, but has no real purpose because No Man’s Sky is so enormous, nobody is ever going to visit the same planets. And for some inscrutable reason, every finding must be uploaded separately, so it’s a tedious chore.
The problem is, nothing I do has any meaningful consequences in the game whatsoever.
But then, this is a game where the whole point is to increase your inventory slots, so “meaningful consequences” are already mostly irrelevant. You collect stuff to sell stuff to buy stuff to upgrade stuff to collect more stuff to jump to a new system and start over. Ostensibly a game of exploration and discovery and the breathtaking grandeur of interstellar voyage, it’s more like adding up lists of numbers on a balance sheet. And, you know, a lot of games are like this, but they’re so much better at covering it up. In No Man’s Sky, there isn’t even a plot to keep things going. And, I mean, I get it, you’re supposed to make your own story, but The Cosmic Accountant versus the Space Audits isn’t a very exciting one.