I mean, I tried to commit genocide. The thing is, a whole planet is actually kind of big and that’s a lot of stuff to kill in the only 30 minutes or so I got to play No Man’s Sky at a preview event in London last week. Besides, the local law enforcement was somewhat more, uh, zealous than I’d expected, and I was nuked by the fourth or fifth deployment of blam-o-bots. So much for my metagalactic campaign of tyranny, but as Hello Games’ Sean Murray explained to us during his opening presentation, No Man’s Sky is a game about “exploring, trading, fighting, and surviving” and 50% is totally a passing grade.
“It’s all very razzle-dazzle, but there’s also an undeniable and pervasive sense of loneliness throughout.”
Next time, I suppose I could try a more subtle, ostensibly diplomatic approach, like calling the planet Van Der Byl Prime. Then it’s basically mine by default, and its denizens can shut up and bring me biscuits because I’m the boss. Because that’s a thing you can do in No Man’s Sky – if you’re the first person to land on a new planet or scan a new species, you get to decide what it’s called*. That name is then uploaded via a beacon to the Atlas, an orbital database of everything everybody has discovered in the game, ever, forever.
But instead of being a cosmic Wikipedia editor, I decided to be a mass murderer. I’m terrible. Sorry, not sorry.
First announced back in 2013 and expected to drop sometime in June, we still don’t know very much about No Man’s Sky. I had a lot of questions. I got a lot of “I can’t talk about that, um, now” replies. When I asked how this, that, or the other thing works, I was told that “… it’s not, um, really like that”.
So what is it like?
I don’t know, exactly. Yes, you can explore more than 18 quintillion (!) worlds and the almost infinite expanse of celestial space between them. You can trade with the inhabitants of those worlds, or even stations and other ships. You can fight that junk dealer or that fuzzy pink tigersaur or that bit of rock that looks at you funny, or doesn’t look at you funny, because whatever, they had it coming. You probably won’t survive, but I guess that’s a regular occupational hazard if you’re an interstellar pioneer.
As you travel through the stars, you’ll mine resources to build new tech and upgrade your gear and your ship. You’ll find weird alien artifacts built perhaps a million years ago, inscribed with letters, and you can study them to learn new languages. You can join factions, and consider new career options – pilgrim, merchant, pirate.
But the reasons to do any of those things are entirely up to you. There’s no narrative, there’s no real context, there’s not even a proper tutorial. Your only mission – should you choose to accept it – is to get to the centre of the universe. What’s there? Nobody knows, but it’s (presumably) not a video of Peter Molyneux promising to make you a god.
I can’t pretend to grok the esoteric maths that governs everything in No Man’s Sky, but the results are extraordinary at first impression – the worlds, the creatures, the ambient sounds, the vintage sci-fi book cover colours, even the music is procedurally generated as you go. It’s all very razzle-dazzle, but there’s also an undeniable and pervasive sense of loneliness throughout. Maybe that’s the point. The developer who stood and watched me gratuitously massacre the things he’d stayed up all night building said that, despite No Man’s Sky being a sort of “shared experience” game, I’m extremely unlikely to ever encounter another player. Because, you know, space is also actually kind of big. It makes sense, I suppose, but I’m a social gamer who prefers some company. Other gamers, not so much, but it’s important to keep in mind if you were wishing for something more like an MMO.
For now, though, No Man’s Sky is definitely something a bit… different. A bit exciting. A bit intriguing. It’s the history of a universe waiting to be written, and your very own story waiting to be told. And that’s quite a prospect.