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Tales From One Man’s Sky: Why Am I Still Here?

It's my sky, actually

I’m still playing No Man’s Sky [official site]. I realise this puts me in a peculiar category, a group titled “Those Who Realised How Far Short It Fell From Both Its Claims And Expectations But Still Find They Can’t Stop Wanting To Go Back”. Us TWRHFSIFFBICAEBSFTCSWTGBers will tell you, yes, you’re absolutely right, the game has no point, no deeper purpose, no real goals, no good reason to carry on. We’ll nod at you, distractedly, while mostly focusing on mining the tower of Emeril in front of us, hoping you’ll leave and stop making us question it.

Why am I still writing about it on RPS? Simply because I’m still playing it. I’ve got to justify the ridiculous amount of time to myself somehow. Haven’t we given it enough coverage if it’s not everything we’d hoped? That rather supposes a far more strategic and business-focused approach than I’ve ever taken to this website: I just write about what I’m playing and hope someone wants to read it. It’s that sophisticated. (And they do - NMS makes up our most popular articles, so it’s good business by mistake!) Let this boring paragraph be the reason you don’t leave your boring comment.

No Man’s Sky absolutely should have had more to do. I think it’s a core failing, and I can’t wait until Hello Games can feel enough distance from the project to openly talk about its development - to find out how they managed to create an entire bloody universe and never get around to thinking of a reason for having done so. Everything scripted there is to do feels slap-dash, barely considered, half-finished or genuinely insulting (if you’ve completed the Atlas “quest”, you’ll be nodding furiously here.

Whether the game is sticky for you, it seems, comes down to whether you find an affinity with its mechanics. I think you’d have to be a pretty dreadful person to not find a good few hours of entertainment in just exploring what NMS offers, even if it’s a time that ends in the disappointment of anticlimax. As glitchy and fizzy as the graphics may be when landing on a planet’s surface, the fact that you just picked a random star system amongst a number that might as well be infinite, and then a planet within that system, and what you’ve landed on is unique, its flora and fauna unique, its geography unique (yes, not unique enough, but still, unique) - that’s all amazing. You can run about gathering resources, or scanning creatures, or nagging aliens, or just admiring the sun behind the hills.

And if you’re bored, hop into your ship and fly somewhere else. Pretty quickly you can leap between stars, then multiple stars, then find short-cuts through black holes, perhaps on a voyage to the centre of the galaxy, perhaps just moving about at random. And, I would contend, at a certain point for every player it becomes starkly apparent that, well, there isn’t really a reason for any of it. I tip my head back until my forehead rests on my spine to laugh at those who, after 15 hours (about twice the length of the average AAA game) of enjoyment, claim to have been robbed because they don’t want another 15 hours. But I don’t disagree with the disappointment. It’s just, for reasons I’m going to try to explain to myself, I’ve found enough to stick around.

I Want A Bigger Spaceship

Let’s face it - we all want a bigger spaceship. No Man’s Sky, I think more accidentally than anything else, adopts a key feature from MMOs in keeping the player wanting to progress forward: a lack of inventory space. While World of Warcraft may once have had you feverishly completing quests and killing mobs in the hope of being able to buy a bigger knapsack, NMS has me most enthused about getting more inventory slots on my ship. I currently have 38 and that’s taken dozens and dozens of hours to reach. But I know they go up to 48, and so I cannot rest.

There’s no good reason for this. I want a bigger spaceship so I have more room for gathering resources to sell in pursuit of my goal of getting a bigger spaceship. I know that on purchasing or finding my 48-er, I’m going to feel such a blow of ennui. I’ll have all the space I need for the nothing I have to do.

I’ve already maxed out my personal inventory and my Multitool (48 and 24 respectively), so it’s just the ship to go. And for now, it pointlessly drives me on.

There are two routes to finding a better ship. You can earn money to buy one, which is just so bloody galling when the game has no means to sell your current one. To get my goal, my 48-slot ship, is likely going to cost me over 100m units. The other option is switching ships for wrecks on planet surfaces. It’s not hard to find them, but it’s tedious, and there’s a 50% chance any wreck will be one slot worse than your current ship, the other half only one slot better. While Gek planets have a weird exploit that lets you identify as many wrecks as you want from one station, it’s still an agonising process to go about it that way. I’ve opted for a bit of both, earning as much as I can (I just cleared 60m units!) while grabbing any better ship I discover.

I Feel Like I’ll Be In The Best Place If More Arrives

This is completely ridiculous, but I have to acknowledge to myself that I’m thinking it. I have this deranged fantasy that Hello Games are secretly beavering away on a massive update of feature content that they didn’t manage to get finished in time for launch, and suddenly the universe will be stuffed with plots and quests and reasons to be. And if I’ve got all the best equipment the base game offers, then I’m primed to enjoy anything added to come after that!

I’ll be best equipped to dive into the lovely storylines they’ll add, to set off on the chain of events that leads to my having one of those enormous ships you see warping in when zipping around a solar system - I’ve convinced myself that’ll have to be a thing it adds. Sure, no, they never will, but this is about my own delusions see. I’ll have all the resources I need to build my own bases, to craft a bigger, better ship from scratch (it keeps giving me blueprints for core ship components that it offers no means to build, which makes me wonder if this was meant to be a thing), to build my own used shipyard and sell the bloody things I previously spent 20m on, rather than madly abandoning them on a space station.

I Just Like Mining And Dicking Around

I find it relaxing. Doodling around on a planet, looking for valuable ores, mining giant towers or boulders, discovering to my joy that all the caves are packed with Vortex Cubes, selling my stuff at a store, hunting down that elusive eighth species type… It’s aimless, but in that aimlessness there’s catharsis. It’s not enough on its own - I’ve been catching up on old episodes of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, listening to audiobooks, ‘watching’ less visually involved things on iPlayer, and so on. It’s been just the tonic for a stressful month, an extremely pleasant happy-place to visit, mill about, meander, and pursue ultimately meaningless goals.

I have perhaps been too disparaging above, perhaps. I really can’t tell any more. No Man’s Sky has become, to me, this bizarro-world of mediocrity that I find utterly consuming and compelling, calling to me like a siren who then can’t be bothered to drown me. And I’m still playing.

Disclosure: Alec did some writing for the game so doesn't write about it for us.

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Hello Games

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No Man's Sky

PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch

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John Walker


Once one of the original co-founders of Rock Paper Shotgun, we killed John out of jealousy. He now runs buried-treasure.org