During this whole COVID-19-stay-at-home thing, one of the ways I’ve been keeping sane is going to for long drives and seeing areas around me that I haven’t seen before.
After nearly two months, I’m running out of places within an hour of me. Which is weird. I never thought I would literally run out of land to see while driving. As the weather warms up, I plan to get out hiking, but for the last couple of weeks I’ve been quenching compusion for exploration with No Man’s Sky.
“No Man’s Sky is an exploration survival game developed and published by the indie studio Hello Games. It was released worldwide for the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows in August 2016, and for Xbox One in July 2018. The game is built around four pillars: exploration, survival, combat, and trading. Players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open world universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets.”Wikipedia
Yeah. So I doubt I’m going to run out of planets until at least August (joke).
I’ve owned the game since it came out in 2016, but a few things kept me from getting enjoyment from it. The first thing is that when they released it, there was almost nothing you could do in it. You could pilot a ship between space stations and planets, but that was about it. It was a big sandbox with lots of neat visuals but not much else.
It also lacked any motivation. Erik Kain captured the feeling well in his 2016 column for Forbes:
There’s a story here, sort of, and lots of lore. But it’s a nihilistic experience; I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, other than to get more Units. A bigger ship. Better stuff. I’m a space consumer, entrepreneur. I’m a capitalist crafter with a capital C.
I’m just not sure why. And pretty soon, it all starts to feel dreary with sameness.
All the planets are different, but for all their differences, they blur together. I can’t anchor any of them with any meaning. My discoveries are like little boxes I tick off, little notches in my belt. Why?
Why am I doing this?Erik Kain, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of ‘No Man’s Sky’
Over the last four years, the Hello Games team has done a great job of recovering from the inital negative reaction and the updated in the intervening years have made for a much improved experience. The story (thus far) is not as compelling as say Skyrim or Half-Life, but it’s presented in a way that allows you to pursue it if you want, or go explore and ignore it. They also added a creative mode where you can just build stuff and fly around, if that’s your thing.
Because it’s pretty light-touch on the story, I don’t feel rushed to complete it, but I do keep it in mind when heading out into the universe. You wind up starting small and with little context (they use the amnesia-of-the-main-character plot device made so popular by Roger Zelazny and Robert Ludlum) and as you explore and build, you uncover more about not only yourself but the universe you inhabit. There are missions to accumulate riches, caches of technology to be recovered, ship salvage, pirates to be fought, and the mystery of who you are and why you cannot remember anything.
The real clincher for me in these days of COVID-19 is the VR experience. When all of this started, I bought an Oculus Quest for the family. My son and I have been having a blast (Minecraft in VR is pretty wild, guys) and because of the way VR tricks your brain, you can begin to feel as if you are outside, or at least, not stuck at home. No Man’s Sky is a game of stunning vistas and exploration that keeps me from going completely stir crazy.
The naming of planets, minerals, systems, flora, and fauna add to the thrill of discovery. Amazingly, you get paid to go out and explore, which is probably the only thing that make it worthwhile in the terms of game mechanics, but I’m not it in for the coin, I love seeing new vistas. Especially now.
And if you get bored, well, there are people on the various space stations willing to give you credits for doing various missions in one of the four pillars of the game. You also build reputation with the various factions and races, which changes the interactions you have.
Finally, if you are truly desperate there is a multiplayer mode so you can go on missions with strangers or friends. I’m…not that desperate. Yet. We’ll see if that day ever comes.