When I dropped into No Man?s Sky for the first time this week, there was no direction. The only thing I knew was that the planet I had landed on was freezing?sub-freezing, to be exact. As I ran across the snowy landscape, ice began to creep in on my visor. This was more than just the ?Explore, Trade, Fight,? that I had expected from the game, this was ?Survive.?
I had been waiting to get my hands on this game for years. I can still remember the first look I had at No Man?s Sky, a teaser trailer in late 2013 that started with a simple declaration?everything in the game is procedurally generated. Then a series of gameplay clips were presented, challenging viewers to believe that each fantastical shot was generated by algorithms and math, not crafted by a clever artist?s hand. I was hooked. A universe created by math, across 18 quintillion (18 followed by 18 zeros) planet-sized planets.
But that?s not even all of it. This is a game that promises to allow players to consume the content however they want. In fact, it was something that the game?s Managing Director, Sean Murray, aimed for.
?People are so used to a linear experience,? Murray said. ?They think that somebody is there. Some guardian angel who is going to hold their hand, and they?re so used to that. That if you get a health pack, you know there?s going to be a boss battle straight away after. It?s that classic thing, you know exactly what?s going to happen. And that?s not the case in No Man?s Sky. So you can have just a more free-form experience, but it means that you have to think a little bit.?
So think I did. I used my jetpack to clear the frozen tundra, making my way to a high point. From there, using my binoculars I was able to spot a far off factory?yes, some of the planets are inhabited, and I?ll talk more about that in a bit. It was most likely too far away, so instead I went into my backpack.
Looking over the items I could craft, it appeared that I had two viable options. 1) Craft a grenade launcher for my gun, perfect for ripping through large chunks of terra. Using this, I could seek refuge from the icy winds in a cave and wait for my shields to recharge. 2) I could craft a temporary buff to my armor, the equivalent of putting de-icer on a plane. This was a more substantial fix, and I was only short a few Silicon to make it happen. Using my local scanner, I was able to quickly locate and harvest the element, and soon I was comfortably on my way to the factory.
When there, I had my first interaction with an alien. A creature that looked more tech than flesh greeted me in a language I didn?t quite comprehend. Displayed on the screen was the alien?s speech, with words I understood appearing in english. Several options as to how to proceed were listed below, and I opted to learn more of his language. Despite being great at Wheel of Fortune I was nowhere close to figuring out what he was saying. That would have to wait for another play. Now I just needed to decide what I wanted to do next. Do I continue exploring the ice planet? Do I fight some pirates in space? Do I just continue naming creatures after my Chiweenie?
?We?re a very non-linear game, and one of the things I really enjoy is seeing people get enjoyment from stuff I never would expect them to,? Murray said. ?Some people are like, ?I want to be the Universe?s botanist,? and I had someone like this the other day. ?That?s a pretty flower, and that?s a pretty flower.? and I?m trying to get them to go in their ship and leave the planet but, ?That?s a nice tree.?
?Part of you is dying inside, because you?re like, ?We?ve put all these mechanics in. There?s depth to this thing, just stop looking at the flowers!? But part of you is like, ?This is really good, and I want to encourage people to do this.??
I?ll admit, the depths of space were pulling at my curiosity, so I opted to leave behind ?Balari V,? my icy origin planet. A planet you will probably never see?nor may I?ever again. I had no idea what to expect as I left the cold behind, and with 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets out there, all generated on the fly, there was no way to even begin to assume. Even for Murray?who admits to seeing the math when he looks at a planet?doesn?t know what lays out in the expanse of No Man?s Sky.
?It?s actually really refreshing for me. I can play sometimes and just have a genuine experience, and feel what another player would feel,? Murray said. ?I can land on a planet and walk around and have no idea where anything is or what I?m going to see. I can find some kind of fish-like creatures growing in an underground cave that I never expected to be there. Moments like that happen, and afterwards you figure it out.?
Even after getting hands on, No Man?s Sky still shatters my brain. How is all of this possible? What will I do? The possibilities are there, just waiting for adventurers to take them. Murray and the crew at Hello Games may have crafted one of those rare, very special gaming experiences that reshapes how we look at gaming. Your ?saving the Princess? might be obtaining an epic ship from a trader while docked in one of the space stations. Or perhaps you?ll spend your time acquiring all of the lore you can find from alien races and monoliths, unlocking the mysteries of the universe.
It?s up to you to decide how you play the game, and while some may find that scary, I?ve never been more excited.