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No Man's Sky is a game of infinite horizons. And while it might not have launched as the be-all, end-all space epic some folks were anticipating, its promise that something new waits around every corner has me totally mesmerized. It turns out that No Man's Sky isn't quite what the world expected, but it's exactly what I wanted.
At its core, No Man's Sky is a game of firsts. From your first sunset on an alien planet to your first discovery of new life, it's easy to get hooked from the opening moments. Then comes your first encounter with the robotic Sentinels, the first time you stumble into an outpost, your first puzzle solved that leads you to the ruins of an ancient civilization, your first time gaining knowledge from a mysterious Monolith, and the first time you figure out how to build a much-needed upgrade for your ship or suit.
Then, when you're ready, you'll experience your first time breaking atmo, leaving one planet behind in search of a brand new world, or perhaps a brand new galaxy, where you'll get to experience all of those firsts all over again.
Only playing No Man's Sky for about a week, I'm not yet jaded by those experiences. No matter how many times I hurtle toward a planet's surface, I'm always eager to see what type of world I will soon get to name, adding my findings to the game's encyclopedia of knowledge that, one day, another player might, in turn, stumble upon as well. Will it be a lush green world reminiscent of Earth and teeming with critters, or perhaps a nearly barren wasteland where the plant life hurls poison at me, the air is toxic, the water is more toxic and occasional extreme weather forces me to hide in my ship?
As it turns out, No Man's Sky is a survival game, something I didn't expect when I loaded up my first planet and discovered a smoking ship in desperate need of repairs. The game offers little hand holding, too, requiring the player to explore and experiment in order to figure out how to collect resources, how to tell said resources apart and, finally, how to use everything you've gathered to get that ship in the air and begin your adventure in earnest.
Once airborne, you'll find more and more resources to gather, flora and fauna to catalog, bases with all sorts of items for sale and schematics that will help you create a ship, suit and multitool that's perfect for the task at hand.
You'll also discover Wisdom markers and the aforementioned Monoliths, which flesh out your understanding of an alien language or fill in the various stories and legends of the universe you're exploring.
The language feature is actually one of my favorite features in No Man's Sky. When you first encounter a race, they'll speak to you in what appears to be utter gibberish. An explanation of the scene is also given, usually accompanied by a set of options. Maybe an outpost guard is yelling at you and pointing at your weapon. Your options may then be to hand it over, point it at the creature or back away slowly. If you've learned enough of the guard's language, portions of that gibberish will be clear and may indicate that the beast is questioning whether or not you even know how to fire a gun. In response, you take the less obvious option of pointing the weapon at the beast, which delights it and leads it to offering you resources, a schematic or maybe even a better gun.
I detail the language system because it's a good microcosm of No Man's Sky as a whole. At the start of the game, very little makes sense. You'll waste resources, sell things you didn't mean to, upgrade your ship with a component you don't want and generally bumble around like a tourist at an exotic bizarre. As you start to learn the game's language, though, more opportunities reveal themselves, you learn how to optimize your time and resources and, eventually, feel like Captain Mal piloting your trusty Serenity through a universe that, over time, you have grown to comprehend. You won't have all of the answers, but various "words" that make up the language of No Man's Sky are now known to you, making your chances of survival and success even greater.
While No Man's Sky continues to surprise me, the rough edges can't be ignored. The game is a technical marvel, but even that can't overshadow a few nasty blemishes in this universe of wonders. While flying around a planet and through space is fun, dog fighting other ships -- something I was really excited for -- is clunky and frequently infuriating. And while you're flying low on a planet, the amount of pop-in is pretty distracting, serving as one of the few constant reminders that I'm playing a game and not living my true calling of becoming a feared space pirate.
And despite how unfathomably massive the universe is, there isn't much to do in No Man's Sky. Sure, there are a few activities to keep in rotation, but having some extra places to dump all of those resources and the small fortune I've amassed couldn't hurt.
And that's exactly why I would compare No Man's Sky to a game like Destiny, something that launched as a foundation upon which more and more features can be built. There's enough here to keep me busy, sure, but I have a hard time believing that the No Man's Sky we're playing by this time next year will be the same as the No Man's Sky we're playing today. The day one patch already proved that the team at Hello Games is set on adding new features and functionality, and this infinite universe is begging for more and more things to occupy players' time. I may be expecting too much, but I have confidence this is a game that will continue to grow and become more complex in the coming months, perhaps evolving into the experience that so many people seemed to think they were getting in the first place.
And maybe I'm too easy to please, but No Man's Sky has proven to be exactly what I wanted. For the time being, I'm perfectly happy on my meandering journey toward the center of the galaxy. I'm not sure what I'll find once I get there, but I'm absolutely enjoying the slow and thoughtful trek, not to mention the countless wonders I've experienced along the way.
I'm the kind of guy who always tries to "fill out the map" in these types of exploration games. I spent half a dozen hours on my home planet because I was afraid of what I might miss, and never be able to get back to if I left. And that's kind of the beauty of this game. I will never see everything in this galaxy, much less on a single planet or moon. So now I'm just trying to take in as much as I can before moving on to the next "first" No Man's Sky has to offer. And then the next. And then the next. I'm constantly delighted by what I'm finding over each horizon, and that doesn't seem like something I'm going to tire of anytime soon.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher.