How Did it Feel: NO MAN’S SKY

From a rough start, to a galaxy of wonder. The joy of escape and discovery of NO MAN’S SKY is unrivaled. It will leave you wanting to own a starship and hit to the stars. To feel that joy of exploration in your own life.  I crash landed on NO MAN’S SKY, and this is my take on How did it Feel.

So, what is it about?

From the developer’s first YouTube trailer:

No Man’s Sky is a science-fiction game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated universe.
Developed by Hello Games, the indie studio behind PS3 hit Joe Danger, No Man’s Sky is a science-fiction game without limits. If you see a mountain, you can trek there. If you see a planet hanging on the horizon, it’s a real place, with its own rich ecology of creatures and vegetation. You can get in your ship, fly into space and it’s yours to explore. Not just that, but every star in the sky is just the light of a sun, with its own solar system waiting for you to discover and adventure in.

Before the purchase

Just to get the obvious out of the way: yes, this game had a problematic start. I wasn’t blind to that. And in spite of the developers best intentions (and my empathy to them as a videogame creator), I didn’t grab a copy of NO MAN’S SKY until 2020! And when I did, I did it out of peer pressure. Some friends all bough it at the same time and said this would be our “covid19 confinement getaway experience”.

Well, just let me tell you: in the end, they played about 10 hours total. And me, the reluctant one… well, last time I checked it clocked around 140 hours.

The start

The planet I crash landed on

It was horrible. It was terrible. I have to say it bluntly like that just to show the insane contrast that happened between NMS awful first time user experience (FTUE) and the absolutely wonderful long term experience.

This is one of those games that has many actions mapped into every button on the controller. And on top of that, the UI is deep and complex. This usually requires slowly letting players “unlock” new actions so that they can have time to map them from the controller to their brains. And that’s the very obvious reason why the first levels in most games are so mind-numbing easy. Because the goal is to help the player learn first so that they can enjoy. It’s very important to get their buy-in rather quickly. Or they’ll just switch to another game or media entertainment. It’s important that nothing gets in the way of that, specially a misunderstanding of the controller and mechanics. A videogame’s first few moments are as crucial and important as an airplane taking off.

And one thing gets in the way pretty hard at the beginning of this game. Let me explain:

Arguably the main feature of NMS is discovering new and varied planets. Each with its own climate, flora, fauna, geology and weather conditions. These conditions have a chance of being hazardous. That means that the player’s shields and HP are continuously drain while on those planets.

Well, Hello Games decided that for your first moments in the game they’d throw you into a hazardous planet! You just crashed, you have no ship, no shelter and no knowledge of how to play. So, yeah! Learn complex controls, mechanics, rules and get your brain accustomed to the game while there’s a timer telling you you’re going to die. And trust me, it doesn’t work. This isn’t like those games that start with a battle or an escape sequence like Super Metroid. It’s a poor decision, especially since this is such a contemplative game.

Oh, and don’t forget having no option to reverse the camera controls on one of the axis, because if you’re like me and like doing so, you’ll be fighting the camera as well.

So the start felt so frustrating. I felt I had thrown 35€ down the drain. I felt so disappointed…

But then, something happened.

The loop

Just watching this makes me want to play it again.

An escapist’s most intense and desirable dream.

I kept pushing myself to give this game a chance. And in doing so, the loop kicked in. It was like all that frustration was a hidden plan for you to fall in love. You see, when you find your crashed ship, you can work repair it. Eventually, you’re able to take off. A few more upgrades later, you’re able to actually leave the planet. And after some other while, you’re able to jump to another planetary system.

And that’s it.

That’s all you need. You understand the loop deeply. You can visit more planets, but you’ve got to improve your ship and equipment. And seeing more planets means more resources to better improve your systems to get to even more planets. And this is so addictive.

Some worlds were just magical

And this loop expands in every direction. I won’t get into details about everything there’s to do in NMS. But each time you achieve something, a new type of goal appears. And because it’s a different type, you don’t feel that the designers just “moved the post further away”. Instead you get the feeling that this beautiful universe just became even bigger, even deeper. With more possibilities. With more paths to explore. And the best: you make your own path.

Let’s not forget about the multiplayer component! Here I’m exploring the galaxy with Auny Moons

There are a couple of “main quests” though (which are weird and very existential, by the way). And those definitely help guide you through all the numerous systems you can use in the game and how they interconnect. But you can easily learn that by yourself, driven by the sheer level of immersion and the will to move forward, to discover another planet, maybe find the right one for you to build a base, then build that base, make it bigger, more sustainable… it’s endless!

The final feel

It’s such a deep, existential joy.

That’s how I can describe NO MAN’S SKY. This game made me feel like a kid again. Making up stories in my head about the planets I discovered, the bases I built, the story I uncovered. It was an absolute barrage of wonder each time you ran into something new, into something different, into something beautiful, weird… or even terrifying.

This game is definitely not for everyone. But if you like the sensation of leaving this sometimes-gray reality, if you are curious, if you’re imaginative, if you want to relax and enjoy beautiful art, deep music and a cinematic sensation of discovery, then this an experience for you.

This game helped me to recover from the depression of the pandemic’s confinement. It stimulated my mind and calmed me down way better than a cheesy medditation recording or a yoga class (nothing against yoga).

If you can grab some good headphones, close the windows, get the TV just for yourself and have some patience with NMS‘s first horrible moments and try to understand this gem, you’ll be rewarded with one of those rare creations that leave you in a calm ecstatic state, feeling that the world, with all of it’s bad things, it’s still full of beauty, adventure, mystery and wonder. A wonder worth living for, worth the effort and worth discovering!

Go play. Now. That’s an order.

Have you played it too?

Each game can have its different impression on each one of us. Leave a comment below telling your version on how did it feel!

Adox J. Roig Oviedo
Adox J. Roig Oviedo
An intense creative who cannot stop doing what he loves.

1 Comment

  1. Gawlf says:

    I played it for a few weeks when it first came out, and despite the game being a lot shallower back then I still got that sense of escapism and wonder out of it.

    I wanted to give it a try again with all the updates, but haven’t gotten around to do it. Tried it in VR, which felt like a completely new game, but I got a bit overwhelmed with that damn FTUE + VR controls hehe

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