No Man's Sky full review

No Man’s Sky is quite possibly the most hyped game of recent years, offering users the ability to explore a universe of 18 quintillion planet-sized planets, each with unique plant and wildlife. However, many gamers hopes were crushed after the game launched, claiming it wasn’t as advertised, and subsequently got a refund for the purchase (where possible anyway). Is No Man’s Sky really that bad, or are people exaggerating? We’ve spent a bit of time on No Man’s Sky over the past month, and here’s what we think. Read next: Best and most anticipated games

No Man’s Sky review: Pricing and platforms

No Man’s Sky is available to play on two platforms and while you may have assumed these would be the PS4 and Xbox One, you’d be wrong. No Man’s Sky is available on PS4 and PC, and although the specs required to run the game aren’t that high, there’s no Mac/Linux version in the works. There’s no word about an Xbox One variant, either, thanks to No Man’s Sky Developer Hello Games partnering with Sony. The game is available to buy right now after its 10 August 2016 European launch, and can be bought via a number of retailers.

Those of you looking to buy it on PS4 can opt for Amazon (£34.99), the PlayStation Store (£49.99) or GAME (£45.99), with prices accurate at the time of writing. PC users have fewer options to choose from though, as the game is currently only available to buy via Steam for £39.99.

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No Man’s Sky review: Storyline, gameplay and mechanics

So, what is No Man’s Sky about? In its simplest form, No Man’s Sky is an open world game built upon four simple pillars – exploration, survival, combat and trading. This suggests, to us at least, that No Man’s Sky could be similar to the hugely popular Minecraft as its built upon similar pillars. However unlike Minecraft, the No Man’s Sky universe is unimaginably large and while there’s no official number on how many planets there are to explore in the game, Hello Games MD Sean Murray has said that there are a whopping 18 quintillion (1.8x1019) planets, all with unique flora and fauna – wildlife and plant life to you and us.

The planets aren’t all similar, either. In our experience, planets within the same solar system would vary widely, let alone in neighbouring systems. Some planets we visited were desolate, bleak places with no fauna or flora to be discovered, with a wide range of weather/planetary conditions. Some planets were extremely cold and leaving the ship without the right upgrades would mean a quick, cold death, but that wasn’t all – some planets were extremely hot, and some were extremely radioactive (although some planets had life that could handle the dangerous environments).

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However, it was the variety of wildlife on those planets that we found to be the most exciting and fascinating feature of No Man’s Sky. Going from one planet to another was exciting as we had no idea what to expect, and the appearance of the animals varied depending on the environment – grassy planets would have bug-like animals, while dry, hot planets had reptile-esque animals.

The weirdest animal we discovered has to be one that had the body of a Llama and the neck of a long flower, with no head. However, despite having no head, a trumpet noise bellowed from the opening of the flower, and trust us when we say that being chased around a dangerous planet by that is a terrifying experience. The coolest/saddest thing about that is that there’s a large chance that no other person will visit the planet we found it on, and no one else will ever experience the amazement/terror of the Llama/plant hybrid.

However, if a person were to stumble upon the planet and find the animal, they’d be informed that we were the ones who discovered it, and it’d be called whatever we named it on our game. That’s due to the online capabilities of the game, although there isn’t any real multiplayer, which was a disappointment for many at launch. All we needed to do was scan the peculiar animal with our discovery scanner and upload it from the start menu, earning credits in return for our discovery. One of the fundamental pillars of the game, the discovery element should keep gamers occupied well after the journey to the centre of the universe is over.

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Anyway, we digress. Players find themselves marooned on a random planet on the outskirts of the No Man’s Sky universe with a broken ship, damaged suit and malfunctioning multitool, with the aim of scavenging elements to repair the damaged equipment and get off the planet. The suit protects you from environmental effects, the multitool is what you use to mine and defend yourself against hostile inhabitants, and the ship is of course, your ship.

While our spawn planet was fairly hospitable, we’ve heard of players spawning on heavily radiated/freezing cold/boiling hot planets, making scavenging a much more challenging process. Because of this off-the-rails setup, it makes it extremely difficult to implement any kind of storyline into the game beyond “travel to the centre of the universe”. However, the mysterious ATLAS being you encounter at the beginning offers a more interesting route, although this doesn’t take you to the centre of the galaxy. You’ll have to decide yourself when to break away from the (rather weak) ATLAS storyline to move closer towards the centre of the galaxy, which is something we’re not a huge a fan of. Why the ATLAS storyline couldn’t slowly lead you to the centre of the galaxy, we’ll never know.

Anyway, some elements, like Plutonium and Carbon, are fairly easy to come across and are used to fuel the most common pieces of technology in your arsenal, from your lift-off thrusters to your suit’s shield and even bullets used by the multi-tool and ship, however more exotic elements like Gold and Emril are harder to come across, making them more valuable. The annoying thing is that there’s no real way to search for a specific element that you need – you can only look at the description and must work out for yourself the best place to look. While this is part of the exploration pillar of the game, it does become frustrating when you only require a few more units of a certain element to upgrade the specs of your ship.

The valuable elements found on your travels can be used for high-end upgrades for your suit, ship and exosuit as you discover them, or can be sold on at trading posts found throughout the galaxy in exchange for credits, the currency of No Man’s Sky. The good thing is that you can buy rare elements from the trading posts, although you’ll pay more or less than the galactic average depending on how abundant it is in that solar system/on that planet. You’ve also got the option of approaching NPC ships and buying/selling items from them, as well as making an offer on their ship (although this is a pricey way to upgrade your ship).

The better way to upgrade your ship is to search for abandoned ships on the planets you visit, as each one you discover should have one additional inventory slot compared to your equipped ship. More slots mean more upgrades and more space to collect elements, which we realised can become quite frustrating – you’re made to choose between what elements you want to keep and which you want to throw away throughout the game, as the inventory space is never enough for our huge mining appetite.

The ships aren’t in working order, either – just like when players start the game, repairs to various elements of the ship are required to bring the ship back into operation. While some downed ships only require one or two repairs, we’ve come across (fairly impressive) ships that have over half of their upgrades damaged, although once repaired, they were always much stronger than the ship we had previously. It isn’t always the case though, and players should always compare the offering of the new ship to what they already have. It’s worth noting that you can carry on upgrading your ship until you have a 48-slot ship, which is currently the largest in the game.

There are a number of NPCs on every planet usually found by points of interest (trading posts, etc) and are one of three species– Gek, Korvax or Vy’keen, all with their own language and unique characteristics. The catch is that you can’t understand any of the languages at the beginning of the game, and must interact with the race/find Monoliths scattered throughout the game to be taught words on a word-by-word basis. As you find more monoliths and your standing with each race increases, you’ll understand more of what they’re saying and if you’re offered a choice of responses in conversation, you’re more likely to select the response that’ll get you a new technology blueprint, heath regeneration, etc.

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Gek, Korvax and Vy’Keen aren’t the only forms of alien life you’ll come across though – each planet is also filled with sentinels, little robots that protect the flora and fauna of the planet. There are distinct similarities between the sentinels and the police in GTA games – if the sentinels see you killing wildlife of aggressively mining the environment, they’ll attack you just like police would in GTA. Also like GTA, you get assigned a wanted rating, and while a level 1 wanted rating will merit little response, a level 5 rating is extremely dangerous with large, powerful sentinels coming to hunt you down.

While the sentinels will usually leave you to your own devices (unless you do something wrong) there are a number of planets that have aggressive sentinels that’ll attack on sight, although these planets are usually where rarer materials and objects can be found. We’ve found a number of planets with items worth between 30-50k credits at trade posts, although picking these up gives us an instant 3-star wanted level. It’s worth noticing small rules when playing No Man’s Sky, as rules like that tend to be universal throughout the No Man’s Sky universe.

So, with all those mechanics and an insanely vast universe to explore, No Man’s Sky must be one of the best games of 2016, or possibly ever, right? We’re not so sure. While every element of No Man’s Sky is individually impressive, combined, they just didn’t provide enough of an impact to keep gamers playing, us included. While the novelty of being able to land on any planet-sized planet in an entire galaxy kept us playing for hours, the lack of a storyline or narrative bored us, and it became rather monotonous rather quickly, even with the varying points of interest on each planet.

We just felt that we were travelling from one world to another, discovering a few animals, collecting elements to refuel our ship and then moving on to the next world to do the exact same thing. While the environments on the planets were challenging at times, it still didn’t provide us with enough excitement to want to pick up the controller and get back into the No Man’s Sky universe after more than 15 hours of gameplay.

While online multiplayer has never been confirmed for No Man’s Sky, we feel that large open world games like No Man’s Sky need an online element to survive. Take Elite: Dangerous for example – both feature huge virtual universes with planet sized planets, factions and more, although Elite: Dangerous lets you meet others and join a single ‘wing’, allowing you to explore and battle in space in a squad. This means that years after launch, gamers are still flocking to the Elite: Dangerous in the thousands, but the same can’t be said for No Man’s Sky only a month and and a few days after launch.

No Man’s Sky has been created to provide you with an infinite number of possibilities, but exploring them alone just isn’t fun. We’d love to laugh at our Llama/plant hybrid with friends, not take screenshots and show it to them at a later date – it just doesn’t have the same effect. You can’t have a game with a weak storyline and no online capabilities, because what will draw gamers back if not the idea of playing with friends online, or finding out what happens in an intriguing storyline?

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No Man’s Sky review: System requirements

The great thing about No Man’s Sky is that because it’s procedurally generated using complex mathematical algorithms, it doesn’t require a lot of space or an extremely powerful gaming PC to run it. In fact, the minimum required specs for PC users can be found below and match games that came out years ago (in a good way!):

  • OS: Windows 7/8.1/10 (64-bit versions) 
  • Processor: Intel Core i3 
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM 
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 480, AMD Radeon 7870 
  • Storage: 10 GB available space

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