No Man’s Sky is an almost impossibly huge game, an entire virtual universe filled with 18 quintillion planets, each one different from the next thanks to the powers of procedural generation. Instead of a typical review, for the next week I’m going to be writing daily dispatches from No Man’s Sky, giving a firsthand account of what the experience is like, and what you can expect if you choose to dive in. You can find the first two entries here and here.
The blue planet is not at all what I expected.
My first impression is positive. A crystal clear ocean stretches across much of the surface, spreading in every direction. Dry land is relegated to diminutive islands scattered about. I speed across the watery expanse in my ship and feel like a rebel pilot in The Force Awakens. (I also learn that you can’t take your ship underwater.) The ocean, though, isn’t that exciting once you become accustomed to its picturesque nature. Aside from a few small creatures — my first glimpse at aquatic alien life is a school of mini-squid with only three tentacles — the ocean is mostly empty. I’m able to scan it to identify a few new plants, but not much more.
The surface, meanwhile, is surprisingly quiet. It’s lush with bioluminescent plant life, but there are few animals. I do meet a new sentient alien species — this time they’re robotic humanoids with digital screens for faces. Unfortunately, none of the new language skills that I learned in the previous star system apply here, so I fumble through a conversation understanding literally nothing that is being said to me. I give the alien a rare isotope and cross my fingers, and it seems to be happy. But it’s hard to read the facial expressions of a being without a face.
This new planet is beautiful and varied, but I can’t help but notice a sense of sameness creeping in. The architecture has changed, but I still know roughly what to expect when I walk into a building. There will probably be a computer with a new technology I can learn, some abandoned crates with useful minerals stuffed inside, maybe a terminal that refreshes my health or teaches me a new word. If I’m lucky, there will be an alien to talk to or an intergalactic trading computer where I can buy and sell goods. This feeling extends to my time exploring the surface: no matter if it’s an icy planet, a toxic one, or anything in between, my time is still primarily spent scanning for new lifeforms, searching out ruins and buildings, and collecting whatever I need to keep my suit and ship running. Do as much as possible then move to the next planet to repeat the cycle.
To get away from this monotony, I decide to switch things up a bit. I venture into one the planet’s many, vast subterranean caverns. The plant life glows blue and green and red, and multiple paths stretch out in different directions. It feels like something completely new. It also turns out to be a huge mistake.
There isn’t much of a surface on this planet, but underground is a different story. The dark caverns are huge and seem to never end. After scanning some new plants and just generally wandering for a bit, I realize I’m lost. None of the nearby tunnels appear to lead back to the outside. After 10 minutes of panicked exploration, I come across a subterranean lake. Without much in the way of other options, I dive in.
Being lost in a dark cavern is frustrating, but it’s not especially dangerous. Being lost in a dark underground lake, however, is the exact opposite. The further out I swim, the more I realize that I might never actually find a pocket of air. I stupidly push forward despite my suit warning me constantly that my oxygen supply is running out. I keep trying to surface, looking for any bit of air I can, but I just keep banging my head on solid rock. Whenever the path splits I think: "did I just doom myself?" But miraculously I don’t die. When I surface, my air has completely run out and my health is nearly depleted. Another minute longer and I wouldn’t have made it.
Water or no, the cave system is still a problem. Every direction looks identical, and I have no way of knowing if I’m going in a direction that leads to the outside. Eventually I settle on a strategy: only go through tunnels that appear to be heading upward, in theory toward the surface. It pays off, and seeing sunlight filter through a rocky cave entrance is such a relief. All told I spend nearly three hours wandering in the cave, and I have nothing to show for it.
Things don’t get any better from there. It turns out that I travelled so far that I actually walked beneath an entire ocean, and now the only way to get back to my ship is to swim back across it. I use my jetpack to resurface regularly, and the trip takes another 30 minutes. I hop into my ship and scan the now-familiar cockpit, with its pleasingly chunky screens and buttons, and feel relieved that I can finally leave. I hit the throttle — and then realize I’m out of fuel. In perhaps the only moment of good luck I’ve had on this planet, there’s a building just a few minute’s walk away that happens to have some canisters of plutonium, just what I need to take off. I run back and forth as quickly as I can, and don’t hesitate to hit the thrusters immediately. My favorite part of No Man’s Sky is the exploration, finding the many secrets of each location, but I’ve had enough. There’s still a lot to be seen on this planet, but I don’t care, I need to get away.
From orbit I once again marvel at the planet, a beautiful shade of blue from afar, striking against the solid red of space. Then my computer tells me I’m being scanned by a ship, my first real encounter with an alien craft. It’s decided there’s something precious in my cargo. Seconds after scanning me, it opens fire.
I’m starting to think I came to the wrong star system.