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No Man’s Sky travel diary, day five: searching for a purpose

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No Man's Sky

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, 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 follow along right here.

I’m exhausted.

Over the last few days, I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things. I’ve been chased by violent gangs of giant bugs and collected a ridiculous amount of plutonium and gold. Here are some numbers:

  • I’ve met 38 sentient aliens spanning three different species
  • Between their three languages, I now understand 148 words
  • Despite my attempts at non-violence, I’ve been forced to destroy three pirate spaceships and six sentinel drones
  • I’ve warped to a new star system three times
  • I’ve visited 14 planets
  • And after fixing up this big, boxy derelict craft, I’ve now owned two different spaceships
No Man's Sky

What’s missing among those stats, though, is why I’m doing all of this. Why did I just spend upwards of eight hours scrounging for parts and resources so that I could repair a ship only slightly better than the one I started with? Why do I land on each planet so full of excitement, only to realize that it’s nearly identical to all of the ones I’ve been to before? Why do I keep learning new words only to have the same, simple conversations with very similar aliens?

I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but I’m determined to find that purpose. Then I remember my earliest moments in No Man’s Sky, when I first woke up on that green alien planet, and heard the voice of an entity named Atlas. Every so often I receive a message from Atlas urging me to jump to a new star system or investigate a signal. But I’ve been ignoring them so that I can have the freedom to explore at my own pace. Today, I decide to change that.

On yet another desolate, toxic planet, I find a nearby beacon and use it to search for the nearest alien monument. I’m determined to learn as much about the history of these races as possible, and if Atlas comes calling again, I’ll follow. For the next few hours I move from one towering ancient structure to the next — some high up in the mountains, some submerged beneath eerie green oceans, others hidden in crumbling ruins. When I finish on that planet, I refuel my craft and fly to the next. Sometimes I’m confronted with disturbing decisions, like whether or not to save a screaming creature from a frozen grave, or whether to risk being burned by molten lava in order to save a rare ancient technology. Despite my tenuous grasp of the languages, I often make the right choice to help endear me to these aliens.

No Man's Sky

Over this time I learn at least a little about the three species of aliens I’ve been chatting with. And more than just words. I understand what they value, about their histories, and how to answer their riddle-like questions. The Vy’keen are warriors, and despite my non-violent nature, I manage to earn their favor by acting the part (this usually means they share weapons and technology with me). The Gek, meanwhile, look like cute toad-like humanoids, but really their history is dark and disturbing, filled with bloody civil wars. They also express emotions by emitting smells, which is as good as any reason to stay on their good side.

As interesting as all of this is, though, I find myself experiencing the same sense of malaise. Exploring a planet’s surface in search of towering monuments isn’t all that different from looking for plants and wildlife. It’s a lot of repetition and it doesn’t take long before it feels like a grind. I want to want to keep going, but it’s hard to maintain my enthusiasm. Maybe it’s just bad luck; across four star systems and more than a dozen planets, I’ve explored largely barren worlds. There have been few exciting creatures to catalog, and I spend more of my time dealing with the harsh elements than taking in the beautiful views around me.

I decide to take a break for a while, but before that I set down on a nearby planet to find a spot to save my progress. The dim, yellow world of Arechekal-Nogaw Ohashi doesn’t look particularly impressive. Scraggly, pointed plants stick out of a hard, dirt ground. The air is hazy and I see no grass, trees, or flowers. But I check my computer’s stats, and it tells me that unlike every world I’ve visited before, this one is "rich" with animal life. I hop out of my craft, feeling the same sense of curiosity as when I began playing the game.

No Man's Sky

I look to my right and among giant stalks of blue mushroom-like growths I see a giant, flying jellyfish. In the same field there’s a family of creatures that look like two-legged giraffes, calmly grazing. I feed some iron to a friendly creature out of Greek mythology, with the face of a bear, lizard-like limbs, and a shell on its back. I see all of these fascinating creatures, and I’ve barely walked a few minutes; I can still see my ship from where I stand. In the distance, I hear strange howls and see the shadows of flying beasts.

My sense of purpose has returned.

No Man's Sky