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.
Tall, thick, neon-green blades of grass bend and sway in the wind. Nestled among the field is a tiny spacecraft, smoke exuding from the roof, and bits of debris and wreckage. There’s a long flag bearing a symbol I don’t recognize. I look up and see a pleasant green-blue sky; my suit’s computer tells me it’s a chilly -10 degrees Celsius, but the cold weather doesn’t seem to affect me much. A robotic voice tells me that my jetpack is still operational.
As far as crash landing on a strange alien planet goes, I could do far worse.
The planet is called Toigasaika Naurn, and it’s just a starting point. Everyone who plays No Man’s Sky begins the game on a different planet, and from there, where you go and what you do is up to you. After taking a quick glance at the wreckage of my craft, I set out to explore, see how much I can learn from this starting point. The game provides little in the way of information; in the bottom-right corner of the screen I’m provided with simple goals like "gather iron from small rocks." I have a tool that looks like a gun, but which can shoot out a laser beam capable of destroying rocks and gathering their precious resources.
Toigasaika Naurn feels safe, almost inviting, and I wonder if all starting planets are this way. The first sign of life I spot is a large drone, which appears to be flying around scanning plants, rocks, and other parts of the environment. I follow it for a bit but it doesn’t seem to be a danger, or really care about my presence at all.
The goal, at least at this early point in the game, is to repair my ship. It’s a simple way to introduce players to No Man’s Sky’s crafting system; in order to survive in this vast universe, you’ll need to both gather resources and also use them to build new items and technologies. I need to fix my ship’s thrusters and also get some fuel to get it up and running. But before that, something catches my eye: a tall, rocky outcropping that looks almost like an arm reaching out. Beside it is another rock, this one just floating a few feet to the left of the outcropping. It looks like a Roger Dean painting. I can’t not check it out. When I get to the top of the rock, I see the first real sign of civilization, in what looks to be a simple, temporary settlement complete with a massive radio tower.
As I approach, I spot my first actual alien being. It looks like some sort of gigantic rodent, complete with a wispy rat-like tail, but that’s about all I can learn, as it darts away as I approach it. The building, meanwhile, is much more useful. Though abandoned, I find a mysterious, still-functioning computer inside. I choose a selection of numbers at random and apparently discover a new star system. I’m not really sure what I did but it has supposedly endeared me to an as-of-yet undiscovered alien race. Also inside are blueprints for a technology that lets me scan my surroundings, making it possible to locate resources and secret, undiscovered areas. I put it to use right away: about five minutes from the settlement I find a mysterious block, called a "knowledge stone." When I scan it, I learn a new alien word. I do this a few more times and start to really get a vocabulary going.
It’s really easy to get distracted in No Man’s Sky. While my goal is to get my ship running, so that I can start my long journey to the center of the universe, it’s actually a pretty monotonous thing. Searching for and collecting bits of rock and minerals is about as fun as it sounds, especially as you have to traverse the world primarily on foot (at this point my jetpack has pretty limited range). So instead, I’m continuously tempted by the question marks on the horizon; some are new locations that I can be the first to discover, others are more knowledge stones further enlightening me. Sometimes the game presents me with a choose-your-own-adventure type of moment. At one point I’m asked whether I want to steal some useful technology from a dark alien monument. When I refuse, I’m told the aliens respect me a bit more. Hopefully that comes in handy in the future.
The biggest problem I face early on sounds tedious for a space explorer: I just don’t have enough room in my pockets. Toigasaika Naurn is teeming with natural resources, some I need now, some I assume I’ll need later on. And while I use up a few of them to fix my ship and keep my suit powered, it doesn’t take long before I run out of space. Inventory is very limited; space rocks aren’t. Luckily I’m not a hoarder.
My initial plan was to scour every last inch of this planet, and doing so is raising a lot of questions. Just who is this alien race, the Vykeen? Why did they create stones with the express purpose of teaching people a single word? What’s up with all of the drones? And — most important for me — just who exactly is piloting those ships I keep seeing fly overhead? The more I explore, the less becomes clear. Eventually I give up and head back to my ship. The lure of the stars and planets in the night sky is too strong. The repairs have been completed so I’m leaving Toigasaika Naurn behind — hopping into the ship for the first time, zipping straight toward a giant planet in the sky, feels like a momentous moment. The soundtrack swells for the first time, replacing the ambient alien sounds with inspiring music.
It’s then that I realize just how big No Man’s Sky really is. I look down and see the planet I was just on slowly shrink and disappear. I zoom past relics of what appears to be an old alien space station. There are a half-dozen new planets that I can see from the cockpit of my X-Wing-like ship, and each one has its own unique atmosphere, wildlife, and history. No matter which one I choose I’ll be the first person to touch down on the planet’s surface, the first to discover its locations and wildlife. Toigasaika Naurn was a nice, cozy starting place, but who knows where I’ll end up next? I hit my scanning device and pick up a distress signal on a planet about 30 minutes away.
I hit the throttle and get there as fast as I can.
No man's Sky is available today on PS4, and PC on August 12th.