First Impressions: No Man's Sky

By Jacob Toman

Have you ever put your hopes and trust in someone, only to be let down? Many of us experience a range of emotions when our expectations don’t match up with reality. Sadness, irritation, annoyance, anger, and gloom can fill a person’s heart after a disappointment.

No Man’s Sky recently released as one of the most anticipated games of 2016. The game was developed by Hello Games and is largely the brainchild of developer Sean Murray.

Within mere hours of release the gaming community began to use their various outlets - facebook, twitch.tv, twitter, instagram, youtube, and forums - to...well...rage.

The popular hashtag “#nomanslie” quickly spread as the collective voice of gamers on personal computers and PlayStations began listing their complaints. Anger was directed towards the game’s development studio, Hello Games, and the face of said studio, Sean Murray. Cataloging slogans, marketing trailers, posters, and interviews with the game’s development team, the internet became a steaming pile of mass disappointment.

My own first impressions of No Man’s Sky were mixed, and as such, I’ve written this first impression as though two conflicting voices were battling for supremacy. We’re going to call one voice “Excited” and another “Confused”.

Excited:

Wow this game looks really unique and appealing! You can jump, have a jet pack, and are first introduced to the universe as a survivor of a crashing landing. I’d better start collecting materials to repair my spacecraft!

Confused:

What button do I push? Where do I go? No tutorial? No “Help” screen? No load screen? No menu? How do I get in my ship? Triangle? Square? Circle? What are these camera’s floating around my character? HEY WHY ARE THEY SHOOTING AT ME? HOW DO I SHOOT?

Excited:

This is so cool! There are floating cameras that have triggered alert systems! Who is the mysterious enemy that must have programmed them? What did my character do to earn their enmity? This universe seems really mysterious!

Confused:

What sort of material do I need to repair my ship? Oh cool, I can just check on my items screen....*checks item screen* Alright I know my next objective!...wait...what was the material again? I wish there was a display telling me what my objectives are without having to open an in-game menu!

Excited:

A detailed ship menu and customization screen! Awesome! Oh, a detailed menu for my drilling tool? It's got upgradeable slots? This game is fantastic! I can upgrade and customize almost everything about my ship, my spacesuit, and my space drilling tool. From the space drive to my life support, my character's customization seems very in-depth!

Confused:

If so much of this game is customizable and has depth, why can't I do very basic things? Like customize my ship's name? Choose a name for my drilling tool? Rename parts of my ship? It's almost as though you can name everything in this game except the stuff that travels with you throughout the galaxy!

Excited:

Alright my ship is repaired, let's leave orbit and see what this universe has to offer! Whoa is that a massive capital ship & a fleet of escorting cruisers? What's coming out of hyperspace in the distance? Another fleet?! This universe is epic! It’s filled with intergalactic strife, opportunities, and challenges!

Confused:

I can't communicate with any of these other ships....I can't land in their docking bay, I can't hail them, and I'm certainly not big enough to fight these fleets. I almost feel like the artificial intelligence of these space ships is similar to the artificial intelligence of the animals on the planets. The game looks at first glance to have endless options for exploration and interaction, but really the only difference between these massive space fleets and the flora and fauna of the planets is you can name the flora and fauna.

No Man's Sky is a pivotal release for the gaming community. The importance of this game lies in both in the game's development and promotional cycle, and in the game's actual content. As a product, No Man's Sky succeeded in creating interest, securing pre-release orders, and having a number of sales worthy of a top 5 game of the year candidate. When some have been critical of No Man's Sky as a failure, the critics miss out on the goal of any product-based business - making sales. The disappointment of No Man's Sky comes in its failure to deliver on promises made in promotional materials (videos, interviews, and developer quotes). Without a 3 year hype cycle of excitement and anticipation, this game might be hailed as a monumental success and even genre defining.

Since the announcement of No Man's Sky several other development teams have announced and begun work on games that have similar theme (sci-fi), similar genre (space survival), and similar scale (using procedural generation). Where No Man’s Sky failed to deliver on its promises of limitless exploration and adventures, others are hoping succeed. In this regard, No Man's Sky failed it's community of players, but succeeded in opening up a previously untapped genre using current generation technology.

As I played my last session of No Man's Sky I realized I wasn't angry with the developer for failed promises. I wasn't outraged as I flew about the galaxy, named various creatures with my kids, and took turns sharing the controller blasting asteroids. I wasn't angry, but I was disappointed.

The game was enjoyable to play on its own. But my expectations for No Man's Sky were more than a game of a few sessions. As staffers at Gospel & Gaming we previewed and followed No Man's Sky since we watched E3 in 2015. We were excited for a game with the potential for long lasting relationships to be built through the game's multiplayer system. In the end, despite trying to temper my own excitement, I still ended up disappointed.

Perhaps gamers can take a lesson away from No Man's Sky about more than just pre-ordering games and marketing strategies. Perhaps gamers can see that the anger, bitterness, and frustration of No Man’s Sky finds its genesis in the expectations built around the game. The greater the gap we experience between our own expectations and reality, the greater our frustrations. Most of life is about managing expectations, and No Man's Sky is a parable of this truth.