The Burden of Expectation: The Revolutionary Ambition of No Man's Sky

            With today’s long awaited release of No Man’s Sky, one of the most anticipated games of the year, I am here to temper expectations from both the naysayers and the probably overzealous fans. I am not here to tell people how they should feel about the game, but instead try and argue that the game will be exactly what it has always said it will be.

            Sean Murray has been intentionally vague about what the game entails, so my previous statement may seem nonsensical. But that is exactly my point. Sean Murray wants a game that does not guide you, tell you what is good and bad, how to play, where to go, what to upgrade, or even ask you to finish the game. However, this does not mean he has been vague about the type of game it is. There have not been misleading cinematic trailers. There is essentially no campaign (in the traditional sense), so there have not been snippets of campaign footage that are not reflective of the game. The gameplay videos and the streams show exactly what the game is and how it plays. I cannot think of another game that you could never even attempt to beat, and still have fun and spend countless hours in. Strangely, this seems to turn many people off. For a community that complains about the yearly COD and Assassin’s Creed titles, we are surprisingly intolerant of a truly revolutionary and ambitious game. Of course No Man’s Sky takes influence from many games, the wanted level feature has been acknowledged by Murray as a direct copy of the wanted level from Grand Theft Auto. But this does not mean it will be an entirely different style of game. 

           There are games that may appear similar to NMS, such as Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous, Minecraft, and I would even argue Far Cry has significant influence on the style of the game. But having clear influences does not mean the game is not incredibly innovative. Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen may appear similar because they are spaceflight games, but they are each quite different. Elite Dangerous is a realistic space sim, devoid of sci-fi influences and far more focused upon simulating what exploring space would be like as we currently understand it. Elite Dangerous is also procedurally generated, but is far more polished and is smaller, which makes sense for the theme of the game. I believe titles like Minecraft, Starbound, and Far Cry are actually more similar to No Man’s Sky, yet are vastly different in their own way. One of the biggest differences between NMS and other games is in its scale.

           Open-world does not even begin to describe No Man’s Sky; it is a game whose scale is unheard of. Much like the real universe, the scale of the game is impossible for us to comprehend. Our brains are simply not equipped to imagine 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets, especially when they are to scale. The sun would burn out before you could explore each planet. Many planets will go completely untouched by anybody. To me this is one of the most enticing aspects of NMS. Instead of a handcrafted experience that is more refined but is the same for everyone, NMS is a truly a different experience for each player. Rather than make the player feel like a unique hero/explorer/villain, NMS allows you to forge your own story and genuinely become one. 

            If this does not appeal to you, fair enough. However, I believe the surely incoming criticism that the game will not be as good as expected is too specific to the person. As previously stated, I believe the game will be exactly what has been promised. A unique, beyond-open world experience with little guidance and light on story, but with the freedom to do whatever you wish. Herein lies the tradeoff that seems to split NMS fans from skeptics.

            To achieve the level of freedom and the size of the game, NMS has had to sacrifice highest quality graphics (most noticeable in pop-ins) and a guided experience. To some, this is their ideal game; free of linear progression and required missions that are present in even the most open of open-world games, the player is completely in control to pursue their dreams within a universe sized game. For others, this is a perfect formula for a boring and repetitive gameplay. The greatest fear is Spore 2.0; a promising game but an example of procedural generation gone wrong, where everything is different yet simultaneously also repetitive and boring. Even if the procedural generation is not the issue, many gamers do want a linear story that is perfectly crafted yet without surprises or freedom. This is perfectly fine, different people have different tastes and opinions. 

            For a game that promises infinite exploration and complete freedom, I believe No Man’s Sky will have unusually few surprises in terms of what to expect from gameplay. I am sure there will be plenty of surprises and unexpected events that the developers have hidden and that are inevitable in an open world game. I believe No Man’s Sky will be the experience I have anticipated: an open-universe game with complete freedom and almost no (forced) direction. I completely understand that this style of game is not for everyone, but I find the idea that it will not meet expectations to be silly. Sean Murray has deliberately hidden aspects of the game in order to suppress spoilers, but he has been very open about the gameplay and what to expect from the game. No Man’s Sky will be the revolutionary game it promises to be. Whether what it offers is repetitive and limiting or captivating and freeing depends purely on your perspective.

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