‘No Man’s Sky’ Is the Stress Reliever I Didn’t Know I Needed

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I’m sure you’ve both been following development to some degree, but just in case you missed some things: No Man’s Skyis an exploration and survival game that tasks the player with exploring a procedurally-generated universe of countless planets in order to piece together a galactic mystery.

I’m grateful that I don’t need to do a comprehensive breakdown here, partially because I haven’t had a lot of time with the game’s final build yet, and partially because to try to explain every mechanic No Man’s Sky offers might be to miss the overall effect it produces. An encyclopedic explanation of NMS really risks missing the forest for the trees—and as you’ll see in a bit, you don’t want to miss these forests.

There’s another reason that I’m glad we get to be conversational about this: Because my No Man’s Sky story has two distinct starts. And that complicates things a little.

Some stuff is the same between those starts. As the game begins, you come to on a strange planet at the far edge of the galaxy, standing next to a grounded ship, all sparks and smoke. NMS uses this scenario as a sort of “soft” tutorial to its survival and crafting systems: You need to use your multi-tool—part mining-laser, part self-defense blaster—to gather some basic materials, improve your equipment, and get your ship back into space-worthy shape

The thing is, the first time I started NMS was last Thursday, after scrounging an early copy from a local retailer. Part of the reason I did the legwork to make that happen was because I was curious to see exactly how much the game would differ between it’s on-disc version and the version that most players would get come launch day. But I’m glad I took that effort, because the result has made me hopeful about NMS, not only in its current form but also for the future of the game in general.

See, my first experience was pretty mixed. The planet I started on felt disappointingly sparse. A couple of neat creatures, some glowing mushrooms, a few caves. I plodded along collecting my iron and carbon and zinc, repairing my multi-tool and my ship’s launch thrusters, and eventually left that planet to visit another in the system, but found it hard to get too excited. It didn’t help that I was already struggling to manage my inventory space. And even though each new planet had a new climate, they each felt lonely in the same way.

The basic promise of the No Man’s Sky still spoke to me—each new horizon was followed by another, each planet offering a vista onto another unseen world—but the moment-to-moment experience failed to really capture anything special.

And then, a few hyperjumps later, it all came together. I reached Avkazatelnye Saito, a snowy moon about six or seven star systems past my starting location. As I descended down to the planet, the first thing I noticed were the huge chunks of earth floating above the ground, as if scooped out of gravity itself by a celestial spoon. Each chunk was covered with pine trees, and the sky took on an orange-blue hue as the sun set—a glowing winter paradise.

It wasn’t long until a beacon led me to a crashed ship—an awkward looking space truck that I decided, right then and there, would be my awkward looking space truck. After all, it had a bigger inventory than my starter ship, and a few upgrades I hadn’t been able install yet. The only problem was, yet again: It was all sparks and smoke.

This time, though, repairing my new ship was exactly the relaxing, quiet experience I needed. It was a joy to dip, dive, and bound across the natural hills, valleys, and floating cliffs of the planet I’d re-christened Zhivago—I’m a self parody, sometimes, I know. I found strange alien monuments here, and a few more sentient lifeforms than I’d anticipated. A synth track (one of the procedural, ambient tunes designed by 65daysofstatic) repeated itself regularly letting me drift into a rhythm I needed more than I knew.

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