No Man’s Sky hands-on review: WIRED’s first impressions of the vast space sim

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No Man’s Sky is perhaps one of, if not the, most hyped indie titles in the history of gaming. First teased at the 2013 VGX Awards in the US, the ambitious space exploration title – which boasts a potential 18 quintillion planets to visit – has built the kind of anticipation that studios many times larger than Guildford-based developer Hello Games would kill for.

After three years where each new E3 or Gamescom seemed to bring an even more tantalising trailer, the game is finally out – but does it live up to its promise?

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From our early impressions, it’s looking extremely positive. No Man’s Sky is absorbing like few other games ever manage, cultivating a sense of immersion and a drive to progress, despite never giving you any real incentive. Set loose in an often unforgiving universe, your only real goal is to reach the centre. It turns out, in a cosmos full of possibility and the unimaginable, that plea to basic curiosity is enough.

It’s daunting to begin with, though. Awakening on an alien world with a crashed ship and barely any resources, you’re mostly left to your own devices.

There’s no guide to speak of, only a series of directives that help you restore your exosuit, your weapons, your ship. Initially you’ll be foraging, using a basic multi-tool to mine resources, combining them into more useful materials or items.

If you cause too much damage to the environments though, you might attract the attention of the Sentinels, seemingly autonomous drones that monitor every world you visit. Generally docile and observant, when angered the machines will swarm and attack, forcing you to escape or die. This is particularly frustrating early on, when you have no real defences.

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There’s a wonderful sense of progression to making your way through No Man’s Sky’s near-infinite setting that makes surviving your faltering first steps worth it though. Each new discovery seems to unlock a fresh way to progress further, rewarding exploration for the sake of it.

A pulse can scan the local area, highlighting materials or areas of interest, and once your ship is air-worthy again, jetting around just to see what piques your interest can fill hours.

You’ll begin to discover ancient relics, hinting at intergalactic history and the decline of civilisations; these too build a sense of immersion, fostering a story in your own head while gifting you knowledge of alien languages. Once you’re ready to jet back into the void, the possibilities are endless – although you’ll need to regularly restock resources to fuel warp drives and continue your journey.

Visually, No Man’s Sky is beautiful, albeit abstractly so. Its worlds are rarely less than awe-inspiring, but their stunning vistas are built up piece-by-piece. Down on the ground, you’ll notice grass and artefacts are wickedly low-res; criss-crossed sheets of algorithmically-generated materials. Yet when you’re walking across the surface, diving into their waters, or soaring through the skies, the sum really does become greater than its parts.

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The music is a huge part of the experience too, with 65daysofstatic’s flowing, variable score almost magically matching the tone and scope of wherever you are. The soundscape is every bit as rich as the starscapes, elevating the game as a whole.

There is a risk that everything could become a bit too repetitive – there’s a lot of resource gathering, a lot of crafting, a lot of inventory management. While your vaguely defined quest to reach universal co-ordinate zero offers stunning experiences along the way, the mechanical grind could wear players down over the long term.

Then again, WIRED has so far relished the exploration side of No Man’s Sky – for other players, the potential of the game may lie in its space combat and trading pillars. Expect more on these aspects as we work towards our full review of the game.

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What’s keeping us hooked on No Man’s Sky so far though are its mysteries. Why are worlds seemingly devoid of civilisation, with lonely outposts often the only indication of sentient life? Where do the Sentinels come from – and in an impossibly vast universe, why are they the only constant on every world? What lies at the centre of existence? Most importantly, who are you, as the perpetually unseen traveller? We can’t wait to find out.

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10 August 2016 | 4:44 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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