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My First Three Hours of ‘No Man’s Sky’ Have Been Dark, and Full of Terrors

Mike Diver

Mike Diver

Some will find their <em>NMS</em> experience relaxing, but I've been blown apart by enemies, clawed by alien beasts, and stranded on deadly planets.

This is part two of VICE Gaming's documenting of the early hours of No Man's Sky, with different experiences unfolding in different parts of the world. Austin Walker's first entry is here, and it's recommended that you read that before continuing with this piece. In the coming days, we'll have contributions from Patrick Klepek, and new entries from both Mike and Austin. We hope to paint a picture for you of what the game feels like—its strengths and flaws and frustrations. And hopefully by the end of the week, we can all come to some kind of agreement (or not) about what kind of game it is. Remember, everyone's experience in this game will differ, so while there are particular moments mentioned below, you might not ever see the same thing.

Dear Austin, and Patrick,

Austin, about your headline: "No Man's Sky Is the Stress Reliever I Didn't Know I Needed." All I can really say to that is I'm glad to have had Abzû as my shut-off-the-outside-world escape these past few weeks, as if I'd come into my No Man's Sky experience anticipating a relaxing time, I'd be a shivering wreck in the corner right now.

But then, that's what's wonderful about No Man's Sky, isn't it? Already, hundreds of thousands of players across the globe are beginning their journeys to the game's center, following the word of (the?) Atlas, a mysterious presence/gloopy blob that has laid down a breadcrumb trail from your starting point to whatever the end game is, and every one of these trips, spanning who knows how many hours, evenings and weekends, is going to be entirely unique and very personal to that pilot, that explorer, that trader, that survivor. And the last word's key, because what's already struck me about No Man's Sky is that its close-to-infinite universe is not a safe space.

I've been shot out of the stars four times now, I think, in around three hours of play. I'll be on my way between markers—from a crash site on one planet, where I scavenged from a fallen, sparking vessel, to an alien monolith projecting from an orbiting moon, from which I can learn more about the culture and language of one of the game's alien races (I believe there are four in total, and I've made contact with two of them)—and suddenly, the worst words the game can throw at you fill the cockpit: "Warning: Hostile Ships Approaching."

I'm yet to exchange my starting spacecraft for anything bigger, stronger, faster, and deadlier. I've window-shopped a little and seen what's out there, but right now my in-game coffers aren't at the level needed to trade up. So whenever these small, agile crafts have jumped into my vicinity—and there are usually four of them, each gunning for my cargo of, well, not very much beyond raw materials—I've not been able to exterminate them all before a fatal hit's been taken. On death, the game adopts a take on asset retrieval that should be familiar to Dark Souls fans: You must find your "grave" amid the asteroids, otherwise all of the minerals and metals you've accumulated to craft new gear from will be forever lost.

I've not had an easy ride, then, and that was the case from the very beginning. My starter world was fairly barren bar some pretty indifferent life forms pottering about, waiting for me to scan them for a units-rewarding discovery. The temperature was below freezing, and the air toxic. I couldn't wait to leave, but bouncing around its purple hills, strapped into a jetpack, searching for the remaining zinc to repair whatever part it was of my ship that was still shot, took what felt like forever. Along the way I found a crater and renamed it Gary's Crack, because why not—Gary's a name that's practically extinct, so it needs all the help it can get. I feed a space dinosaur, and it's happy with me, with a comedy smiley appearing above its head. But it's another half hour or so before I find another humanoid being.

And I'm glad I did, because otherwise—much like Jake Tucker's piece here outlines—this could be a pretty lonely game.

The animals that don't hurt you don't care about you, and those that do take an interest mostly want to kill you. (One such nasty gets renamed and uploaded as "Crabby Douche," on account of it pestering me constantly with its oversize claws, while another, which is now forever known as "Toothy Angry Rat Thing," simply won't quit, so I have to put it down permanently.)

But even when you do finally meet the more sapient sort of space beings, things can be rocky. If you haven't got what these LED-faced aliens want—rare materials, in a few instances—then they'll dismiss you completely, and your understanding of their civilization will take a knock. Through my time with it so far, No Man's Sky is, to some extent, an unforgiving game of patience-testing fetch questing and interactions that are as likely to go nowhere as they might set you off on a fresh find-this-so-you-can-craft-that mission.

Beneath the flying and the strolling, the mining and the shooting that comprises the ostensible mechanical side of proceedings, there's an inventory system that looks a little like what you've seen in Destiny: all simple boxes and easily identifiable icons. But such are the small number of inventory slots to begin with, that No Man's Sky becomes PlayStation 4: The Video Game, as you're constantly deleting assets to make room for new ones, or shifting them between ship and exosuit, just as you shuffle games on your first-model 500GB console to free up room for another Rocket League update. Earlier, when I mentioned the "Hostile Ships Approaching" thing? Scratch those for the worst words you'll hear in the game and replace them with: "No free slots in suit inventory."

The thing is that despite the constant juggling of what I'm carrying aside, and even with the not-a-fucking-gain ganking from AI adversaries, I'm having a good time with No Man's Sky. Although, if you asked me right now if I think it's an absolutely essential game for our age, as so many people out there have hopes of it being, I'd have to get back to you in a few days. Or weeks. Maybe months.

There's a lot I really like about it, foremost the fact that it really is a pick-your-own-adventure affair, with galaxy and planet scans opening up new areas to investigate, and poking around in those spots then sending you off elsewhere. When these spin away from component collecting, which is fairly tedious, and into more lore-centric avenues, the whole game lifts, and I'm immediately more connected to it. I find the threads of story here fascinating, all of the little clues about the origins of the strange structures left in dusty desert wastes and verdant worlds alike—I just wish that the aliens I've met so far were more patient with my piss-poor Korvaxian. Korvaxese? What's the adjective form of "Korvax" again?

I'm always building up little stories in my head—and the time it takes to travel between some of the more distant planets in any given system affords you plenty of time to speculate about what you'll find when you reach that distress beacon, or crash site, or abandoned facility. I've seen Alien, guys; I'm not rushing in without a couple of flybys at least, first.

I found one place where a strange fungus, almost fleshy, had taken over an outpost, while a lone sentinel circled the area, like it was patiently waiting for a dead master to return. I accessed a terminal inside the derelict building, and the text that came up was wonderfully ominous: "It looked like a wound on the world. Crimson and ragged-edged, like something that once lived but was then torn asunder. I should have stayed away." Brrr.

I won't be staying away from more No Man's Sky, I know that much. I've definitely got the itch, now, but part of me wishes that my early hours hadn't been so, well, grim. Getting my ass bitten at by gnashing beasts, and my ship exploded into pieces by hostile fighters: This isn't quite the game I was anticipating.

To answer your question, Austin: No, I've not quite found my own forest, yet. I've landed on water worlds dead of life and supposedly desert ones where lumbering titans have trumpeted at my arrival. But even metaphorically, I've not been there, so far. My universe has largely been dark, and confused, and full of terrors. But I can't wait to see where the next hyperdrive-powered jump takes me.

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The code played for this coverage was provided by Sony. Part three of this exchange will be linked here once it's live.