No Man’s Sky has been out for just about two weeks now, and in that time it has amassed quite a bit of negative press. Gaming sites such as IGN and Polygon, singing its praises hardly 3-4 weeks ago, have come down on the title as being solidly “Meh.” What was supposed to be a title designed to change the gaming world has arrived and is apparently not the game people were expecting.
I’ve shared my thoughts on the game already, but given the continuing discussion around No Man’s Sky, what was promised vs. what was delivered, etc, I figured it would be a good opportunity to look at the debate surrounding multiplayer and what I think is at the crux of the matter.
There is quite a bit of talk regarding multiplayer in No Man’s Sky, as well as debate in terms of what Sean Murray promised players. There are a number of interviews that Sean Murray did in the weeks and months leading up to release in which he does state that encountering other players is a possibility, though given the sheer size of the universe, it would be extremely unlikely.
With over 18 quintillion planets, even if there were millions of active players, if you happened to warp to the right system and came across someone else’s ship at the right time, I would advise you to go out and buy a lottery ticket immediately afterwards.
The problem is, it’s not about the multiplayer feature. Gamers across the country and around the world made their way into No Man’s Sky and found themselves utterly and completely alone. Perhaps they started on their journey to discover the mysteries of Atlas, maybe they thought they wanted to explore the universe…but the product of today’s gaming industry has very little patience for a world like the one Sean Murray and Hello Games has created.
There’s a path to the center of the galaxy that you can follow, but even if you focus strictly on accomplishing that goal, it will take you over 150 hours according to Mr. Murray. So what is a gamer to do? Is there a central antagonist to fight? No. Is there a social hub to hang out and share stories of adventure and survival? No. Are there helpless NPC’s that need you to escort their undoubtedly slow ship across a perilous asteroid belt as endless hostiles bombard you from all directions? Thankfully, no.
So, what do you do? You land on a nearby planet and get out. Maybe you walk to the edge of a nearby cliff and inspect a herd of previously undiscovered creatures from a distance. Maybe you’re running low on supplies, so you go spelunking in a nearby cave and farm as much plutonium as you can carry before getting back to your ship. Maybe you’ve detected a nearby alien artifact and wish to understand more of their culture and language, so you seek it out. Then, when your curiosity has been sated, you step back into your ship and take off into space yet again. All alone in the universe, you hop from planet to planet…moon to moon…discovering new things and making your infinitesimal mark upon the galaxy.
This is where things go off the rails for so many people. The gamers expressing disappointment and frustration with No Man’s Sky don’t seem to know how to enjoy it as an experience. You’re not constantly in a frenzied first-person-shooter action sequence to help secure the safety of the galaxy. No – No Man’s Sky is not about you being the center of the universe; the savior or hero sent to save the day. You’re just another traveler – an adventurer in a large and unforgiving universe. As the game often points out, many people have come before you and many will come after – all that matters now are the experiences and memories you create for yourself.
That’s not the kind of game most people are used to. Many in the gaming industry have spent the last 20+ years making games more intertwined with socializing. 2-player games have been around about as long as there have been video games, and while we’ve moved on from local co-op games to more online integration (a decision that is still a sore spot for many), the idea of having others involved in your gaming experience has become all but standardized at this point. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube have only heightened this dependence further, as a game with high “entertainment” value is helpful in attracting a large audience. Considering all this, for No Man’s Sky to land amidst all of these titles and platforms to stand alone as a thoroughly solitary experience would undoubtedly cause some waves.
It’s precisely because of this gaming co-dependence that I believe the game has been received so poorly in the weeks following its release. Without other players to lean on, left solely to carve out an exploratory journey, gamers feel disconnected and the journey loses its meaning. My challenge to those who have abandoned No Man’s Sky would be to find meaning in the game with nobody else around.
Is No Man’s Sky a perfect game? No. I’ve encountered a fair share of crashes on my PS4 and I know others have experienced worse on their PCs. There are many elements of the game that could be improved and tweaked to make it an even better game (inventory, ship upgrades, interstellar travel, etc).
While there are improvements that could be made to the game, the experience remains one unlike any I’ve had before in my 25+ years of gaming. It’s an experience that’s all mine – and I like it that way.