I've been watching No Man's Sky with some interest for some time. Most probably recall the initial overhype and resulting disappointment that the game had back when it launched on PS4. I'm an Xbox guy, but it was still a game that was intriguing enough for me to keep tabs on. It seemed pretty clear even at the time that Sony forced the game to shelves before it was truly done, but that didn't seem to matter to the gaming community who went absolutely apeshit about it. The negative reaction was out of control, and the Hello Games team could easily have just thrown their hands up, left it to die, and counted their money.
Thankfully, they didn't. Over time, they kept listening to feedback and implementing the features they said they would. Slowly, there was a smattering of some quiet praise for it, and eventually the general feeling from the playerbase was that it actually had become rather good. I think they lost some people at launch who they won't ever get back because gamers can be extremely petty and unforgiving, but still, it was nice to see Hello Games putting in the work to try and make it right. Eventually the game made its way past the timed exclusivity and on to Xbox, so I'd been staring at it for a while and almost pulled the trigger on it several times. I finally did, and I'm really glad I gave it a shot.
Special shout out to the Mass Alex video series for helping push me over the edge. I missed out on the Mass Effect games, and like Alex, I found the galaxy scanning and planet resource mining in ME2 soothing in a weird way. No Man's Sky looked like a more focused version of that, and it mostly is and scratches that itch as I'd hoped. I'm not quite ready to claim it's meditative or anything, but it's definitely joined Forza Horizon 4 as something I can fire up to wind down and de-stress. Even the encounters with "enemies" occur at about the frequency I like to where you have to stay on your toes a bit without feeling like you have to constantly worry about dying.
I adore the music and the general atmosphere of the game. Most of the presentation is very slick. Seeing a new planet and its weird creatures is continually exciting, as is discovering what resources are there. I am apparently an old-timey prospector based on my avarice for precious metals. The sentinels make a nice foil to me gleefully wiping planets out and serve as almost a morality check that makes the player feel a bit guilty in neat ways that add to the immersion. There have also already been countless moments of "ooh, that's a cool ship", finding better multi-tools, getting meaningful upgrade blueprints, etc. that really deliver on the promise of the game's universe and your desire to lose yourself in it.
To the game's credit, I've done exactly that. It's easy to have a night melt away in a hurry when you want to see what's on that next planet or what's down in that cave. There is a ton of fun in that for me. The encounters with other alien races are typically interesting enough. I do wish that the conversations with them weren't done in "text style" of RPGs of old, e.g. "the alien is offended and looks as if he's going to attack" while the actual alien is just staring blankly at you. I suppose it would have been a massive undertaking to animate all the various aliens, but it feels a little hollow and less interactive than I'd like. Still, the narrative has kept me fairly engaged in an "adventure game" sort of way, so it's mostly doing well there.
I will say that I have a love/hate relationship already with the crafting. I enjoy crafting new things. I hate crafting maintenance things. Also, when crafting gets layered too much, it gets tiresome. Oh, I want to build x. That requires two of y and three of z. To create y, I need four of v and five of w. I can make v by putting u in my refiner and w is located in some whole other galaxy. This is where the gameplay loop gets tedious and feels like a chore, and it's easy to forget about something entirely or to just say "fuck it" and move on. There's a fine line between a quest that's challenging/satisfactory to complete and one that's just a slog, and if I'm being honest, the game doesn't always succeed there.
There are several quality-of-life features that I wish were in the game. I truly despise that the Launch Thrusters essentially deter you from flying around a planet in your ship and landing in several different spots. I either need to just stockpile a ton of uranium or just waste a bunch of time crafting Starship Launch Fuel, which ain't great. I'm totally fine with the concept of fuel in this game, but limiting ship launches unless you're in certain areas feels like an entirely unnecessary barrier that discourages exploration, which is basically the whole point of the game. Also, I would love more customization on the controls. I'm playing on console, and their default flying controls are not mapped to the sticks the way I'd like them to be, which makes space combat worse than it needs to be. On foot, the controls are mostly okay (though again non-customizable), but the combat still doesn't feel great. If this game's controls were Destiny-caliber on foot and Battlefront II-caliber in space, holy shit would that be something.
The mission structure can also be a little confusing at times. If you don't have a mission specifically highlighted as the thing you want to be doing at that moment, the game doesn't much help you out. I had to go get a scientist from another system and create warp fuel for my hyperdrive to do so, and had two separate secondary missions with the same "go recruit a scientist" objective. I had one of these secondary objectives selected, and it didn't tell me how to craft warp fuel. Only highlighting the main mission actually instructed you on that, and there have been several instances like that where things weren't as clear as they should be. It's not an overly intuitive game, with a steep learning curve to it that pretty much requires you to leave tutorials on, at least early in your playthrough.
The story and side missions are far more alluring than I expected. An ancillary benefit of the game being often nebulous (space pun!) is that it keeps the "mystery" to the universe. I like that some of the aliens you meet will help you, while others have nefarious aims. I really like how the game has you flying blind into a bunch of things. You'll often unlock coordinates that give you a spot to check out without really knowing what you'll find, and that's fucking rad. This is where the game really shines for me and why it can be hard to put down. It can be 2 a.m. when I have to work tomorrow, but damn it, I want to know what's over there at that waypoint. It's some Breaking Bad cliffhanger shit in the best way.
Overall, I'm having a great time with No Man's Sky so far. It gets a little grind-y at times, but that's kind of the name of the game. Thankfully, it has stayed more on the side of rewarding than frustrating. The general sense of wonder and intrigue has vastly outweighed the qualms I have here and there with some of the game's systems and design choices in terms of structure, and it's a looker in 4K HDR. I'm curious to see what things the upcoming Beyond update will change, but jumping in now has proven to be plenty enjoyable already. It's not perfect, and a few tweaks could make it amazing, but I think it's very much worth playing in its current state, whether you're playing it for the first time or revisiting it.