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How I Spent Two Hours in No Man's Sky -- IGN First
Under the sea and above the stars in the longest hands-on with the epic universe explorer yet.
By Vince Ingenito
13 Apr 2016
Suzy Wallace is acting pretty casually, considering that sheís about to show me the way to the center of the universe. Sheís the Senior Producer on No Manís Sky, and after the past yearís-worth of vague allusions to what might lie at the heart of its galactic tangle, her offer sounds too good to be true; as if men with dark suits and darker glasses will bust in any moment to keep her from spilling the beans. The truth is out there, and all of that.
But the truth will have to wait a while longer it seems. At her prompting, I press a button to bring up the galactic map - a nigh-incomprehensible menagerie of brightly colored solar systems. It is completely overwhelming. Another button press makes things considerably clearer, though. A yellow line connects the cosmic dots, outlining a path from solar system to solar system. I follow it with my eyes for a few seconds, until it lazily spirals out into the darkness of space.
ďThink of it like a galactic GPS,Ē Suzy tells me. She points to a yellow star. ďThis is where you are, and that,Ē she says as she gestures towards where the line fades, ďis where youíre headed.Ē I drag my cursor to the next dot over from the one Iím currently in, and a ďhyperdrive requiredĒ message appears. I ask her if I can get to that next system in this demo build, but she seems unsure. I secretly made it my goal to find out.
Here's what I did, and what I learned over the course of the next two hours with No Manís Sky.
The Search For Silicates
The big question on many peopleís minds, the one left unanswered by virtually every trailer and even the recent round of first hands-on impressions, is this: Exactly what kind of video game lies behind No Manís Skyís seemingly impenetrable veneer of procedural sci-fi exploration porn? Iíve read most of these previews, and while they shed some light, they stop short of filing the experience of playing No Manís Sky down to a point. Perhaps itís foolish to even try, given how many different things it does, and the grand scale on which itís trying to do them, but hereís my attempt:
No Manís Sky is a survival game.
Yes, you can shoot stuff. You can prospect and raid for fun and profit, or make your money exploring and surveying the vast expanses of space. But survival elements like resource gathering, resource management, and crafting are the constants that bind everything together.
If you want to shoot things, youíll need ammo, and it doesnít come in little boxes or clips that drop off enemies. You need to harvest an element that can pass as an energy source and make it yourself. And when the things you shoot invariably start shooting back, taking hunks out of your protective energy shield, it isnít going to magically regenerate; itís powered by processing the silicates found in much of the space flotsam you see lying around on a planetís surface. Finally, if you want to go jet-setting from celestial body to celestial body, youíll need a hyperdrive made from components that donít exactly grow on trees. Youíll be braving harsh environments or fighting dangerous foes to get them; either way youíre burning through precious resources in the process, and they'll need to be replenished.
This perpetual need for resources drives the minute-to-minute of No Manís Sky more than any other element. You start to learn unspoken rules about where youíll find what. Planets of a certain biome type, or distance from its sun will be more likely to have this element or that one, so you trek from one planet to another, mining asteroids along the way. The trip might be longer than you think. Even in this compressed demo star system, my nav computer estimated my travel time from my starting planet to another planet in the same system to be 30 minutes at impulse speed, or 5 minutes at maximum boost. Using an in-system jump engine, I could be there in seconds, but thatís if one is installed, and if you have the fuel to engage it. Thankfully the demo provided both, but ordinarily, that would be one more item added to the shopping list.
Under the Sea
With the icy plains of Balari V (where most of our March preview took place) far in my rearview, I land on the lush, temperate planet of Cavil, which thankfully isnít immediately hostile to my fragile, fleshy form. Without having to worry about a harsh climate, Iíd be able to explore more freely on my hunt for the two components I needed to build a hyperdrive and take one step closer to the center of the universe. A quick pulse of my scanners revealed traces of silicon, carbon, and plutonium over the next hill Ė not the stuff Iím looking for, but as good a place as any to start.
From the hillís peak I look down into a verdant valley filled with grazing animals of all sizes, most of which defy description. Itís a Jurassic Park moment. A small flock of leather-winged creatures fly overhead, casting a shadow on a group of human-sized six-legged lizards. Not far from them, a pair of beasts that look mildly triceratops-like plod forth, indifferent to everything around them. Holding the L2 button, I begin hastily scanning them one by one. Each of these critters was a new discovery, so if this had been the full game, I'd be able to register my new lizard buddies, name them, and make a few credits in the process.
For now though, I'll settle for glancing at all the flora and fauna I've catalogued in my discovery journal, which I'm sure will give any Pokťdex a run for its money in no time at all. I ping my sensors again to see if I can pinpoint some of the resources I detected earlier. The bundle of blips that pop up on my hud are color-coded to indicate what kind of resources theyíre leading me to, a luxury of the particular scanning suite I have installed on my weapon. I follow them to some jettisoned supply containers and space debris at the far end of the valley, where I start picking through them.
One of the larger ones yields something perhaps more valuable than raw materials: a blueprint for a new tech upgrade. This one is a suit attachment that increases my oxygen capacity when exploring underwater. At this point I think back to when I first entered the planetís atmosphere, recalling that large swathes of it were covered with blue oceans. Maybe the components that had eluded me on the surface would be found below it? I shifted focus to scrounging up the materials to build my new toy, and once I had, I headed straight for the nearest body of water I could find.
As I approached shore, I noticed for the first time that as I hovered my reticule over trees and crystal deposits, an indicator would come up on my HUD to indicate what kind of resources could be harvested from it. Unsurprisingly, trees were rich in carbon, which I had precious little of, so I switched my weapon from its boltcaster to its mining attachment and began to slowly break the tree down like the tree-hating industrialist I am.
My transgression against nature did not go unnoticed however. A planet-monitoring Sentinel robot floats over Ė itís roughly the size of a basketball Ė giving me a sideways glance with its cold-looking metallic eye. It doesnít open fire, it just wants me to know that it sees me, and it is not happy with the choices Iíve made. Iím not interested in a fight (yet) so I quit making like George Washington with the cherry tree and move along. Besides, Iíve got an ocean to explore.
And what an ocean it was. Teeming with exotic creatures and plants that looked like nothing if not alien, I was at a loss to even choose where to begin. I dove as deep as I could and just picked a direction, scanning every other-worldly fish I could along the way. Eventually I happened upon a yellow crystal deposit that looked quite unlike any I had seen up on the surface. I mined it out and as luck would have it, it was one of the two minerals I needed to build my hyperdrive. I was halfway there!
My elation was short-lived, though. I had suddenly started taking damage, and a quick glance upwards revealed two Sentinels hovering above sea level while taking pot-shots at me. In a panic, I swam back the way I had come and just hoped theyíd stop pursuing me. One of them did, but the other followed me all the way back to shore, where I had no choice but to defend myself.
Breaking the Law
The firefight proves longer and more dangerous than expected. This angry little floating box soaks up a surprising amount of punishment before giving up the ghost. If heíd been any tougher, I would have died, seeing as my shields were now gone and I was living on a sliver of health. It wasnít for nothing though; upon defeat, he dropped the second resource I needed for my ticket out of this system...just not nearly enough of it. But now I knew where the rest was going to come from.
But I wouldnít be heading there until I could be sure I wasnít being followed. Killing a Sentinel had jumped me to a two-star rating on No Manís Skyís GTA-esque ďwantedĒ scale. Iíd need to get far away, and stay out of sight until they gave up the chase. Barely alive, I made a dash for a large alien monolith and hid behind it until the coast was clear. As I limped my way back towards my ship, I was feeling like a bonafide scoundrel, all the way up until a coiled-up, harmless looking plant violently uncurled and scratched away the last of my life. Slain by a plant, I had died much as I had lived...as a hardened space criminal.
Thankfully I respawned fairly close to my ship, so I took one last look at the planet where my life of crime had begun and blasted off into space once more with a mind to explore a third planet, and pick a fight with as many Sentinels as I could in order to get the last of what I needed. But not before I lived life on the edge as only a notorious galactic kingpin can. I set my sights on a group of moderate-sized supply freighters to get a better sense of what combat was like.
Itís here where I start taking more notice of No Manís Skyís flight model. I was happy to find that pitch, yaw, and roll were all controllable, though roll was oddly mapped to the L1 and R1 buttons so that the right analog could be used to aim guns independently within an arc in front of my ship. It took some adjustment, but it wasnít long until I was able to pull banks and immelman turns much like I would in any other space flight game. Of course, no amount of fancy flying could change the fact that I was in a ship mostly specced for hauling cargo, trying to take on three ships that were many times my size. I certainly did some damage, taking out a few gun emplacements and cargo-spheres along the sides of one freighter, but the end result was, ultimately, a predictably fiery death.
Live to Fight Another Day
With tail tucked firmly between my legs, I respawned at a nearby space station, and took off for the scorched, unpronounceable planet of Yzheleuz. I had acquired a blueprint for a tech upgrade that extends the life of my thermal protection, so I cobbled that together and slapped it in a free slot on my suit before rolling out. My purpose: to stir up enough trouble to lure another sentinel out to play. This didnít end up being so hard; in fact, I somehow managed to bite off more than I could chew.
Since mining the environment seems to immediately pique the Sentinelís interest, I started stripping every red crystal formation I could find for plutonium. Sure enough, one of my old, floating friends showed up, but this time, he brought backup. A single Sentinel had proven to be a challenge, but taking on three would be suicide. I picked one of them to focus on, and unloaded with everything I had while trying to bob and weave through the incoming fire from the other two. I was taking hits, but my target was beginning to billow smoke Ė in a few more shots he would go down and I could grab my spoils and run.
Only there wouldnít be a few more shots. I was out of ammo, and out of the resources I needed to craft any. With three Sentinels bearing down on me, my shields on the verge of giving out, and my thermal protection layer eroding away by the second, the only sane thing to do was to hightail it back to the ship. I make a run for it, jumping into the cockpit with barely any health left, and taking off in the nick of time with the three Sentinels still giving chase. A daring escape for sure, but I wasnít out of the woods yet.
Sentinels arenít the only peacekeepers in the galaxy, and as soon as I broke free of the toasty planetís atmosphere, an enemy fighter was in hot pursuit. Much less imposing than the hulking cruisers that felled me before, I dispatch him with relative ease. I take my finger off the throttle and just float in space for a moment until my wanted stars blink away. I ponder how the last pieces that I needed slipped through my fingers as a trade ship or two whiz gently by to a nearby docking station.
See You Space CowboyÖ
So thatís the story of the time I failed to build a hyperdrive and get to the next system over. What Iíve written here is just the CliffsNotes version though. There was an in-atmosphere dog-fight that ended poorly, there was the time I blew open a building I wasnít supposed to be in, and another time when I spent a cold, harsh night evading deadly predatory animals. Survival really is the beating heart of this gorgeous enigmatic beast. Only time will tell if my 20th or 200th hours with No Manís Sky will hold a similar sense of driving purpose, but my first two most certainly did, and thatís a good start.