Full disclosure: I haven’t actually played No Man’s Sky. This is not a review. But I’ve played enough games – especially open world games – and read and viewed enough of the gameplay to put forward an opinion.
Positive and negative reviews for a controversial game that isn’t easy to pigeonhole. But the backlash is, as they say, real. Some disgruntled gamers have requested refunds from Sony and Valve.
No Man’s Sky stands as an amazing technical achievement, with 18 quintillion randomly generated worlds to explore. The scale, and the algorithms needed to pull this off, are impressive. The DNA of space exploration games like Elite, Captain Blood, and Mercenary lives on here.
But No Man’s Sky also represents the logical endpoint of modern gaming – the ultimate in slickly designed, super-massive explore-’em-ups, with core gameplay padded out by inventorying and grinding.
I didn’t buy No Man’s Sky for a simple reason: the game seemed spread thin. No matter how sophisticated the algorithms used, these 18 quintillion planets could only ever be variations on a theme.
Technically, each planet differs completely from another – varying atmospheres, weather systems, landscapes, and wildlife. But the seams are showing. Textures and color palettes and character designs are being switched out, combinations made to create the illusion of an infinite universe.
And so the game’s lack of variety has been the sticking point for many buyers. The planets weren’t varied enough, they argue; No Man’s Sky was not the awe-inspiring experience promised.
(Although since things are rarely what they seem on the internets, the refund situation is a bit more complicated. Whether these out-of-the-ordinary refunds have been given or not, they have been requested.)
But was there the same demand for refunds after Destiny – a huge but often shallow, repetitive shooter? What about the static, rinse-and-repeat gameplay of the Assassin’s Creed series, or even Fallout 4? We’re not seeing anything new at the 50 hour mark in those games either.
Asking for your money back at this point feels disingenuous. Did it really take No Man’s Sky players up to 50 hours to figure out they weren’t enjoying the thing?
The claim has been: “false advertising”. And there’s no question No Man’s Sky misses features that were promised, such as an online multiplayer mode.
But this is another embarrassing example of some gamers’ sense of entitlement. You could point to any number of games that were also cut before launch. Remember the interminable sailing and Triforce hunt in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? Years later the developers confirmed that dungeons had been removed (and recycled into later Zelda titles).
Could I have asked for a refund from Nintendo, since The Wind Waker was “incomplete”? Where do you draw the line?
No Man’s Sky: the culmination of “bigger but not better” design. And yet No Man’s Sky players wonder why this game doesn’t feel like a landmark event. There’s a gap here between expectation and reality.
Don’t blame the developers – No Man’s Sky represents a great, if flawed, achievement. Let’s not forget this is still an indie game by a small British studio. I hope the game is successful enough that Hello Games goes onto even better things.
The hype ran away from Hello Games, and I have to believe they feel a bit stunned by the overhype, the hysterical backlash caused by last minute delays, and now the refund controversy.
But, as the saying goes: give the people what they want. And No Man’s Sky gives us what Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto and Fallout and Destiny have given us, only on an interstellar scale.
We keep buying the same games, mining and looting and crafting and constantly grinding, demanding even larger game worlds – and yet expecting the experience to somehow be different every time.
No Man’s Sky should not have surprised anyone. What did we expect from this game? That each of the 18 quintillion worlds would be truly unique?
If gamers don’t actually enjoy these types of games, then we need to stop hyping and buying them. Otherwise we’ll keep getting what we want, and keep being disappointed.
Share your comments below! Do you think players are justified in requesting refunds for No Man’s Sky?