No Man’s Sky is an odd game, odd because so often when we play games, we know what it is we are doing, what is expected we do–but No Man’s Sky offers no such luxury: no direction, no voice whispering, “do this, do that,” only the expectation that we, the explorer, the being lost in our own corner of space, will dare to venture out and discover.
In a lot of ways, No Man’s Sky is more a survival game than a game about space. You are not an intrepid explorer with ships and resources at your disposal, but a being at the mercy of the universe. Your inventory is limited, your harvesting monitored by a galactic police, and every planet you come across leaves worry in your mind that what you need may not be there. Every action dries up your reserves, every bit of something you leave behind can be used or sold for something else, and the planets you stand on at any given moment can be both beautiful and terrifying at the very same time.
No Man’s Sky revels in this though. It never once presents itself as a game respecting your time or your efforts; it never presents itself as fair. This is in large part due simply to the random nature of its universe: 18 quintillion possible planets waiting to be explored, some lush, some barren, all completely random, and none promising at any given moment to give you what you need. And that’s where most of its beauty comes from. As frustrating as it can be to need a resource you can’t find, to hunt for zinc and not find it, to visit 3 planets for plutonium only to run out fuel, there’s something strangely honest about No Man’s Sky‘s presentation.
Life is not a series of laid out plans. It’s not explicitly written down nor is it at all times fair and while No Man’s Sky doesn’t pretend to emulate life, it surprisingly does just that. You buy, you sell, you carry what need, you forego the luxuries of the things you want for the things you really need, and for all of the moments No Man’s Sky is exciting, it’s at the same time, often times, boring–in a good way. There’s a monotony to the grind, to visiting a galaxy and running through the same motions, but it never pretends to be anything more. It doesn’t present a big bad villain, it doesn’t weave a grand narrative–it gives you the opportunity to survive, to explore, to visit a planet for the span of five minutes, or stay for closer to five hours, and while it may be easy to imagine No Man’s Sky as some grand, galactic adventure, it is perhaps more apt, and sometimes easier to imagine it a therapeutic, rhythmic set of steps across what is quite literally an infinite universe.