No Man’s Buy. See what I did there? Eh? Eh? Next time I see you in person, remind me to elbow you suggestively. That’ll really drive the pun home.
I should start this by saying, no. Mercifully, I didn’t end up buying “No Man’s Sky.” As someone who buys games on day one maybe once or twice a year, I tend to put a lot of research into my decisions. The truth is, I was really excited about it from the very first announcement trailer. It was only in the week or three prior to launch that I started seeing a lot of red flags that suggested I might find it more exciting to put $60 into a long-term savings bond.
And post-launch, it’s gotten considerably worse.
If you’ve been listening to the rumblings online (or plan to finish this sentence), you’ll know that most major retailers are offering unrestricted refunds for those dissatisfied with their purchase. That’s the sort of response generally reserved for games that launched with massive bugs that made it unplayable for one or more consoles. It only gets worse when you realize that it does happen to be buggy, in addition to just very disappointing.
So, how did we get here exactly? How could such an ambitious project end up disappointing everyone? And how could exploring an infinite Universe end up so tragically boring?
The real question is, how could it not end up disappointing and boring?
Consider this lesson on expectation. If I walked up to you and said that I was about to dragon kick you in the stomach and then run off, I doubt you’d be disappointed. Well, I mean, you’d be understandably upset, sure. Nobody likes kicks to the stomach. But after you got up and brushed yourself off, you’d probably very grudgingly agree that, yes, I delivered everything I promised. I might even get a decent Yelp review.
(Assuming people still use Yelp?)
My long, rambly and dragon-kick-y point is, it’s very easy to meet low expectations. Despite being a very small developer, Hello Games tried to downplay that aspect. Instead, they emphasized exploring a huge galaxy that would take longer than your feeble existence to explore even a small part of, with new discoveries around every corner, rich environments and deep, engaging gameplay….yada yada yada. You get my point.
That game was never going to happen. Very likely, that game never will happen. Because if it did, not only would it be the last game you’d ever need to buy (which isn’t good for video game profits down the line) but it would be a significantly better alternative to your everyday life (which isn’t good for humanity as a species).
Given this is the case, all that’s left is a boring slog through a painfully limitless Universe. Think about it. Would you rather have a small but exciting game set entirely in the automotive section of a K-Mart? Or a dull, repetitive one set in a 1:1 scale version of the real Universe?
In fact, it’s strange how a lack of interesting gameplay makes slogans meant to promote the game sound more like torture. “Explore a limitless Universe with fun, engaging gameplay! It never ends!” Versus, “Explore a limitless Universe collecting the same things over and over! It never ends. EVER.”
“Now give us the access codes!”
That being said, I’m not necessarily blaming players for having high expectations. (It’s sort of what we players do.) In all likelihood, Hello Games (the developer) is going to have to eat its share of the blame pie. Players can have, like, a thin slice. But don’t fill up on blame pie. You’ll spoil your dinner.
The thing is, though, is that I don’t think the developers did bad work. I’ll limit their failure to creating more hype than they could deliver on and a failure to understand that a large scale exacerbates problems with repetitive gameplay rather than helping. But I love that they tried. Because while the game they delivered feels like a tech demo rather than a full game, it’s admittedly the seed of a very interesting idea or two or fifty.
Imagine a huge Universe (albeit one smaller than the one in “No Man’s Sky,” so people could actually explore it all in a human lifespan) with a meaningful plot, epic space battles, interesting gameplay beyond just resource collection, different factions (perhaps including a huge, unstoppable evil force threatening to consume it all), real customization, rare items to find, so on and so forth. Or…you know…like, all that, but in a really good Star Wars game.
So, yeah. Pretty much, I’m saying they need to sell off to Disney immediately. And then I can explore an enormous Star Wars Universe with my lovable crew of misfits.
When my savings bond matures I would so buy that game…