I really didn’t expect to spend the first half of my week this way. Originally, I was going to sit down with Final Fanstasy VX and enjoy indulging in some brotherly and totally-not-gay road trip fun. Instead like I’m stuck playing No Man’s Sky again after letting it collect dust on my shelf for 4 months to see what Hello Games has added with its “Foundation Update”. For those of you who’ve miraculously dodged Facebook, Twitter, and every avenue of games media, this update brings the ability to build bases, purchase large space freighters for the purposes of extra storage, and some graphical updates among many other things. It’s safe to say that it was a surprise for most of us after the game fell from public consciousness, expected to only be brought up again during a YouTuber’s top ten worst games of the year list, or featured in the 2016 Awardy Awards for “most disappointing”.
Giving credit where it’s due, I think the update is pretty damn impressive considering just how many significant changes the guys at Hello Games managed to make within such a short time period. Even more so, I’m even impressed that they decided to keep their mouths shut about it until they were one-hundred percent certain that they could implement everything they wanted to. I certainly wish they showed the same kind of restraint during the leadup to the game’s release, but hey, at least it means they learned something. I think it’s awesome that the team didn’t bail on the game after all the negative press and instead have continued to devote as much of their time and effort as possible to ensure that No Man’s Sky can become a game that people can enjoy.
It’s just too bad they don’t deserve the praise they’ve been getting since releasing the update.
I haven’t written anything about No Man’s Sky on this website until now, and I think it took me until this update to realise why. My opinions of the game were initially positive, seeing the game as a technological marvel for what games are now able to accomplish, giving players an endless universe filled with unique planets to explore. I hadn’t heard very much about the game beyond its first reveal at E3 2014, so there were no broken promises to be let down by. This changed a couple of weeks later when the once calming gameplay loop became so tedious that I noticed how pointless everything was. And, like many other players, eventually I just gave up on it. What was once a relaxing and meditative experience was now an irritating reminder of the $90AUD I’d spent on what could arguably be called a blank canvas, as opposed to the game it once had the promise of being. Honestly, I’m starting to think that this was the only good thing that came out of the whole experience:
It’s only when I played the update that I realised why I never wrote a review or even an editorial about it. The previous paragraph you just read is all I have to say about it. No Man’s Sky was so bare and lacking in content that, not only was it a game I couldn’t effectively review, it wasn’t even a game in my eyes. It was, at best, an impressive early access tech demo like the many others that you could find on Steam. And with this update, this is more obvious than ever before, and is exactly why they shouldn’t be receiving any kind of praise for this new update.
Hello Games are now treating No Man’s Sky like a full priced Early Access game, an expensive minimal feature beta that will slowly have new features added to it to make it feel like a game at some point in the future. It’s incredibly dangerous behaviour to be applauding, whether the team means to do it or not, especially when other games like Star Wars Battlefront and Street Fighter 5 have tried to get away with similar behaviour in the past. Not that the features that have been added to No Man’s Sky are worth much praise in the first place.
Besides the graphical improvements and convenient additions to the game’s GUI, the more significant changes the update brings don’t really add anything new if you think about them.
Most of the improvements only seem to extend the tedious gameplay loop that most players criticized. Now instead of mining resources to make better things to mine resources with, you can instead mine resources to make buildings that help you make better things to mine resources with. There’s still very little to keep you invested beyond spending thirty minutes or so playing around with the new toys because none of the game’s major problems, such as the lack of story or planet variety to keep you exploring, have been addressed. And honestly, I think the update adds additional problems, especially when No Man’s Sky encourages traveling and exploration, but suddenly gives you very little reasoning to explore beyond the galaxy that you’ve decided to build your bases in. I never wanted to do any kind of backtracking originally, so why should I suddenly be expected to now?
Even in the new creative mode which removes the need for resource management, the base building doesn’t feel like it was put together very well. Essentially, it plays like the construction mode found in Fallout 4, to an almost exact degree actually. But where in Fallout 4 you are given some semblance of a tutorial of how everything fits together, No Man’s Sky throws you in the deep end with no assistance whatsoever. This method works in games like Minecraft which are designed in such a way that the player can easily pick up on the initial mechanics. No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, throws an overwhelming number of new things at the player at once without easing you into new mechanics which, let’s be honest, were hurriedly forced into the game. There’s no sense of cohesion or intuitiveness towards how each piece is meant to fit together beyond a vague description in a text box. You’ll find yourself wandering around and trying to figure out which wall piece is allowed to connect to a specific corridor piece simply because the game refuses to help you. I can tell you from experience that it certainly doesn’t help you figure out why you can’t place a ladder down on a wall when the only information the game tells me is that it “can be attached to walls”.
I know it sounds like I’m being unfairly harsh towards what is an impressive update from a team that is obviously devoted to seeing its project evolve into something amazing, but Hello Games, in my mind, doesn’t deserve the praise its getting for it. At least not yet.
Let’s not forget that we’re dealing with a game that not only overpromised what features it would have, but also underdelivered in almost every aspect that could allow it to be called a game. Hello Games has a lot of goodwill to make up for after that, not to mention a lot of time considering their concerning amount of radio silence they’ve had since the game’s initial release. While it’s great that the game is getting new features, we can’t go easy on Hello Games just because they did a single thing right after doing so much wrong. Especially when they’re doing it in a way that is downright insulting to those who bought the game for such a high price on day one.