There are a lot of questions left to answer about No Man’s Sky, even after multiple showcases at various events and a whole month of information that came out of IGN following E3 2015. The release date remains unknown, the story of No Man’s Sky (the central narrative we keep hearing about) is unknown, why there is a GTA-like Wanted level system is unknown – the list goes on. However, out of those showcases and those videos and all the things in between, what No Man’s Sky really is begins to take shape, both in practical and existential terms. What follows are the seven things I find most appealing and most important about No Man’s Sky.
Procedural isn’t just a buzzword
Procedural generation is not random generation, nor is it just a buzzword. We have seen procedural generation at work before, but rarely on the scale of No Man’s Sky. Here, an entire galaxy has been reduced down to (a probably not insignificant amount of) code. Code that governs the creation of stars, planets, orbits, the dispersion of elements, how those elements form together to form resources, and life both sentient and not. It is reality-lite. And while there are elements of randomness within the code, there is always a plan. This is a game without skyboxes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sky.
And yes, it all comes on the disk
This is no doubt going to be a difficult concept to fully understand, but that entire galaxy can indeed fit on your hard drive. This is due to the fact that said planets, moons, stars, and dingo-like reptiles or whatever else we might come across in this galaxy are generated on demand, according to the code. Once the master seed is set – the numeric string that serves as a key from which all randomness springs – the game will always render Planets 1 though 18 trillion (or whatever the actual number is) in the same way, as the code executes and brings things into life. The downside to this is that should you leave Planet 1 to go visit Planet 40, Planet 1 as you left it ceases to exist; upon your return, it will regenerate as it was the first time you met it.
You can play offline
This is a biggie for me personally. Not that I intend to disconnect my PS4 from the internet any time soon, but rather due to the fact that server infrastructure has not yet reached 100% uptime. The Playstation Network goes down with disheartening regularity, more so when major titles launch and random script kiddies get a hair up their ass. Thankfully, NMS will not require a connection to play; a connection will only be required when trying to log new discoveries for the rest of the world to recognize.
There is history in this universe
Rival factions fight amongst the stars; crashed ships dot the landscapes of a million different planets. This galaxy is not brand new, but rather you are new to it. Discoveries are not limited to new star systems or new plant life; discoveries of old things will enable your character to advance in the game. Upgrading your technological ability will be one of the core tenets of the game and there will be plenty of ways to do so.
One ship at a time
In NMS, you’ll only ever have one ship at any given time. You can upgrade that ship, or trade it in for a totally different model at one of the space stations that float amid the stars, but ultimately you’ll only ever have one. No space garages required. Purchasing ships will be transactions occurring in ‘units’, the NMS universe’s universal currency. Units will be earned by shooting pirates in space, uploading discoveries you’ve made, or selling resources you’ve harvested from the planets you explore.
The universe is alive with life
Planets will be populated by animals, and mechanical Sentinels will seek to punish those that harm them. Space factions will war in space and trade convoys will dodge pirate patrols. Everywhere in the universe, even if the universe isn’t rendered on your machine, things will be happening. Day/night cycles will affect the behavior of animals and plants; supply and demand will affect market prices.
Your story is your own to make
NMS is categorically not an MMO. Though no doubt many people will experience NMS, each of those experiences will be their own. With an entire galaxy to get lost in, the chances of ever coming across another living soul will be rare. Hello Games has stated that while there is an overall objective – to journey to the center of the galaxy – and a motivation to do so, there is no narrative. The narrative is what you make with your time in No Man’s Sky.