One cannot help but be fascinated by No Man’s Sky. From its initial announcement, up to its eventually release the game has been surrounded by frenzied hype, brutal cynicism and become quite possibly the most polarizing indie game of all time. One thing any intelligent gamer can agree on is how ambitious Sean Murray and his team at Hello Games were in their infinite universe project, however ambition doesn’t mean greatness, but No Man’s Sky doesn’t necessarily fall short of being great. To some it’s an horrendous mess of similarly repetitive planets and galaxies that fall short of the games $60 asking price. For others, it’s a beautifully designed exploration game that allows people to live out the space exploration fantasies they’ve had since they were children. No Man’s Sky is a game that struggles when it comes to gaming discussion forums because it suffers from two different groups of elitist opinions. On one hand, you have people who hate the game, people who look for any excuse to give the game as bad a reputation as possible, on the other hand you have people defending it with their lives, almost as if they are taking all criticism as a personal attack in their direction.
So where do you begin with No Man’s Sky? It was announced at the end of 2013 (yes, that long ago now), and almost immediately found itself entangled in praise, support and optimism. Sony picked it up and No Man’s Sky became the first independently-developed game to ever be showcased during a centre-stage E3 event for Sony. It seemed not just the fans, but Sony as well had high expectations in Sean Murray and his Hello Games team to pull off a gaming masterpiece. So, that is where we will begin, with the elephant in the room. How it all went wrong for Hello Games and No Man’s Sky and why the backlash was as severe as it was.
The initial backlash towards Hello Games over No Man’s Sky was when they first delayed the game a month before its June release last year. A lot of people were angered by this news. In the beginning, Jason Schreier of Kotaku reported the delay, quickly confirmed by the No Man’s Sky team. People responded in in a very aggressive manner, with some even resorting to sending death threats to both Schreier and Sean Murray himself. Outside of the angry death threats, it seemed many of the initial No Man’s Sky believers had grown sceptical towards the game and whether it had the ability to deliver. It became glaringly apparent to many video game enthusiasts that there was no obvious objective to No Man’s Sky. There was no aim or goal, there was no description of what the player did or interacted with in the world. Everything just seemed a bit messy and the user base began to turn sour – something which is very hard to recover from.
On the other hand of that same argument, there were plenty of people more than happy to raise their voices in favour of No Man’s Sky design. These people felt that the game did not need a distinct purpose and that the emphasis of the games was exploration, discovery and the experience of playing. As opposed to an end goal simply to work towards. Neither side is wrong or right. No Man’s Sky is a game based on the concept of exploration, and I can understand why some would find the discovery via exploration a rewarding goal for such a game. Then again, I can also understand the frustration with the gaming community when they do not get sufficient or a ‘rewarding’ ending for the progress they have made throughout the game. The games ultimate ‘end-goal’ was a decisive creative choice that drove two fan bases even further apart than they already were.
It ultimately left us with a very toxic atmosphere online and across almost every gaming forum the subject touched. It was two sides screaming at each other, two sides trying to prove one another wrong, I personally could not make sense of it all. For me, No Man’s Sky was an intriguing concept, and I was charmed by Sean Murray’s presentation, but kept optimism to a cautious level, as I always tend to do. As a passionate gamer, I always try to play as many games as I can, because I simply enjoy playing video games. There are plenty of people like me who, I would imagine, probably avoided all discussion of No Man’s Sky towards its release because it had essentially erupted into a full-blown war between optimists and pessimists.
It was a very curious situation when you looked on in from the outside. I could never fully comprehend why people had become so engulfed in raw emotion. Some places discussed the game with maturity and decency towards one another, whilst others would happily shit-fling and smear the ‘other side’ in a bid to prove their opinion as correct. It made many different gaming communities come across as embarrassing as they had childish tantrums at anyone who would try to discuss the other side of the argument. It never really made sense for so many people to be so wound about what others did or did not want to spend their free time playing.
SteamSpy estimates No Man’s Sky to have sold around 830k copes on Steam alone, so regardless of its critical success, the game was clearly a commercial hit. Critically, I would not be quick to deem it a failure either. The reviews were mixed, but mixed to positive. Most mainline critics saw what most level-headed thinkers did – a great concept, a good effort but in the end, a game that falls shorts due its execution. Whether the game was forced out early by Sony, or whether Hello Games were happy to deliver it as it was, we will never truly know for sure. Personally, I can only feel it was the former. You could sense the panic from the Sony headquarters as soon the as crowds began turning against their charming indie hit and it would not be a big shock to me (or anyone really) if Sony pushed the game onto shelves early to make sure the game struck whilst the iron was still hot enough.
Regardless of community feedback or commercial success, Hello Games continue to work hard to bring the things they initially promised consumers to No Man’s Sky. I cannot say I applaud them for that, because if you are advertising your game as one thing, but cannot deliver the whole game for another year or two, then you have knowingly deceived people. It would be wrong to pat them on the back and give them treats for fixing a myriad of lies or issues that should never truly have existed in the first place. If No Man’s Sky had launched for a smaller price, or maybe even under an early access banner, things would most likely have turned out better, or at least the game would have been more widely accepted.
No Man’s Sky is the tale of deceit and warring communities all coming together to exacerbate a problem that never should have been allowed to transpire. The community fallout never made sense because people agree and disagree over games all the time. It seemed ridiculous that things got so volatile over an independent game with a AAA marketing campaign. It’s something that crops up in a more minor form when people discuss Fallout 4, The Witcher or, most recently, Mass Effect: Andromeda. It is a baffling case of hostility over things that really should not be causing as much antagonism as No Man’s Sky seemingly did. The gaming community would be a much friendlier and inviting place if people criticised things constructively, whilst also accepting the feedback of someone who may not completely agree with them. This would eventually create a community that would no longer purposefully misrepresent a games strengths or weaknesses so a person can win over followers to their ‘correct’ point of view.
When it comes back round to No Man’s Sky and Hello Games, do I think they lied? Yes, although I do not think they intentionally went out of their way to betray consumers with what they did. I think they had big plans for No Man’s Sky, but were not able to get the game to the level they had hoped for by the time it released. In my opinion, they should have informed fans before this and announced they were going to continue working on the game post-launch too get it to the standard they originally stated it would have been. It would have won more fans over in the short term and they would have found themselves recovering the tarnished reputation at a much faster rate than they currently are.
Nine months on from No Man’s Sky, the game has had two big updates as it works towards being what was promised and it is slowly turning heads back in its favour – but there are still many more roads to take on that journey. In terms of quality, I never thought No Man’s Sky was a bad game. It was average at best. An ambitious, yet mediocre game that oozed more potential than it had planets. In terms of its reputation as being one of the worst games ever? I simply cannot agree to that. If you’re a fortunate enough to be able to consider No Man’s Sky the worst game of all time, then I can only envy you. I look through 2016 and I see games like Umbrella Corps, a disgusting tar on a Resident Evil franchise that was in dire need of resurrection at the time. Alekhine’s Gun which was a dreadful Hitman knock off in a year when one of the finest Hitman games was released. There was that atrocious Ghostbusters game, Homefront: The Revolution. Hell, I thought Might No. 9 was a much bigger burn on the player than No Man’s Sky ever was and they got away seemingly free of harm by the end of it.
To summarise it all, No Man’s Sky was an average game. Not good, not bad but distinctly average. The quality of it didn’t deserve the mainstream level hype it initially received, nor did it deserve the hate-filled backlash it received after its release. The only real thing No Man’s Sky proved in the end, was how hostile and toxic gaming communities can grow to be. It shows how people feel it essential to take a side, when sometimes you just need to remain neutral. No Man’s Sky is not the kind of game you play once and you go to work smashing your forehead on the nearest planet shaped, spherical object you can find because you’re that desperate to get back to it. Similarly, it is not bad enough that you feel the need to infiltrate Hello Games’ headquarters (which is probably just some posh flat somewhere in the south-east of England) and scream at Sean Murray whilst playing Apologise by One Republic at heavily distorted volume to improve the game industry for the better. It’s a game you play to relax, to explore and, without the needless drama surrounding it, No Man’s Sky is a game that you would play for a while, just for it to fade into a forgotten abyss.