I was given the warning a few days before No Man’s Sky came out on PC: “Don’t use the preorder bonus ship. See, that ship already has a fueled-up hyperdrive. If you switch to it, then it will break the tutorial that’s supposed to teach you about the hyperdrive and give you the recipes to make fuel. You can end up either stuck, or at least in a position where you won’t know what you’re supposed to do next.”
I came back to the game last night. I needed some screenshots for my column next week, and I was kind of hoping I might be able to re-engage with the game if I approached it with a different mindset. Maybe I could ignore the various systems and just play it like a Zen Game, the way Campster describes in his latest video:
So when I fire up the game again, I see this notice in the lower-right side of the screen, which is where important messages normally show up:
It’s talking about my preorder bonus. I don’t know why that notice didn’t show up before now. It should have, but whatever. The notice is telling me I haven’t picked up my cool preorder spaceship yet. The notice is a constant distraction. It pops up every thirty seconds or so, grabbing my attention and messing up my screenshots.
So I do what it says on open the options menu. I check out the preorder ship. As you’d expect, it’s a starting ship with 16 inventory slots and no upgrades:
I have an end-game ship with 43 slots. It’s filled with expensive, non-transferable late-game tech. Upgrading your ship is the slowest and most arduous part of playing this game. There’s no way I’d give up my awesome hyperdrive, much less the upgraded armaments required to make the space combat barely tolerable.
And there’s no way in hell I’d go back to a ship with 16 inventory slots. It would take days of playing just to get back to where I am right now. I don’t want this preorder ship, so I cancel the “upgrade”.
The notice is still there.
The notice is always going to be there, popping up every 30 seconds, forever. The ONLY way to get rid of it is to accept the prorder ship. I want to point out that I only have this problem because I was trying to avoid the earlier game-breaking problem created by the preorder ship. And this is on top of the earlier chain of failures that broke the game for me so that I can never complete the main-ish quest.
No Man’s Sky is an adorable puppy that shits in people’s laps. It’s a body pillow filled with caltrops. It’s a cupcake with a chicken bone inside. It’s a luxury penthouse suite infested with scorpions. It’s a trap. A trick. It’s a collection of stunning vistas that lure you in just long enough that it can torment you with it’s self-defeating design, obnoxious interface, and malfunctioning game mechanics.
In my first hours of play, I was trying to justify how I might possibly make NMS my Game of the Year despite its lackluster gameplay. Then I was trying to justify it making my best-of list at all. By the time the game malfunctioned itself into a forever useless and broken time-sink of confusion and frustration, I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep it off of my “Worst of 2016” list. And I don’t even normally make those kinds of lists.
“It’s made by a small team.”
“It’s an experimental game in a new genre.”
“Maybe they’ll patch it.”
“They just need some time to work the bugs out.”
But the truth is that this is a $60 game in which every single gameplay mechanic and every part of the interface is profoundly, brazenly flawed. Every single gameplay system has some glaring flaw that feeds into another broken system in some other part of the game to make everything that much worse. It’s one thing for a game to have problems or to be a little rough around the edges, but this game just doesn’t want to be played. The design isn’t flawed, it’s wrong.
Next week I’ll detail some of these wrong, broken systems. Until then I think I’m going to give Obduction a try.
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The Opportunity Crunch
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Secret of Good Secrets
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Why I Hated Resident Evil 4
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What Does a Robot Want?
No, self-aware robots aren't going to turn on us, Skynet-style. Not unless we designed them to.