There is a very distinct rhythm to playing No Man’s Sky. It’s been a part of the game since launch, and even after an entire year of updates it still holds true: No Man’s Sky is a disappointment engine. I don’t just mean the game was a disappointment when it came out. I mean the game seems to have been designed to create a series of frustrating let-downs as you adventure across the galaxy.
Problem: Find some shortcoming or annoyance in the game. Usually, but not always, this annoyance stems from the inventory system.
Solution: Maybe you think of it on your own, or maybe you check the wiki, but you find a possible solution for the problem. You realize that the solution is going to be a long, frustrating, unrewarding grind. But you do it anyway, in the hopes that you’ll be able to have more fun once the task is over.
Disappointment: Once you’ve completed your goal, you realize the reward is incredibly underwhelming, not worth the effort, and doesn’t even fix the original problem.
There are a lot of these moments in the game. I can’t enumerate them all. But let’s look at a few that really got to me…
Problem: So you’re done with the main story and now you want to fly to the galactic core, which is the “real” ending inasmuch as that’s when the credits roll. You figure it would be neat to reach the point where so many players have converged, visited systems, named planets, and so on. However, you notice you’re more than 600,000 light years from the core. You can cover about 2,500 in a single jump, which means 240 individual jumps. Each jump consumes 1 warp fuel.
Let’s say you want to do this the optimal way and just grind for fuel. (For the purposes of this discussion, “grind” in this case means doing the same task for a long time with no intermediate rewards like level-ups, gear upgrades, costume unlocks, major scenery changes, new enemy types, story beats, companion romances, new Bat-gadgets, or whatever it is your other games give out to keep you interested.) If you’re looking to do this in bulk then:
- You land on a relatively calm planet and round up all the nearby Carbon, Plutonium, Heridium, Zinc, and Thaumium9 you can find. (Thaumium9 will probably be the limiting factor here.)
- Once your inventory and cargo hold are full, get back to the ship and start crafting stacks of warp fuel. Because the interface was designed by a madman, you can’t just craft them directly. You have to craft a suspension fluid, then craft that into electron vapor, then craft that into antimatter, then craft that into warp fuel.
- Now you’ve got a few stacks of warp fuel and some free inventory. Go back out and do it again and again until you have about 48 stacks of warp fuel.
Remember that while all of this is going on you’re still fighting off sentinels, fending off wildlife, spending some of the gathered resources to charge your suit, taking shelter from storms, and otherwise doing what you need to do to get by. I’m going to make a ballpark guess and say that under these optimal batch-processing circumstances, the total time it takes to gather the materials, craft the fuel, and plot a single jump on the galaxy mapIt takes 3 seconds to scroll the map 1,000 light years, so during your journey you’ll spend half an hour just scrolling the map! is five minutesDON’T use the in-game course plotting. It will suggest jumps far shorter than what you can do, which will double or triple your costs. You need to manually navigate through the map and find the furthest star you can reach.. So to do our 240 jumps will take twenty solid hours of uninterrupted travel. Maybe I’m off by a factor of two in either direction, but you get the idea.
That’s a long task. You’ll probably start looking for a shortcut.
Solution: Find a black hole. Nada can direct you to one. Or you can find them yourself after completing the Atlas quest. A single trip through a black hole can fling you 300,000 light years!
Disappointment: It flings you 300,000 light years, but not 300,000 light years towards your goal. Most of the travel is lateral. You only move a tiny bit closer to the center. For my most recent playthrough I did four different black holes, and they consistently moved me about 10,000 towards the center of the galaxy. That saves me about five jumps worth of progress.
But five jumps is still a shortcut, right?
Not even close. Going through a black hole breaks your ship. Several parts (chosen supposedly at random but it always seems to target my super-expensive drive system) will break. It will require exotic resources to repair the parts. The more upgraded your ship, the more the repairs will cost you.
Sure, it might take five minutes to gather up a small pile of common resources for a single jump. But how long will it take to gather a large pile of several different resources, all of which are exotic, and which incidentally will all come from different planetsFrost Crystals only come from snowy worlds, Solanium only comes from inferno planets, etc.? And of course planets with exotic resources are generally more difficult than the paradise playgrounds where you might gather warp fuel.
A black hole might save you a few jumps, but depending on how the dice treat you it could incur hours of opportunity cost. It’s not remotely worth it. Instead, it feels like a cruel prank from a game designer who wants to punish you for attempting to circumvent the grind.
I’ve built my base, which is a new thing you can do now. The building interface is pretty good. The bits snap in place and the game always seems to know where I’m trying to put something. It compares very favorably to Bethesda’s unwieldy, unpredictable, and unhelpful base-building interface.
Problem: When you teleport back to your base from a space station, the game brings your spaceship with you. However, it doesn’t know where to park your ship. So it just guesses at where would be a good spot. In my experiments I’ve had a total of five different basesI built a few bases in normal, once in creative, and another in survival.. All of them used different layouts in different locations, and without fail the game has always placed my ship somewhere obnoxious. It usually ends up parked behind my base, stuck halfway through a wall so the wing reaches inside and blocks an important corridor.
So whenever I get back home, I always have to walk outside and manually re-position my ship. Aside from being annoying and inconvenient, it costs resources to do this. So sometimes I get home from adventuring and have to run around outside to gather up resources so I can move my ship so I can walk around inside my base.
Solution: It turns out you can build a landing pad! Wonderful. Obviously the game will park my ship on the landing pad once I’ve constructed it. Not only will it be out of my way, but it should also look cool. The downside is that the landing pad is stupidly expensive. It requires some exotic resources and it takes me a couple of hours to track them all down.
Disappointment: The moment I build my landing pad, an alien craft swoops down from the sky and parks in my spot. I just spent two hours building this parking spot for myself, only to have a useless NPC steal it. I should add that this NPC has no business at my base. There’s no reason for an alien to land here. This is my private base and not a trading hub. I assume this is just the default behavior of the game: If an NPC flies over a landing pad, it will land there and hang around for two minutes. That’s good for making a starport look busy, but I don’t need my base to look like a busy starport. I need to get my spaceship out of the wall.
I can’t boot the guy, either. I just have to wait for him to leave. Once he clears out, I move my ship to the pad before someone else steals my parking spot again.
Then I teleport away. The next time I teleport home, my ship is once again parked in the weeds and an alien is in my expensive parking spot.
Problem: Inventory Space is way too tight. My pockets are always full. I’ve got six units of some obscure resource taking up an entire slot. Should I dump it? Will I wish I had it later? I’m sick of Alt-Tabbing away from the game to check the stupid wikiWhich is often vague, and is now pretty far out of date. every time my pockets are full just to see if I can afford to throw something out.
Solution: Along with base building, the game has added storage containers. You’ve got to do quite a bit of messing around before you’re allowed to build a container. You’ve got to recruit people, do their quests, and gather resources, even if all you want is a stupid box to put your shit in.
Disappointment: You know how in Fallout 4, you could walk up to your workbench and instantly unload the materials you’d collected and get back to the adventure? And you know how the building interface could automatically draw from storage while you were building? No Man’s Sky doesn’t do this. Instead, the entire storage system has been designed for maximum hassle. Each eight-meter cubic vault holds a measly five items. You can build ten vaults. You need to HOLD a button for a couple of seconds to open a vault.
You can’t hold very much in your pockets, and building consumes a lot of resources, so you’re constantly shuffling back and forth, putting things away and getting them out again.
I wanted these containers so I could do LESS inventory juggling, you obnoxious ass of a game.
Extra Bonus Disappointment: Ten storage containers times fives slots equals fifty unique items. There are a lot more than fifty different items and materials in this game. So you’re still going to have items you can’t store, particularly once you get into the late-game planets and their new resources.
Problem: It’s really hard to make money. The next meaningful upgrade to my ship is astronomically expensive. I’m seeing ships for $300 million, and after 25+ hours of gameplay I have about $30 million. I should add that income in this game doesn’t climb on an ever-increasing curve like in an RPG. Despite my steadfast greed, my income has remained pretty linear. Which means if I want ten times as much money I’d need to play ten times as long. Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but I don’t think 250 hours of mindless grinding is a fair cost to alleviate the sodding interface headaches and give myself some space.
There are some tips online for how to speed up making money. One person suggests setting up a farm to grow certain rare materials, and then using those materials to craft a rare resourceThe “super valuable resource” itself is lubricant, which you make using “Gamma Root” and (basically) animal dung. Hello Games, did you look up “lubricant” in the dictionary before you made the game? You probably should have. Look, I’m not objecting to the crafting itself, just don’t call it “lubricant”. Give it some technobabble name..
Solution: In the new version you can recruit a farmer to your base. This is a game mechanic that allows you to grow resources in your base instead of going out and hunting them down. So I recruit a farmer. He gives me a series of quests. Each quest teaches you how to grow a particular plant that yields a particular resource. The resource itself is an ingredient in the plant, so you can’t grow something until you find it in the wild. I’m kind of wondering what I need the farmer for if I’m just re-growing stuff I’ve already found. Maybe growing it in your base is really really fast?
Disappointment: So he’ll send you out to gather Frost Crystals. Once you find some, you can plant a Frost Crystal plant. Now, if you’ve found some that means you’ve been to a planet with Frost Crystals all over the place. If you really need Frost Crystals then the most efficient way to get them is to run around on this planet and gather them yourself. But instead you must sink some of your already-gathered resource into planting. Then you wait for the plant to mature. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two and a half hours of real time depending on the plant. Once the plant matures, you return to the farmer and give him your first harvest as proof that you grew the plant.
Which means the farmer is worse than useless. He doesn’t help you get more Frost Crystals. He simply creates a short-term drain on them. It will take a couple of hours for your farm to simply yield enough to replace what you spent doing the quest, and longer still to turn a “profit”.
Worse, your farm needs supervision. Once a plant matures, it stops producing until you come by to harvest it.
Also, the high-tech space-planter needs to periodically be re-poweredOr maybe I’m adding “fertilizer”? I dunno. The game plays really fast-and-loose with this sort of thing and it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. with generic energy resources because I guess in my hi-tech space base I can’t plug the stupid thing into a wall outlet? The harvesting and power-ups happen at different intervals, so you need to return to your base often to fiddle with your plants so they can continue to dribble out their pathetic yield. I can’t help but wonder if someone at Hello Games had to run outside every hour and put change in the parking meter. After a couple of days they started thinking, “This is so fun! I should add this experience to my videogame!”
He doesn’t plant crops. He doesn’t harvest crops. He doesn’t take care of crops. So what is this idiot farmer for?
The game won’t let you build this farming stuff without him, but he doesn’t actually do anything! He sits at this desk all day, literally staring at your plants and not taking care of them. He can’t pick a few Frost Crystals and dump them in a bin for me? I can’t give him a tub of carbon to shove into the machine once an hour to keep it running?
Just to keep it awful, his quests appear in a particular order. So if you’re just really eager to grow some Gamma Root, then you have to put in the hours and hours required to obtain, grow, and harvest all of the plants that come before Gamma Root in the quest chain, whether you care about them or not. Since this is an open-universe sandbox game where you can’t be guaranteed to encounter stuff in a particular order, it means your entire farming questline can end up bottlenecked by one elusive resource. And in the meantime you’ll probably be stockpiling all the plants you suspect you’ll need later. Yeah. Have fun speculating and storing even more inventory.
Extra Bonus Disappointment: This actually doesn’t really solve the money problem. People claim it does. “Once you have the entire farm up and running, you can make a million credits every 15 minutes!” The problem is that it takes many hours to get your farm to such a high level of production, and “A million dollars every fifteen minutes” isn’t all that fast when you’re trying to save a hundred million. And besides, hanging around your base gathering carbon and shoving it into your planters is mind-numbing. This is a game about exploring 18 quintillion planets where this supposed optimal money-making technique isn’t finding rare treasure on alien worlds, but staying home and clicking on machines like you’re playing Farmville.
I haven’t clocked it, but even a fully-expanded farm can’t be much faster than running around on a planet and picking the plants yourself. And it would need to be significantly faster to justify the long setup time and steep opportunity cost.
Problem: As I’m building my base, I sometimes need to make a run into the wilderness for more building resources. As a byproduct, I end up with my pockets full of vendor trash that I need to sell. Also, some things in the base require specialty parts. So sometimes I need to make a run to a shop in a space station to unload, and other times I need to make a trip for specialty parts. Making a run to the store requires going through a long loading screen (the teleporter) then hiking from one end of the space station to the other, doing my business, then hiking back and sitting through another load screen. It’s a real killjoy to have to keep doing this while building.
Again, this dumb timesink would be less of a problem if inventory space wasn’t so tight. I know I keep bringing this up, but that’s because this problem infects every aspect of the game.
Solution: It turns out you can build a trade interface inside your base. You can’t do it until you’ve completed the quests for all of your personnel, which means you can’t make it until you’re long finished with your base and you’ve already endured the shopping headaches for hours. Still, better late than never.
As you probably expected, the trade interface is stupid expensive and represents at least an hour of resource-gathering.
Disappointment: The trade interface only allows you to sell items from your personal space, not your ship, which results in the interface shuffle I ranted about last week. Also, this trade interface doesn’t sell the specialty parts I needA Dynamic Resonator., so I still have to make trips to the space station for those.
A New Ship
Problem: Inventory space is tight. I’d love to have a ship that can carry more. Also, the ship I’m using now looks like someone welded some quasi-aerodynamic fins to a toaster oven. Sideways. The ship I owned before this one looked like a pair of D Batteries glued to a trackball mouse. Ideally, I’d like to be able to haul more stuff in my ship, and I’d like it to look sleek rather than silly.
Solution: Getting a new ship takes a ton of grinding for money. But worse than that is the silly way you go “shopping” for ships. You have to hang around in the hangar bay of a space station. When a new ship lands, there’s no indicator of what class it is, how much it can haul, or how much it costs. To find out you have to physically walk up to the ship, initiate a conversation with the owner, click through three useless boxes of identical flavor textThe first of which is always gibberish because the “learn alien language” gameplay is now broken., and then click on “offer to buy ship”. Then you can see what you’re buying and what they’re asking. And if the ship isn’t what you’re looking for? Exit the dialog and stand around in the starport with nothing to do for 20 seconds until another ship rolls in and you can try again.
I guess they don’t have Craigslist in space? No used car lots? The only way to shop for ships is to hang out in the parking lot and chat people up, clicking through the same 3 dialog boxes again and again?
This would be sort of tolerable if you were supposed to jump from ship to ship on a whim when you see something cool-looking, but this game is really punishing about changing ships. You lose a ton of value and all your upgrades during the trade-in process, so you’ll want to change ships as rarely as possible. Which means you want to buy the best ship you possibly can for your money. Given the way ships ramp up in price, you’re looking for something in a very specific point on the price range.
This would be outrageous enough if the ships were all random, but about half of them are useless starter ships. So now you’re playing a fishing game where half of the fish are useless duds. Of the other half, some will be smaller, some will be far too expensive, and a very small minority will be in the right price range.
The ships are generated by putting together random parts. This means the vast majority of them are lumpy misfits, a minority of them are acceptable, and a tiny sliver of them look cool. Given what an amazing pain in the ass it is just to find something suitable, it would take astronomically longer to find something suitable and stylish.
If 1 in 20 ships is the right size / price and 1 in 20 ships looks cool, then your odds of finding a ship that is both suitable and stylish is 1 in 400. If ships arrive every 20 seconds then you’re going to wait an average of two hours to find your perfect ship.
Disappointment: Assuming you didn’t spend two hours shopping for ships, you’ve probably got an upgrade that looks like another flying shoebox. That’s a pretty sad outcome after spending so much time and all your money. And just to rub salt in the wound, aliens evidently fly around with all of their energy systems empty. Have fun gathering up new warp fuel, fuel for the launch thruster, and fuel for the mining beam. That stuff ain’t cheap.
Extra Bonus Disappointment: Like I said, you can’t take your upgrades with you. That upgraded warp drive? The super lasers? The shield made of ultra-rare exotic resources? Gone. You can disassemble them before the trade and get half the resources back.
So now after spending all your money you’ve got a ship that’s broken, empty, and still ugly. And now you’ve got to spend an hour tracking down more of those rare resources to rebuild everything. This isn’t so much a “disappointment” as “infuriating”. Basically, you’ve paid this ridiculous price in money, fuel, and opportunity cost so you can have a slightly larger inventory space. Because EVERYTHING in this game revolves around the inventory system.
And So On
The game tantalizes you with locked doors for dozens of hours with no clue how to open them. Then eventually Polo gives you the key and you discover the rooms are filled with completely mundane loot, and often contain no loot at all.
The game tantalizes you with the mysterious blue star systems, but then Polo gives up the warp drive and you realize all you really got was a bunch of additional crap to store.
You make a pilgrimage to the end of the Atlas path and voyage through the mystery of a black hole, and the only reward is that a bunch of expensive equipment on your ship gets broken and you need to track down the rare resources to fix it.
You work for hours to unlock the exocraft only to find out they’re really inconvenient and expensive to deploy, they’re difficult to use on uneven terrain, their cargo capacity is minuscule, they’re impractical to use on planets where their fuel isn’t plentiful, and their mining laser is slower than the upgraded multi-tool you’ve been using.
Everything is like this. You’re constantly chasing one mirage after another, always hoping that on the next world you’ll find the magic upgrade or unlock the gizmo that unshackles you from the annoyances the game keeps throwing at you. But each reward is itself just a new way to annoy you.
Yes, eventually you do escape the inventory blues and alleviate some of the interface headaches. But by that time you’ve basically completed the game. The disappointment in this game isn’t the graphical downgrade people complained about. It’s not the bugs, the threadbare quasi-story, or the simplistic combat mechanics. The disappointment in this game is built into its DNA.
Hello Games needs an intervention. They need someone on their team (or maybe multiple someones?) that can design a set of mechanics to compliment their planetary / lifeform procgen engine.
Shamus, if this game sucks so bad then why are you still playing it?
I’ll answer that next week, as well as go over a few things that I like about the updates.
 It takes 3 seconds to scroll the map 1,000 light years, so during your journey you’ll spend half an hour just scrolling the map!
 DON’T use the in-game course plotting. It will suggest jumps far shorter than what you can do, which will double or triple your costs. You need to manually navigate through the map and find the furthest star you can reach.
 Frost Crystals only come from snowy worlds, Solanium only comes from inferno planets, etc.
 I built a few bases in normal, once in creative, and another in survival.
 Which is often vague, and is now pretty far out of date.
 The “super valuable resource” itself is lubricant, which you make using “Gamma Root” and (basically) animal dung. Hello Games, did you look up “lubricant” in the dictionary before you made the game? You probably should have. Look, I’m not objecting to the crafting itself, just don’t call it “lubricant”. Give it some technobabble name.
 Or maybe I’m adding “fertilizer”? I dunno. The game plays really fast-and-loose with this sort of thing and it doesn’t really matter what it’s called.
 A Dynamic Resonator.
 The first of which is always gibberish because the “learn alien language” gameplay is now broken.
The Gameplay is the Story
Some advice to game developers on how to stop ruining good stories with bad cutscenes.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.
Skylines of the Future
Cities: Skylines is bound to have a sequel sooner or later. Where can this series go next, and what changes would I like to see?
Top 64 Videogames
Lists of 'best games ever' are dumb and annoying. But like a self-loathing hipster I made one anyway.