August’s game of the month is perhaps the perfect example to illustrate the purpose of this monthly feature. Our monthly picks are not chosen primarily for their quality, or even our enjoyment of them. Instead, the TSG staff chooses games for their importance to the industry, relevance outside video game circles, and their ability to start meaningful conversations that extend beyond the game itself. It is for those reasons, then, that our Game of the Month for August is No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky is a game the places you in the boots of a space explorer, set loose in a galaxy, free to explore as you see fit. There is a loose, optional plot to follow, but even if you are chasing the thread, the majority of the game unfolds at the pace and in the direction of your moment-to-moment decisions. In lieu of a gripping story, No Man’s Sky developer Hello Games incentivizes players by providing a game world so vast that it is literally impossible to see it all. Using complex algorithms and procedural generation of nearly every aspect of the game, No Man’s Sky contains over 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 (That’s 18 quintillion) individual planets to explore, each one itself larger than the size of most other games and containing unique plants and animals and geography for you to discover. This was the main marketing bullet point used to promote this game, and it was more than enough to set the mind running wild with the possibilities of such a vast space to explore.
Unfortunately, the game in practice is a hard lesson in quantity vs quality. While the size of the game is indeed as immense as promised, the variety of experiences available to players within that word is crushingly limited by comparison. It makes a pretty stellar (get it?!) first impression but far too quickly you realize that behind all that impressive math lies a very simple game. There’s so much to see, but little reason to want to. This has led to many accusing the developers of false advertisement, as much of this game’s long promotion seemed to present a much deeper and varied experience.Though much of the outcry is expectedly hyperbolic, it is hard to say that disappointment is wholly unjustified.
You know the saying, “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? Despite No Man’s Sky hitting nowhere near many fans’ hopes or its apparent promises, it still, quite literally, lands among the stars. You are not special in this universe, and No Man’s Sky makes sure you know it. There is no princess to rescue, no evil to thwart, and no adoring fans to cheer you on. You will never traverse all of the galaxy, and whatever you manage to explore will be such a small fraction in comparison to the whole, it may as well be disregarded. Your humble efforts won’t be forgotten – they’ll never be noticed to begin with. This all seems so antithetical to the game design we are accustomed to, and it is easy, and justified, to be disappointed that it doesn’t fit those expectations. But taken on its own terms, No Man’s Sky offers an experience rarely attempted in gaming, and even less often achieved: insignificance. For those willing to play along, this insignificance grants a surprising sense of freedom – with nothing expected of or promised to you, whatever you choose to do at any given moment becomes significant simply by your doing it. Playing No Man’s Sky can quickly become more meditative than mechanical, and in a way similar to abstract art, is an easy canvas on which to lay allegory and self-reflection. Or, in more layman terms, it makes for a great podcast-listening game (did someone say *podcast*?).
No Man’s Sky is a conundrum. The flaws that make it a weak game are many of the reasons why it is an interesting one. While it may not be remembered fondly by the average gamer, it’s technical achievements are not to be ignored, and its development cycle is sure to serve as a reference point for games for years to come.