Picture a sight that catches your eye, captures your imagination. Whatever you were doing, you stopped dead in this specific spot. It’s more than just the place, though. It’s a random confluence of things; a vantage point, a moment in time, a state of mind… If you returned to this exact spot another time – with different lighting, different background noises, different expectations – you might not be able to replicate the experience. It’s gone. You could try to picture it in your mind, describe it to someone, or even take a photo, but it will always be a few steps removed from the real thing, an interpretation, fragment, or memory. But this ephemerality gives that unique point in time and space its meaning and value in the first place; if it was easily replicable, it would become a commodity, something to use, or to ignore, at one’s leisure.
No Man’s Sky has countless weaknesses, but it captures this experience of beauty found and lost like no other game I can think of. As a planet-hopping space traveller, your quest of exploration pushes you ever forward. And as important as discovery may be, the true strength of No Man’s Sky, I think, is the flipside of the promise of a near-infinite cosmos: the fact that each time you dive further into the unknown, you have to leave something behind.
In an industry and culture so obsessed with quantifiable excitement and pandering fantasies, it seems natural that most discourses around No Man’s Sky, be it in promo material, journalism or consumer’s discussions, orbit largely around the thrill of discovery, and how quickly it wears off. Having discovered something, it quickly becomes familiar and dull, propelling the player to discard the old and turn to something new and exciting. From this impatient, always forward-looking perspective, No Man’s Sky is bound to disappoint.
Because No Man’s Sky works best if you are willing to slow down for a few moments and appreciate what you have in front of you right now, what you will have to let go. After all, sometimes you have to stop and smell an alien world’s flower-analogues.
A couple of interstellar jumps into the game, I discovered a planet of calm grasslands and forests punctuated by fantastically twisted rock formations. The last planet I visited was a frozen wasteland. The one before that an abject hellhole with an atmosphere of combustible dust, near-constant fire storms that had me desperately burrowing into the stone for shelter every few minutes, as well as flesh-eating dinosaurs and furious sentinels. My new, more hospitable find was a haven, and I took my time exploring it, even though there were few valuable resources to find; I was hunting sights, not treasures. In the middle of a large plain surrounded by mountain ranges, I stumbled upon this secluded spot, half-hidden by treetops and rocks:
It’s a small forest on lowered ground, surrounded by a natural wall of rock, and covered by an outlandish, tongue-like precipice. Next to it, there’s some sort of tall obelisk, as well as a small mountain hiding a cave entrance beneath a toothed roof. It immediately caught my eye, given that I’d never seen a similar configuration before or since. I explored the small place thoroughly, looking at it from all angles and at all times of the day, taking too many pictures (as always). There are many breath-taking sights to be found in No Man’s Sky, but this one was more intimate than most, a haven within a haven. If base building were (already) part of the game, I probably would have built one right there, in the shadows of the stone tongue. But of course, staying in one place isn’t really the point of the game, and so I soon journeyed on to the next planet.
However beautiful that place is, the most interesting fact about it is this: I know, for a fact, that I am the first being that ever saw it – and perhaps, even more mind-blowingly, the last one as well. This particular planet manifested itself for the first time when my ship landed on its surface. It was there before, in some more abstract sense, as a potential, but my going there realised it, made it visible and explorable for the first time. There is no designer in a traditional sense that created it for me to see and therefore had prior knowledge of it. And due to the