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Why No Man's Sky looks destined to be an impressive disappointment

With No Man's Sky's imminent release on the procedurally generated horizon, I ask, can the game really live up to the hype?

As No Man's Sky's June 21 release date draws ever closer, anticipation levels for Hello Games' ambitious title continue to grow. For some like myself, however, the game's impending arrival is being met with a heavy dose of scepticism.

For those like me, we've followed the game's progress so far with interest, but not necessarily excitement. I can basically break it down into three key points of view I've had while observing the game's progression.

This is too ambitious.

When No Man's Sky was first announced at the tail end of 2013, my initial reaction was that they either have to be greatly exaggerating the scope of this game, or that this project will never come to fruition.

I mean just the sheer scale of it alone seemed a little too ambitious for a team of four, whose only previous works together were the well-received, but fairly simplistic Joe Danger series. Could they really live up to their promise of creating an "infinite universe" where "every atom" is procedurally generated?

The announcement trailer (below) showcased the game's gorgeous visual style and showed footage of a spaceship taking off from a planet's surface and seamlessly launching itself into space, where large battles between hulking spacecraft, and destructible asteroids, among other things, lay in wait. 

It looked amazing. So much so that it looked destined to end up in the too good to be true category, much like EA's Spore some years before.

Other than doubting its ability to live up to its potential, No Man's Sky also had a lot of questions surrounding it. What was actually the point of this game? Was there more to it than simply exploring? How would we be able to interact with any other players we might cross paths with? While it offered up endless possibilities, the game came with few promises. I was intrigued, but not prepared to let it turn to excitement until I saw more.

It wasn't until E3 2015, where Hello Game's showed off some live gameplay, that my viewpoint began to change. No Man's Sky was chipping away at my cynicism and was starting to make a believer out of me.

Wow, they might actually pull this off

This wasn't just another trailer they were showing off, this was live footage, in game. We got to see a space battle between warring factions that we could be a apart of, and even choose sides in. We got to see fully destructible environments and planet-side combat against hostile robot Sentinels. We even got to see a visual representation of the insane number of star systems out there just waiting to be explored by players. All that, and the game now had a core goal, reach the centre of the universe.

No Man's Sky looked like a game ready to deliver an unforgettable experience, and at this point, all I wanted to know was when it would finally get a release date.

This isn't going to work

Fast forward to the present, and that shadow of doubt was starting to loom overhead again. The more I thought about certain aspects of the game, the more I started to think they might not quite deliver what I was hoping for.

One thing Hello Games have tried time and time again to display is the incredible scale of the galaxy, of which they believe 99.9% will remain undiscovered. Impressive, initially; but I wonder, is that really a good thing? What is the point?

I get that this is an exploration game and it's supposed to parallel the vastness our own incredible universe, but I believe while many will appreciate the isolation, many will also want to encounter traces of other players. I believe most players want the experience of making new discoveries but also the chance of encountering signs of other life, something that may not happen, such is the number of planets out there to be explored.

Not only that, even if you were to come across the activities of another player, you can't interact with that person in any meaningful way, you can't bring a buddy along with you to explore. I started to realise just how empty that all sounded, how hollow the whole experience could turn out to be.

Even with all those planets, how much variety can this infinite, procedurally generated universe really deliver? That's the other problem with creating such a huge universe, the more planets there are, the more likely we are to see elements being recycled. With the increased potential to see something new, comes the increased chance of seeing things we've already seen before -- perhaps not being completely identical, with all-but-unnoticeable differences.

It's not all about exploration, however, you can also upgrade your equipment, trade with alien races, there's space and planet-side combat, but questions still lie about the depth of all these things. The game wasn't built around them, but rather these gameplay mechanics have been tacked on. Even if they're done to a high standard, how long can they all remain engaging? Is it likely to equal the scope of the game as a whole?

There is hope.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe from what I've seen that No Man's Sky will be a bad game per se, or a flop financially, but with such hefty expectations, can it really live up to its promise?

I just don't know. I haven't given up on No Man's Sky, but I refuse to get hyped. With just six weeks until the game's release, we will find out soon enough if No Man's Sky can deliver what we all hope it will.

What do you think? Are you eagerly awaiting the game's arrival? Or do you share some of the same concerns? Will you be picking it up day one? Let us know in the comments below.

Published May. 10th 2016

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