As is commonplace for a highly-anticipated game like No Man’s Sky, would-be players begin to ask and speculate on what the game should have, or what it needs. This sets up a whole demographic for disappointment and shit-posting on a new title.
I myself am guilty of this, regarding EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, and the unforgivable afterthought they call ‘Co-op content’. Though of course, we could argue (for my sake) that the developer set me and many others up for a nasty surprise by choosing to reboot an old IP, giving it the same name, then subtracting over half of the content and adding the square root of CoD.
Such confusion will not be an issue with No Man’s Sky as it is the first of its IP, and a refreshingly original one at that. But there is already a grumpy mob of players setting themselves up for disappointment over the debate of multiplayer features. There are groups who would love to see the realization of a PVP, dog eat dog gank-fest akin to Rust and Reign of Kings on a wider planetary scale.
Others, who I relate to more closely, want nothing more than to travel the cosmos with a friend or two along for the ride, helping with resource gathering, crafting, and the hasty delivery of death to unknown aggressive beings.
Neither of these wishes are likely to be met. Hello Games has been clear it’s simply not their focus. They’ve honed in on exploration, and immersion as the key features of the game. And to some degree, the only way to get as close as you can to that feeling of being alone in an unknown corner of a gigantic universe, is to take away those insta-queue/matchmaking/party-forming convenience tools. And Fast Travel is out of the question.
You want to summon a friendly player to your side, from light-years away? Boom, immersion destroyed — along with a core element of the game, the procedurally generated vastness, and the unique journey you’re supposed to be making. Not to mention, speculatively, that ganging up on NPC wildlife or pirates with a mob of friends could make the game far too easy — again, breaking the player’s potential investment regarding any fear of death. If the sense of danger is too watered-down, a survival game it is not.
The truth is, making a game like this too social, and/or group-play oriented can hinder as much as help.
For every friendly player you might come across, there’s a group of PKers who will happily ping your head off just to take your hard-earned stuff. There’s no cheaper way to die, and if you had played hours just to reach that point, you might be so taken out of the game that you don’t want to even continue out of frustration.
The way it’s looking, No Man’s Sky will be dominantly a well fleshed-out PVE experience with some social elements. You may well find your friends, but the time and effort to do so looks to be an epic quest of its own. The game makes up for what may be a less communal experience with the content provided via NPCs and the environment itself. This will allow players to explore the game entirely at their own pace, whenever the mood strikes them. There are no incentives to get online at certain periods of the day, or worrying about a low player base, because it won’t greatly impact your gaming experience in the first place.
There’s no worse of a downer in video games than when a good game starts to be declared ‘dead’ by the community, due to a reliance on several players forming groups or teams for it to be playable at all. It’s a positive, then, that No Man’s Sky has been built primarily to be enjoyed as a solo experience, and so perhaps years down the line there will still be players enjoying it for the first time, or old players returning. If nothing else, I can foresee a lot of fun stories being traded between friends after release, even if they can’t directly play together.
Who knows, as time passes we may see patches or mods to support group play, but for now we should look forward to exploring and learning about this huge virtual world as intended by the design team.