Over the past decade there has been a pretty notable trend of space-based games receiving large amounts of pre-release hype – almost always to the perceived detriment of the game.
2014’s Destiny had the hype-train running for years prior to launch, with an almost-expectation that the game would quite possibly become the biggest game in history – partly due to the Developer, Bungie, creating the current holder of that title; Halo.
Despite winning a number of game of the year awards, and holding the record for the largest new franchise opening in history, Destiny has suffered from a perception of disappointment and not living up to the pre-release fanfare (although its third expansion, The Taken King, has supposedly fixed a number of the initial issues with the game).
Going back a bit further – and somewhat more relevant to this preview – is Spore, released in 2008. Like Destiny, this game was spoken about as a potential watershed moment for the gaming industry, with its apparent scope and size promising endless possibilities for all players.
However, despite generally favourable reviews, the game’s gameplay was severely lacking and shallow, not allowing the full capabilities of its procedurally generated worlds and creatures to truly flourish.
No Man’s Sky has certainly been no exception.
Having been developed over the past few years by indie developer Hello Games – with co-founder Sean Murray intermittently creating the game engine by himself over its first year of existence – few, if any, games have received as much recent hype as NMS (helped largely by its immaculate presentation at E3 2014).
A first-person space survival/exploration game, there is no overall, definitive objective, but rather the utmost freedom for the players to go where and do what they please (though there is the general idea of moving further towards the centre of the galaxy, whereby the worlds become more life-filled, dangerous, and resourceful).
However the main point of interest is what also brought so much initial attention to Spore – the procedurally generated universe.
Using mathematics and algorithms this writer won’t even attempt to comprehend, NMS is able create its worlds and all that is on them as they are discovered – meaning the developers don’t have to individually create each and every detail, rather allowing the maths to do the work with staggering variety.
As a result, according to Murray, the game can host 18 quintillion planets.
In numerical terms, that is 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 if we’re using the exact number, according to CNN).
If the sheer size isn’t terrifying enough, each and every world – once discovered – will have its own unique flora, fauna, resources, terrain, and environment.
Even when offline, every player will be capable of travelling to every single planet – with every newly-found planet and its information able to be uploaded to the universally accessible Atlas, which allows all online players to offer notes and details.
Going by this information, it isn’t difficult to see why NMS is 2016’s most eagerly awaited game.
And yet, there’s doubt. Not much, mind you, but it is still there.
The doubt is almost entirely due to the failure of Spore given their inherent similarities.
Promising so much, with countless options and possibilities, will the game fall into the same pitfalls and not live up to the hope it offers?
Spore is quite a limited game when it comes to actually playing it. There are a handful of key stages of evolution which offer different problems and capabilities, stopping when the player has accessed space exploration.
While this final stage can be played ad infinitum, there were only so many things you were able to do or planets to explore before the game became tiresome and the lack of a developed gameplay stood out.
NMS is based almost entirely on its space travel and world exploration, with options to become involved in conflicts between alien races and other side quests as well.
Up until its release, there will always be the query as to whether Hello Games have managed to solve the issue regarding never-ending games; the incentive to keep playing.
The game offers players the opportunities to upgrade all of their equipment and ships, with a variety of different plug-ins allowing for widespread customisation of just about every facet, however is this enough to keep players coming back time and time again?
Other games which require a similar degree of ‘grinding to upgrade’ often have a storyline and defined goals (most prominently seen with World of Warcraft), not to mention offer regular updates and expansions to further add to the gaming experience.
It’s difficult to see just how NMS can do similar given the entire game is dependent on mathematics rather than individually-created components.
Much of its replayability will be up to the player and their own desire to continue exploring for hours on end, potentially without any apparent reward.
For the good of the gaming industry, many will be hoping NMS does succeed, simply because of the potential contained within how its universe creates itself.
Outside of virtual reality, this concept and mechanic could be the most important stepping stone for how future games are made and the sheer scope of gameplay – especially in regards to space exploration.
Taking the story away from the creators and into the hands of the player, the term ‘sandbox’ game mightn’t even be enough to truly describe just how free and expansive they can be.
Of course, gaming history is nothing but a timeline of progresses, from one technological advancement to another.
So while NMS has every chance to be a spectacular success, even if it fails, its potential importance cannot be understated.
It mightn’t be perfect, you may only play it once and never again, but for now just enjoy seeing – and experiencing – what may very well be the next big leap forward in gaming.
No Man’s Sky releases on PlayStation 4 & PC June 22, 2016.