The PC Version of No Man’s Sky finally unlocked at 1800hrs BST yesterday. The day seemed to drag and I thought the hands on the clock would never tick round to 6pm, but eventually, they did. So what are my initial thoughts now that I’ve had a chance to actually play the game on PC? Well to be honest there were one or two issues but this is a long journey and I expect a few bumps along the way.
From a technical point of view, No Man’s Sky has had a somewhat troubled start on PC. Many users are reporting issues with frame rate and stuttering. There are also reports of crashes and these issues are reflected in the reviews that people are leaving for the game. I will say there’s rather a lot of negative reviews from people who have only put in 0.1hrs of “play” which to me seems a bit unfair on the game but that’s a different discussion for another day. At the time of writing around two thirds of reviews by Steam users are negative.
I should probably start by telling you what I’m playing on. I’m currently playing on an NVidia GTX980ti GPU with an intel core i7 6700k @ 4.00ghz and have 32gb ram. No Man’s Sky enjoys full controller support so I opted for my Xbox One elite control pad. Upon loading up No Man’s Sky I was taken into the initial start screen where you are flying through the stars. I have a frame rate counter overlay running with my games and I noticed it was hovering at around 16- 20fps. I notice a few stutters and prepared myself for a good session in the settings screen to try to optimise the game for my system.
The first annoying issue is that you can’t access any settings at all until you start the actual game proper. So that first wondrous moment when you awaken on a strange world is completely ruined by the default setting that caused my frame rate issues and stuttering. As soon as I could I was in the settings and began to tinker.
It’s worth noting at this point that a few of the changes I made required me to restart the game and as such I actually spawned on two or three planets before I began the game properly, this will be relevant later when I talk about the differences in the worlds. I found that V-sync was causing a lot of my issues so I turned that off, set anti aliasing to SSAA x4 (I’ve not found any noticeable difference between that and FXAA) and I unlocked the frame rate.
Everything else was set to max including the field of view and I’m also playing at 1080p. I’m now able to play at between 95 and 145 fps, I’ve had no crashes and the only stuttering I’ve experienced is related to textures loading in when I enter a planet’s atmosphere at high speed. When I slow things down it runs smoothly except the odd bit of artifacting which is presumably caused by the game when loading in the textures and landscapes whilst my ship is moving quickly.
I found the “on foot” controls to be good and easy to get the hang of, both with a controller and whilst using a Mouse and keyboard. Everything seemed to be binded in a logical way and the controls were fairly easy to get used to. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the flight controls and the feel of the ships movement.
I had to go into the setting once more to alter a few things like control invert and sensitivity but even then I’m not enjoying the feel of the ships. I like to play Elite Dangerous and compared to that the feel of the ships in No Man’s Sky feel like the difference between a real car and a remote control car. Your flight isn’t as smooth or natural feeling as it should be. You can find yourself fully immersed in the game right up until you jump in your ship and that link between you and the game is broken whilst you put up with the feel. You do get used to it as you play but it stands out to me as a negative.
Visually this game is stunning. I’m glad there’s an option for turning the UI off as I can see myself taking lot of screenshots and the UI does tend to get in the way a bit. The worlds are stunning to look at and you can lose hours just exploring . I can’t comment about how varied they are as I’ve not got far enough into the game to have experienced enough of them but so far I’ve been on a hot world, a cold world, and one with high radiation levels although there’s little or no difference in how you manage these conditions as you are just required to recharge your suit.
When I was adjusting my settings and restarting the game so they could take effect I did appear on a world that looked extremely similar to a world I saw in a stream on YouTube, right down to the big pillars of solid gold and their positioning in relation to my spawn point but otherwise my initial view is that they are quite varied. Animals certainly come in all shapes and sizes as do plant life and make worlds feel genuine. Being on foot on a planet really makes this game worth playing.
Once again though it’s in my ship flying through space where I struggle to enjoy myself. Space should feel expansive and in No Man’s Sky it just doesn’t. There’s a strange glow and particles every where that gives space a claustrophobic feel. Asteroids pop out of nowhere and to me it just feels like you’re exploring an ocean rather than space. I’m sorry to say this part of the game is a disappointment with few redeeming factors.
So what do you do in No Man’s Sky? Well first off, don’t expect the game to hold your hand. It guides you initially to get you up and running and but then it’s up to you. You need to survive first and foremost. I heard a lot of criticism about the survival aspect of this game and feared it would interfere with the exploration part but I’ve not found that to be the case.
Collecting resources so that you can survive is simple and pretty easy leaving you free to explore and discover new things. That is in my eyes the aim of the game, explore, discover and learn. There are languages you need to learn so you can better understand aliens who will help you in your quest. Discovering Animals and plants and uploading them rewards you credits. Naming your discoveries is addictive and a great addition to the game. you can trade which isn’t too complicated like it can at times be in Elite Dangerous or if you wanted, you can be a space pirate although I certainly wont be doing much of that due to the horrible ship movement. After the first few hours I have no concerns that I’ll get bored or find myself with nothing to do or nowhere to go, there’s just so much to do.
To sum up my first impressions then, No Man’s Sky is an incredible game. The hype that surrounded it has undoubtedly hurt it a bit but it is a technical masterpiece especially considering the size of the development team. Exploring the variety of planets and gathering resources are the strong points whilst being in your ship and space will have to go down as a negative for me.
There’s so much to see and do it can be overwhelming and that is a great thing for a computer game. I think the game will appeal to a certain type of gamer but even if you get 20-30 hours out of this game before moving on to another then I think your money will have been well spent, No Man’s sky is well worth the purchase.
I’m glad I opted for the PC version as there’s a few options in the settings that I think make the game a better experience on PC not least the flexibility in what control method you use. High frame rates give a nice smooth playing experience and sharp feel to movement. The heat emanating from my PC due to the demands on the hardware should be enough to keep my house warm this winter too which is an added bonus. I really do hope though that one day my friends on Xbox One will be able to experience No Man’s Sky as it’s a game that needs to be played to be understood and appreciated; it really is a stunning experience. In terms of sales, this has already been one of the biggest releases of the year so far on Steam.