“18 quintillion” planets. 584 billion hours to discover them all. The never-ending gameplay, the vastness, the variation, the sheer … quantity. After 4 years of development, countless articles (including a fair few from us) and incredible levels of expectation, No Man’s Sky has finally launched. I admire it, I respect it, and I’m glad plenty of people sound like they are enjoying it. But, honestly, I couldn’t be less interested in playing it.
Regardless of my level of interest in the game itself, it’s certainly an inspirational story – gaming’s largest universe and one of its most ambitious, created by a tiny team in Guildford. An wonderful independent, a labour of love, inspired by hard Sci-Fi like Dune, thrust into the mainstream by an incredible trailer and going on to capture the public’s imagination. But it’s the focus on the game’s sheer size that has both caught my eye and put me off entirely. More stuff to see, more to do, more time that you need to spend doing it, more more more! The implication throughout has been that bigger is somehow automatically better. And I couldn’t disagree more.
It’s not that I’m against bigger games, it’s just – well – there are only so many minutes in a day. My time for gaming doesn’t come close to the infinite vastness of space and, sadly, nor does it exist in a vacuum. Given that time is precious, I’d take 10 hours (heck, at the right price, 5) of sustained brilliance over finding those same 10 hours as “great moments” scattered in a sea of mediocrity. I want to get lost in a game, but not literally. I want purpose and direction – screw the padding, the grinding, the backtracking, the random battles – the tedium. When the fun stops, I’ll stop – and when I get to that, I’d like to think that I’ve been able to experience everything that game has to offer. I want to enjoy its beginning, its middle and its ending (or the version of that which the makers intended). It’s rare that I leave a film or give up on a book halfway through but if I do it’s not a recommendation.
To be fair, I was probably never the target audience for No Man’s Sky, having a preference for tighter experiences with clearly defined goals over a go anywhere, do anything make-your-own adventure. Each to their own, but my favourite games have all been crafted by their developers, and built to precision to maximise the fun. Maybe I lack imagination but I’d rather be landing those inch-perfect jumps, solving a fiendish puzzle, and nailing that perfect lap. I’ll take Shakespeare over 10 billion monkeys – because however creative, surprising and interesting some of their Simian output might be they will also leave behind a lot of sh!t (or, even worse, another sequel to 50 Shades of Grey). I’m looking for quality over quantity.
Because however good a game might be, it will always end up as a choice between the two – it’s simply impossible to sustain that level of quality for hundreds of hours. Portal and Limbo were two great games that ended quickly, and were surely all the better for it. Refusing to overstay their welcome or start repeating tired ideas they proved the adage of “leave them wanting more” – before returning triumphantly with their respective follow-ups. For this busy gamer, they also offered another benefit – the opportunity to go and play other great games! It’s something I wish Forza Horizon 2 had appreciated rather that treating me winning the “finale” (spoiler warning, I guess) as an invitation to essentially do it all over again. I’ll pass thanks and move on to something new – you can have too much of a good thing.
Longer does not equal better – for example, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies average over 2.5hrs each – but I appreciate that there are some people who just want to spend more time in a world, exploring the possibilities. So, for me, the best of both worlds is when developers throw in various optional side quests and activities that I can happily ignore. A tacked-on multiplayer might not enhance my single-player experience but if it works for you – great! You like collecting all the feathers, coins, or whatever else Ubisoft decide to throw into their latest open world adventure? Fine (but personally if I wanted to spend time doing pointless, mundane and repetitive tasks I’d just go to work). Would a single-player campaign or having more maps in the core Battlefront package really have made for a better game? Ok, yes, maybe there are exceptions.
So while I’ll leave the real judgements on No Man’s Sky to those who’ve actually played it (admittedly this is not a novel idea, unless you are a Metacritic user reviewer), it’s not going to feature on my shopping list any time soon. Happily, with millions of active players, Hello Games probably don’t need to worry about my purchasing decisions or start crying into their well-deserved wads of money. And hopefully, those millions of players are out discovering a giant universe that’s also filled with interesting things to do, engaging stories and, above all else, having fun.
But it’s been sold on a premise that I’m just not into. No, bigger isn’t necessarily better. And yes, I do think it’s what you do with it that counts.