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Science-Fiction Weekly – Is No Man's Sky The Most Disappointing Game Of The Year?

by Andrew Reiner on Oct 25, 2016 at 11:09 AM

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As 2016 winds to a close, and the bickering over what game should be awarded as the year’s best heats up, it's time to reflect on the events that shaped our favorite entertainment medium over the last 365 days – from gamers taking their first steps in virtual reality to a small studio in Guildford, England creating a digital universe filled with over 18 quintillion planets. My initial thoughts on 2016 are a little worrisome – nothing really stood out as a sea-change moment other than Pokémon Go getting people to go outside to throw balls at monsters. It has been a quiet year, dominated by sequels and great indie titles. VR hasn't moved the needle like we thought it would.

One of the loudest talking points is No Man’s Sky. Never before have I seen a game hit with such a swing of enthusiasm between announcement and release. Within the span of a day, it shifted from the most-anticipated game of the year to potentially the most disappointing and controversial.

The biggest issue surrounding No Man's Sky is how it was communicated. As much as we can point a stern finger at developer Hello Games for misleading or cryptic messaging, the blame also lies with the player for hyping this game up into something it wasn’t. Everyone, from Hello Games’ founder Sean Murray to the average consumer, communicated a version of No Man’s Sky that wasn’t indicative of the game.

I think I can safely say that no one thought No Man’s Sky would be dominated by resource-gathering. We all assumed the core experience would focus on exploring the cosmos. The endless need to mine fuel and supplies is the primary reason why I haven't gone back to finish the game. I still want to see the center of the universe, but I don't want to jump through these aggressive gameplay loops to get there. It isn't fun. The best part of the game is landing on new planets to see if they contain life or alien artifacts.

No Man's Sky not lining up with expectations, or even what Murray said, created a backlash, the likes of which we rarely see. Gamers have a right to be upset. In my time playing, the game never looked as good as the promotional footage. It's shocking how different the game looks from these videos.

Hello Games' messaging of certain gameplay components also didn't line up with the final product. I don't think they lied at any point, I just think elements were communicated too early, and ended up changing mid-development. The vision behind most games changes at some point. I just wish Hello Games would have come back and said, "Listen, elements of the game changed in development. Here's what it's like now." The fiasco surrounding multiplayer is the perfect example of pre-release information not lining up with the final game. That moment where two players were going to meet in the universe – something Hello Games didn't think would ever happen – ended in disaster. Going into the game, people were led to believe that while meeting up with another player was unlikely, it was possible. A lot of consumer trust was lost in that one second where those two players couldn't see each other.

Is No Man's Sky the most disappointing game of the year? For me, it isn't. I enjoyed my time with the game, but grew tired of the resource-heavy gameplay. It's a 7 out of 10 in my book – a noble attempt at trying something new that didn't quite embrace what made it special. I could still go back into it and have some fun. I cannot say the same for games like Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, Homefront: Revolution, or Star Fox Zero. All three of those games are bad in my book, and are more deserving of the title.

I know many of you were excited to play No Man's Sky, and ended up jumping into the game on day one. I would love to hear about your exploration of this universe, and what you think its lasting legacy will be. Can Hello Games make it a great game through updates? What would it take to get there? Would it even matter at this point?

I'll leave you today with some thoughts on Titanfall 2. I'm only an hour into the campaign, but I'm loving it. Respawn does gunplay like no one else, and the feel of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is apparent in the campaign flow. I likely won't follow up on Titanfall 2 in a future Science-Fiction Weekly column, so you should give Javy Gwaltney's review a read if you haven't already. In it he says, "In an era where it feels like the majority of shooters either have single-player or multiplayer tacked on, Titanfall 2 is the full package. The top-tier campaign has nearly perfect pacing, and the subtle revisions and additions to the multiplayer make it better than ever. For first-person shooter fans, Titanfall 2 is a must play."

That's going to do it for this week. I hope everyone enjoys the seven days ahead, and...oh...look!!! New Star Wars: Episode VIII news! At this point you have to assume I'll talk about Star Wars at some point. We all want to know who Rey's parents are, and we don't have to wait until Episode IX to find out! How exciting!