For the last chapter of my dissection on No Man’s Sky we will dive into the glorious technological achievement of combat. In our last post, I lightly brought up the fact on how challenge and fun should get hand-in-hand and this point still stands strong this week. Whether a player is answering the call of duty, commanding and conquering, or reliving an age of empires this basic assumption about challenge/fun echoes loudly in their design. With a game with so many mechanics, it is truly a marvel how all of them could be so awfully boring.
Before you read on I urge you to watch this video about space combat: HERE. (Contains some NSFW language.)
If at this point, after watching the linked YouTube video, then you, the reader, might be experiencing higher than normal heart rates with a slightly damp forehead or palms. This is what we call getting pumped. Eve Online’s trailer captures numerous astounding emotions, it draws the viewer deeper and deeper, until they realize that their adrenaline as been turn to 11, and their pupils have dilated to the size of dinner plates. Space combat should be impactful and fast. A player’s space maneuvering skills should be constantly pushed to their limits. No room for compromise and no room for fatal decision making. These are the desired traits for making a space combat simulation. Call it the bible of galactic warfare if you like.
No Man’s Sky, in a nutshell, fails to reach any of these desirables. The player’s ship feels like a toy gliding through space. No impact. No ability to outplay the enemy. Every ship, including your own, are equipped with homing lasers beams that automatically does damage as long as the target is in range. That is it. One can argue that the mining lasers can be used too, but the maneuvering feels so clunky and unsophisticated, trying to free aim shoot a moving target is like trying to play darts when your blind, deaf, and mute. The developers even weaseled out on how the ship recovers it shields! Instead of having to skillfully dodge, which you can’t with the laser beam’s instantaneous auto lock-on, and wait for the ship’s shields to recharge the player has to stop, open up their menu, and consume a set amount of elements. Where do I begin with this monstrosity of poor design choice? First of all, when the player is in the MIDDLE of what should be a heart pumping space combat experience the LAST thing that a player wants is to cease all activities to manually recharge their shields. The flow of gameplay has already been disrupted. Second, what sort of challenge is being presented when the pilot can fight off 6 enemy fighters by simply consuming a resource to gain all their health back? The challenge is necessary for fun to blossom in the hearts of its players. A challenge comes when the game decides to stop babying the player in every situation, but instead all this game does is introduce a mechanics, an environment to test said mechanics, and a reason to use these mechanics. It feels like the developers didn’t even stop to test out their own game to decide whether or not it was fun. It’s so straightforward, It has no depth, and it has no requirement for the player to be skilled. No Man’s Sky’s space combat commits the greatest video game design sin of all: it is unfathomably dull.
This post is much too long already, so I will continue with land combat in my next blog post. Now where is that bottle of aspirin.