Don’t Panic: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To No Man’s Sky

As many embark on their journeys this week in No Man's Sky to the center of the galaxy (or wherever it is that huge diamond in the sky keeps telling you to go), there will no doubt be feelings of helplessness, anger, joy, fascination, and confusion. With so many aliens to meet (all three races!), planets to visit (this one is green, neat!) and resources to mine (WHERE’S THE PLUTONIUM?!), it can feel like one does after drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Which is to say in three words: not very good.

No Man’s Sky is a game that should have the words DON’T PANIC written cleanly on the back of it. For while it may seem like the whole galaxy is out to get you, and it very well may be, the rest of the 18 quintillion planets probably have much better things to do. The game is, for all intents and purposes, mostly harmless. Observant readers will no doubt begin to ready their dusty omnibuses and seek to point out any and all errors I have and will continue to make in the following paragraphs. Because I, tongue firmly in cheek, wish to make this known:

 

No Man’s Sky is, however improbable, a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy simulator.

Using my own aging memory and fondness for the source material (read: the book), I will attempt to summarize my observations that led to this most literary conclusion.

Exhibit A:

“A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

Yes, I know there is not a single towel in No Man’s Sky. No showers, either, which makes me wonder if the concept of basic hygiene was thrown out through the airlock, never to be seen again. Consider, however, that gun-like object in your hand. Shoot it at a rock and you have iron. Shoot it at a tree, and you have carbon. If there was a planet made entirely of bread, you would have a planet soon to be made entirely of toast.

Every resource is harvested through your multi-tool. It is also your primary weapon. With a quick flick of the triangle button, your mining beam can become a Sentinel’s worst nightmare (or a steel door’s, if steel doors could have nightmares). Attached to your multi-tool is also your scanner, which is used to document every flower, animal, and planet you come across. Sounds like a job for Ford Prefect! Honestly, they should just change the name to “multi-towel.” Though I suppose that would be redundant.

Exhibit B:

“Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”

Anyone currently playing No Man’s Sky can attest that it is big. Really, really big. Largely empty, too, but that’s a criticism for another time. Every procedurally-generated planet has its own procedurally-generated flora and fauna. Eighteen quintillion planets, says Hello Games, creators of Life, the Universe, and Everything (in No Man’s Sky). A number so large, it sounds less like a number and more like something you would order at a fancy restaurant.

The planets themselves are very planet-sized indeed. If I had to guess how long it would take for one person to walk the circumference of one planet, I would say that it would be about the same amount of time it takes for a person to find true love, marry that true love, and start to look around for other true loves once that first true love starts to get critical of all the planet-walking you’ve been doing. Do yourself a favor. If you find yourself on a planet with nothing to do, leave. There are plenty of other planets with nothing to do for you to see.

Exhibit C:

“…if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.”

The Babel fish—he envy of every high school junior trying to finish their language credit. Learning a language, especially as an adult, can be an infuriating experience. Learning a language in No Man’s Sky, however, is as easy as pressing a button. Alien monuments small and large serve as intergalactic Rosetta Stones for the wayward traveler.

Never mind the intricacies of Korvax syntax or the guttural nuance of a Vy’keen adverb. Simply touch a stone, and the words will magically appear in your head. Then, when a Gek trader attempts to swindle you out of your rare Emeril, you can nod your head, say “vertical” and walk away.

Exhibit D:

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

While some of us are still weighing in on whether No Man’s Sky is a great, boring game or just great at being boring, it can be said that the difference between what people thought the game would be, and what it actually turned out to be, is quite vast. Even with the game-changing Day 1 patch, many players feel as if they have been cheated out of something they were promised.

Whether that was a promise originally put on by the developers or by the hyperactive imaginations of its community is best left to the forum threads. All it takes is a quick look at the Steam reviews to quickly see that, while this a game we wanted, it doesn’t answer why we wanted it in the first place. No Man’s Sky is the number forty two of video games.

Exhibit E:

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

No Man’s Sky has such a way of passing the time that it could make Thursdays much easier to get the hang of (some of these references can be real B-sides, watch out). There is so much to see, as long as you count every conceivable shade of green as something worth seeing. By the time you turn off your television in search of something more productive to do, such as the laundry or even writing that screenplay you say will write but never seem to find the time, you will wonder how seven hours felt like fifteen boring minutes. I should clarify that, while I have used the word “boring” to describe No Man’s Sky, I don’t mean it in an entirely bad way. It’s the same sort of boring that you might use to describe a meadow or your friend’s baby shower. It may not be a night out at the pub, but you’ll be glad you went.

 


Viewing No Man’s Sky through Douglas Adams-tinted glasses may be the perfect way to understand its underlying appeal. Here is a game that refuses to hold your hand and instead throws you face first into the procedurally-generated dirt. Upon observing the dirt, you learn that it is in fact a very rare dirt. With shovels of rare dirt in your spaceship, you sell it for a much bigger spaceship that can hold a lot more dirt.

The game asks you to set your own goals, much like how your wife might ask you to fold your own laundry. I can assure you that it is much better to set goals and fold laundry than it is to walk around with a wrinkly shirt. No Man’s Sky made me curious about a world outside of my own, something that is very hard to be as an adult with rent, bills, and revolving debt. Even with all the bugginess, the meter maintenance and boring combat, No Man’s Sky manages to instill a sense of wonder I haven’t felt since I first read the story of a bloke named Arthur Dent.