I’m Glad Games Like No Man’s Sky Can Come Back

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Last night, I spent an evening with No Man’s Sky. People don’t say that often. Most people haven’t said that in nearly two years. But tonight, people the world over got to do just that. I never thought I’d see the day. Admittedly, that was foolish to think.

Games…well games have changed a lot. They’ve gotten prettier and bigger. They’ve also grown smaller and artsier. Some are filled to the brim with explosive action and others are spaced out by quieter moments of introspection. They all come in different shapes and sizes and all try to do mostly different things to satisfy the same base desires. Which makes it harder than ever to deliver when your game is one thing, and everyone else expects everything. This was the story of No Man’s Sky, a game whose hype cycle admittedly got ahead of itself, causing a failure at launch. Before the world knew it, No Man’s Sky went from fandom darling to cultural bomb. “Fans” became disappointed, felt betrayed and lied to, and proceeded to threaten the lives and livelihoods of the folks who made the game. Those people understandably went quiet for a long time. People thought they’d move on, or shutter the company, being shamed out of the industry. Then:

Promises began being delivered on. Quietly, the work was being done to make the game what it wasn’t before. This would continue for about two years. This time saw the release of the Foundation Update, the Pathfinder Update, Atlas Rises and finally, Next. Cumulatively, these updates  and expansions brought base-building, base-sharing, land vehicles for increased exploration, revamped graphics, freighters for increased storage, new lore, storylines and a formal quest structure, the beginnings of multiplayer and finally its true implementation as well as a revamped UI, a perspective change, character customization and increased variety in planetary bodies, their fauna, life and biomes. Altogether, they don’t make for a radically different game, but a much stronger, clearer and focused vision of the one that came out before. One that people can look at and see the hard work that went into making it. This just could not happen before.

It used to be that once a game was out, that was it. Whomever would judge it would judge it as it stood because that was to be its perpetual state. But as Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku puts so well in an article about the lack of a “best” time to play games anymore, “Adjusting to this new way of playing video games means embracing an era of ambiguity. Nothing is finished; nothing is final.” Such was the case with Rainbow Six: Siege, a game that before No Man’s Sky had even come out, was declared dead on arrival and is now one of the biggest games in the world. The notion of the changing game isn’t uncharted territory anymore, but it’s certainly not an entirely familiar concept either, which has made the reinvigorated No Man’s Sky’s reception heartening if not a little strange.

No Man’s Sky was always going to grow and change. It was never going to be the same game that we paid for at launch. A game that scope and size was either going to be in development forever or release exactly like it did. I and many others understood that way back when, which made its chilly reception at launch a disappointment. Given how negatively it was received, I’m glad it came back though. I’m glad it got its redemption. In an age where first impression are only the beginning of a long story and aren’t in fact the whole thing, I’m grateful that No Man’s Sky has a lifetime ahead of it.

As my friend stood stranded on a water planet, specifically on an island the shape of an avocado, I thought of the unending potential for the stories this game could tell now that it wasn’t so monotone. As I lifted off the planet and took a dramatic picture of my departure, complete with him waving goodbye, I thought of how glad I was the game found some semblance of structure. As I landed in the revamped space stations, replete with an abundance of alien life, I thought of how good a call it was to make life among the stars a joy to look at and interact with. As I purchased the supplies to get my friends ship off that damned avocado, honestly, I thanked the lord that capitalism was alive and well in space and that I gamed the system years ago to net me a few million credits. At the end of it all, I was just glad that No Man’s Sky had changed at all, otherwise a blunder-filled adventure like the one that took place last night couldn’t have occurred at all.

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