No Man’s Sky: Thousands of worlds to explore. And dinosaurs.

What do you actually do in No Man’s Sky? This is an increasingly important question. It felt churlish to press the point when the game was first announced: its promise of  an infinite cosmos to explore was, and is, beautiful, ambitious and backed up by proven tech. I don’t think there’s a risk of oversell here, because I’ve seen No Man’s Sky running: you really can dash from planet to planet in real time, and you really can look up at a randomised space dinosaur and think, ‘Wow, look at that dinosaur.’

At first glance, the latest footage of the game sticks to the now-familiar pattern: worlds to explore, each tagged with the name of the player who discovered it; fleets of starships to fly past in a smooth arc on the way to the next planet; a bit where a dinosaur roars and it’s all tremendously evocative, and perhaps it’d be OK if we all just stopped and took in the majesty of it because, y’know,  dinosaurs .

Look a little closer and, happily, there is a game emerging amid all the spectacle. In particular, the game’s flight model is taking shape. Don’t expect  Elite style complexity: No Man’s Sky  is aiming for accessibility, from push-button prompts for warping between locations to context-sensitive landing indicators that crop up while approaching planet-bound bases. Points of interest crashed ships, interesting geological features, resources and so on show up on the minimap, but also in your field of view as a halo of blue light. Subtle enough to pass as lens flare, this suggests one of the ways that No Man’s Sky will lead you through its vast gameworld.

Galactic navigation is achieved through a 3D starmap that takes after EVE and, again, Elite. Given the billions of potential planets being generated by the game’s underlying algorithms, making discovery manageable for actual humans is crucial. No Man’s Sky makes it clear whether a region of space is explored or unexplored, and allows you to transition into new areas relatively seamlessly. It’s not yet clear how much freedom you’ll have to warp between divergent parts of the galaxy, nor how easy it’ll be to get to a part of space that, say, your friend has discovered. The presence of a swirling portal on one world suggests an answer, but nothing has been confirmed and, as Hello Games’ Sean Murray stresses, the game can’t really be about completion or a curated experience. It’s too big for that.

There will be FPS elements, and space combat, and their absence from anything shown so far is a concern. In truth, though, the reasons I’m so excited about  No Man’s Sky have nothing to do with guns or dogfighting. The game could deliver only on what has been shown so far and I’d be happy: a planet with my name on it, a minimap full of stuff, a dinosaur.

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