Ever since No Man’s Sky was announced, it’s seemed like an impossible game. The gaming audience is a cynical crowd, burned by endless streams of lofty promises, so everyone treads lightly around the massive space exploration title with whispers, bated breath and a collective prayer that it won’t be just another disappointment. From questions of how such a small development studio will be able to create potentially the biggest game ever created to what you’ll even do in the game beyond “explore,” mystery has swirled around No Man’s Sky like so many stars and undiscovered planets.
But finally, at E3 2015, we’re getting a picture of what No Man’s Sky might actually turn out to be.
No Man’s Sky, as described by director Sean Murray, is a lot like Grand Theft Auto without missions. Murray wants players to go into the game as blind as possible, not really sure what to do, where to go, or where the lines are drawn in what you’re able to do. On stage at Sony’s E3 press conference, Murray picked a planet at random to travel to, demonstrating what a typical day in the game’s universe is really like. Expecting giant creatures, a space battle or something grandiose to show off in front of thousands of people, Murray was instead greeted by plants, peaceful creatures and “E3 fish.” That’s the key to No Man’s Sky: you can never quite count on anything.
As he continued to explore and began destroying structures to farm minerals, he met resistance from robots protecting the planet; suddenly, No Man’s Sky turned into a rudimentary first-person shooter for a brief moment. People have wondered for so long what they’ll be doing on these planets, moons, asteroid fields and vast expanses of space, and Murray answered them loud and clear: lots of stuff.
Planets are destructible, so you can mine them for crafting resources. You can shoot robots on foot. Local creatures may be hostile or friendly, or merely apathetic to your presence. You can find a freighter transporting valuables through space and protect it from pirates or attack it yourself. You can warp into a zone and find a battle between factions raging that you can jump into if you so choose. That battle will rage independent of your choice to intervene or not, so it really is up to you. Keep in mind, though, that your actions will have consequences: attack a faction and they might shoot you first next time you’re in their little patch of space. There’s also a wanted level in the top-right corner of the screen in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, and you can incur the wrath of the space-police by killing innocents or otherwise causing chaos.
From the sound of it, the game never tells you to do anything specific, really, and Murray describes it as “an action sandbox.” There are plenty of elements of No Man’s Sky that won’t be made super obvious to players and you’ll need to figure them out for yourself.
No Man’s Sky also has persistent multiplayer, but players expecting to hop in and play a few rounds of deathmatch might want to look elsewhere. Murray compares the game’s style to thatgamecompany’s Journey, a game with seamless, drop-in/drop-out cooperative play with strangers but with extremely limited player interactions. With such a massive universe to explore, players probably won’t bump into each other all that often and it’s not hard to imagine many players never meeting another human in the entirety of their time with No Man’s Sky. Instead, you’ll find the traces of other players, like previously discovered planets or creatures.
Murray wasn’t able to announce a release date for the game, but he did confirm that No Man’s Sky will also be coming to PC as close as the team can possibly muster (no guarantees for day and date parity). He mentioned that the team assumed Sony would take issue with the game’s PC release, but said that the company has been extremely supportive in the same fashion as Street Fighter V, which will be coming exclusively to PS4 and PC.
Even with this more comprehensive look at No Man’s Sky, there’s still plenty of mystery to be poked through, but it sounds like we won’t be getting many more details for a while: Murray said the game will probably go back on media blackout for the time being.