Photo: Hello Games
In Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z, he tells dozens of different stories about how various countries around the world reacted to a global zombie menace. The rich of Hollywood, California tear one another apart, while the Queen of England stands strong and lets refugees into her palace.
North Korea, meanwhile, disappears completely. Its population filters into mines and tunnels and is never seen or heard from again, even after the war is over.
That’s sort of what it seems like happened to Hello Games in the wake of No Man’s Sky.
Outside of a few bug patches back in September, and a recent social media “hack” dust-up, we have heard quite literally nothing from Hello Games about No Man’s Sky. No explanations for the game’s shortcomings and reaction to fan feedback, nor any indication of the specifics the team may be working on.
I do believe, however, that the Hello Games team has not disappeared off the face of the earth. If I had to guess, they’re working on a mammoth update for the game, something to try and get it closer to the “original vision” while salvaging their good name in the process. If you’ll recall, there was a month or so between completion and ship date, and Hello Games worked up a very, very large day one patch that actually changed a hell of a lot about the game at the last minute, and probably saved it from being worse than it was. Given even more time, I have to believe they’re cooking up something major.
However, the question remains, what exactly could Hello Games even do at this point to make players return to a game that is now widely regarded as one of the biggest “bait and switch” games of the year (or possibly ever).
Photo: Hello Games
Some of the most controversial “forgotten” feature would probably do very little at this point. Multiplayer at this juncture would be almost pointless, given how much the playerbase has dwindled, and the fact that there really isn’t even anything to do with other players either, if such a thing was possible. Double-speed mining? Mildly more interesting Sentry battles?
Nor do I really care about something like base-building, given what I’ve seen of the existing bases scattered across every world in the game’s existence. I also don’t think the new insertion of a new story component would mean much, given how hard it would be to trust the devs that this rabbit hole would actually be worth following this time.
Rather, there’s literally only one thing that would make me return to No Man’s Sky, and where I hope the team is focusing all their effort:
No, I don’t mean equal racial and gender representation among the Gek and Vy’keen. I’m talking about greater diversity in planet layout, flora, fauna, alien structures, ships, activity design, pretty much everything.
While it’s impressive that the procedurally generated algorithm of this game was able to create a string of infinite planets, the result is, as many feared, a mile wide and an inch deep. Even though this is a game you could theoretically play forever, you have more or less seen everything there is to see after about 5-6 hours. There are really only a handful of types of planets, with the same peaks and valleys and lakes and caves, the only thing that’s different are the color palates. Alien buildings and the “quests” they contain are copy-pasted on every, single, world in the galaxy (and all the galaxies). Even the most “interesting” things to find, namely new wildlife and new ships, just take a bunch of building blocks and mash them together in an “infinite” number of ways, and yet there aren’t enough pieces there, so you see eighty versions of the same jackalope, slightly tweaked, or you land at a spaceport and the ships are 98% the same as others you’ve seen a hundred times.
Photo: Hello Games
This is the only thing that would pull me back. No Man’s Sky can’t turn into something it’s not. It can’t suddenly be some slick shooter or space-fighter. It just isn’t that game. But it was always about exploration, and exploration only works if there are worthwhile things to explore. After just a few hours of play right now, you can just see that isn’t the case. And this is what needs fixing more than most.
If Hello Games devoted all their time to creating truly diverse planetary environments full of lots of new things to discover, that would be enough to make me fuel up my ship again. Add in a photo mode, some kind of new exploration achievement tracking system that isn’t terrible (I’m having flashbacks to that achievement sound clip and the letterbox effect taking over your screen) and that would be the core that No Man’s Sky was always missing from day one. There’s a reason that after release the first few hours did create a positive impression for many, but when the twentieth planet was eerily similar to all the others, the jig was up, and players left in droves.
I just worry that the developers may be focusing on a whole host of new features like multiplayer or building tools that won’t fix the core problems of the game, and won’t bring people back. But for many, the ship has sailed, directly into the sun, and there’s no recovering it no matter what.
I know they’re working on something, and they haven’t disappeared forever. Despite the eventual disappointment the game brought, I have to admit I am curious to see if they can ever make this concept whole, because that’s a game I really would love to play.
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