I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things about video games is their ability to take the player away from their present situation. Whether the player is avoiding eye contact on the bus via phone Tetris or Sudoku (my personal preferences) or trying to get away from a bad day by delving as deeply as possible into their favorite RPG (Skyrim), these games provide a quick escape from the primary world. For a lot of people, that’s all they really need: a break from the pressures of their life and the opportunity to put it all away for a little while.
I enjoy that kind of escape immensely, almost as much as I enjoy reading. However, when I’m at my most stressed, at my most worn, when my OCD and anxiety are at their worst, this level of escape either isn’t possible or only puts my problems off until I stop playing (and I can’t tell you the number of nights I’m played games or read books until I’m falling asleep in order to put off that moment when they all come rushing back). I always need something that takes it a step further, that provides something beyond just the escape of a different world.
For a long time, that something was Minecraft. I’ve been playing it since my sophomore year of college and I’ve probably logged more hours to it than every other game I’ve played since. It was a world that was constantly changing and improving, a world where I was in complete control of the world provided I placed enough torches out to prevent Creepers from spawning. I could imagine whatever I liked and, with enough work, the game would come to reflect it. I leveled mountains, built lakes, and created entire mine cart pathways that took more than 10 minutes to go from the central hub at any of the ends.
Unfortunately for me, the game has lost a lot of its appeal as it has added a lot of features and items to create an adventure mode. The more features they added to make it an adventure game (The End, XP, potions), the less interesting and fulfilling it became for me. Even the exploring and building aspects that I loved started to become boring and monotonous, good only for a couple of hours at a time before I lost interest.
Then along came ARK: Survival Evolved. This seemed like exactly what I had been looking for: a game focused on taming the environment and surviving the harsh realities of life on an island inhabited by dinosaurs. I can’t tell you how much fun it was for me to make a character with maximum movement speed whose whole purpose was to give me the ability to run up to a T-Rex, punch it in the butt, and run away before it could hit me. All while cackling like a madman, of course. Unfortunately, that quickly went the way of Minecraft as well. As soon as survival stopped being an issue, I lost interest. Leveling up became a necessary chore and finding enough resources to feed myself and my pets was simple. I tried to challenge myself with made up games and the idea of making a base my character could carry to the middle of the island and deploy, throwing myself into the most dangerous area in the game. Even that started to bore me when nothing even tried to attack my new base.
For a long time, I listlessly cycled through these two games, trying to recapture my earlier feeling of tranquility and happiness. Almost nine months passed before I found a glimmer of hope. One of my friends had called for all to board the hype train for a game that was set to come out the next week: No Man’s Sky.
Now, as anyone can tell you, the hype train and marketing team killed any chance No Man’s Sky had of being a success. They promised more than any game could hope to deliver and left an enormous and outraged fan-base with a game they hated. I, however, managed to avoid the hype train until the week before the game came out. Everything I read pointed toward simple resource gathering, space exploration, and the quiet wonder of finding something new on every planet.
Judged based on those scales, the game is amazing. I get to fly from world to world, collecting resources I can sell to purchase more hyperdrive fuel or to outright buy a better spaceship. I can spend time getting to know the language of the locals through exploring their planets and interacting with them, my status in their society changing based on how I interacted with the few people I ran into during my travels. Sure, a lot of the actual exploration parts can get a little monotonous, but there’s always a new cave to find, a new word to learn, or a new pillar of gold to mine. I’ve named a half a dozen star systems and about four times as many planets. I’ve left my mark on the universe of the game and have yet to find another player.
I am alone in the universe and, for the first time ever, that idea is uplifting. I have no demands but those of fueling my exosuit and my spaceship. I can go wherever I like, do whatever I like, and just enjoy the scenery. I am alone in the universe and I am fine with that.
I know a lot of people hate the game and I know a lot of people want them to add a story or features to make it more action oriented. I don’t. Sure, it’d be nice if the flying controls were better or if it was easier to fight off space pirates, but I’m fine with things the way they are right now. It is refreshing to play a game that is just so calm and relaxing. Even the soundtrack is relaxing.
If you like action games, if you want to go on a bad-ass adventure to save the universe, don’t buy No Man’s Sky. If you want to just wander around the universe just to see what’s going on someplace else, buy this game and let it take you to places you never expected. Let it take you away from everything you want to leave behind and escape into this nigh-limitless universe.