In awe, I greet the sun from the mouth of a wind-swept cave. Tiny, crimson creatures streak about my fogged-up helmet, bathed in the cresting sunlight as a warning pops into view.
“Radiation levels critical.”
The grotto was my impromptu shelter in the face of a radiation storm. Trillions of miles from my home, I’d made a hasty landing on this unknown world to search for minerals to power my warp drive. But this world, like the dozens of others I’ve explored in my time with No Man’s Sky, doesn’t want me here.
No Man’s Sky, out today on PlayStation 4 and Friday for PC, is about exploring the vast emptiness of space. With more than 18 quintillion worlds to visit, even if you took one second to explore each you’d need to spend tens of billions of lifetimes to see all of them. As I play, I probe the children of far-flung stars, and I do so knowing that I can never see all of it.
I quickly learned to take solace in that. A contemporary videogame pushes for maximum completion, offering rewards, achievements or unlocks for crunching through 100 percent of its content. The PS4 even has a special award it grants to players who finish everything a game has to offer, a platinum trophy to add to their digital collection. Everything around you, the games and even the platform itself, pushes you to explore absolutely everything.
This game isn’t just one I’ll never finish, it’s one that humanity will never finish. Pondering the fact that it has billions of times more stars than we have in our own galaxy, you’d be forgiven for thinking that No Man’s Sky cannot possibly be as gargantuan as it sounds. But through the magic of math and algorithms, the game will create new planets, within physical and chemical-based constraints, as you explore.
In a sense, you share the game world with whomever else is playing. As you discover new planets no one’s ever seen, you’ll have the opportunity to name them, as well as any creatures or landmasses on these planets, and upload your discoveries to a database that’s shared with every other player.
But still: No Man’s Sky is so unfathomably large that you’re unlikely to come across a planet that someone else has named for quite a while. Just traveling from one system to another across the galaxy could involve several weeks of constant playtime.
So while players do indeed all share the same universe, these worlds are so vast and the distances between them so incredible that every experience will be unique. Not only is it impossible for me to see everything this game has to offer, but my time with it is ephemeral. No one will ever play and see exactly what I have, or been where I’ve been.
If I crest a beautiful hill, land in the shallow waters of a green ocean, or find some rare lifeform and don’t document it, those moments will be lost in time. That thought consoles me. Often we’re told that we simply must engage with some monolithic piece of media, be it Game of Thrones or the damned Marvel movies or whatever else. When I sit down and watch Iron Man snark up the big screen, or get chills thinking about the flickering lights in Stranger Things, I’m reacting to the same experience everyone else has: one that’s been crafted and refined and meant to have purpose, meant to be dissecting and discussed.
No Man’s Sky doesn’t offer that. Here, in the overwhelming abyss of space, your experiences are practically meaningless. Even if you do come across the same planet as someone else, odds are good that you won’t land in the same places, explore the same caves, or swim in the same oceans.
It’s nice to play a game that promises you nothing and expects nothing. Your time with the game is yours, and you can be sure that no matter what form that takes for you, it will always be uniquely yours. As for me, I can sleep well tonight knowing that none of you will ever find “Toxic Butts the Cave” on the planet “Steve.”