Re-Exploring The Sky

No Man's Sky Next, perfect planet, Ocho II, Mucalls system

Flying over Ocho II, it’s lush red grass as far as the eye can see.

It’s been a while since I’ve played No Man’s Sky and, to be fair, I thought I had completely written this game off entirely. When it first released in August of 2016 I fell deep into the hype trap, even shelling out the full $60 tag, something I am usually loath to do, and was subsequently burned. Once bitten, twice shy. After some more recent hype revolving around No Man’s Sky, though, this time with a $0 pricetag since I’ve already bought into it, I decided to hop back in and check out what has really changed since launch. Find out what the ‘Next’ really means of the now titled ‘No Man’s Sky Next’. Turns out, quite a bit has changed.

First of all, I find it weird that I’m using terminology and treating this game like it’s some sort of MMO, which now that there is some sort of real multiplayer going on I guess it is much closer to that now. For all intents and purposes, though, No Man’s Sky still feels mostly single player. Which is fine by me. Usually, as a solo player, encountering other players in MMOs turns adversarial. We’re either fighting over the same drops, the same mobs, or fighting each other. That, as players, we’ve grown to consider this infighting ‘good, normal’ and ‘the way it should be’ is… odd. But I digress.

No Man's Sky Next, freighter

Coming in for a landing on the freighter Deep Space Ocho.

I remember when No Man’s Sky launched it felt like a wide ocean of content that was only a puddle deep. Everything was large and grand, but nothing felt important. There was no weight. Upgrades were acquired almost by accident and the primary focus was exploration… of similar, not-that-exciting locations. You could complete 99% of the game by just staying on the same planet you started on.

Now? Well, I’m not *entirely* sold that it’s monumentally different, but it does feel a lot better. The focus has absolutely changed. Now the focus is about building up your properties, your freighter fleet and your base, and completing the story missions. Your time spent on planets is transitory, hitting up only the points of interest you need to, and moving on. Which is good, because the less you see and pay attention to the procedural generation, the better. There was just not enough difference in the generation before. Now, it just feels… better. Planets feel more varied and look more populated. There’s more variety. I mean, there could always be even more variety in a game like this, but you don’t see the man-behind-the-curtain as much as you did two years ago.

No Man's Sky Next, random creatures

What were the devs smoking when they made *this* a possibility?

Upgrades, too, seem to be made more from progress than from randomness, which is a much better feeling than just stumbling across the best weapon/ships in the game. That random big find is still included, too, though, but now instead of finding a big new ship, you now find a big *broken* ship that you need to spend a good chunk of time and resources fixing.

Again, it feels productive, not accidental. This is good.

No Man's Sky Next, big red ball

Ah yes, the big red ball… things.

Also, we need to talk about the screenshot capabilities. They are, hands down, the best screenshot options I have ever seen in any game. Period. And I consider myself a screenshot aficionado, so I don’t say this lightly.

At any time you can pause the game to take a screenshot. When you do, you can move the camera to any position around your character to take it, within a large distance. On top of that, if the lighting isn’t right, you can change the time of day and the position of the sun. You can add/remove clouds, change the depth of field, and even add an Instagram-like filter on top of all that. For real, all other games need to take a page from No Man’s Sky’s screenshot book. Screenshots are your players methods of advertising your game for you, and having a system like this only helps you.

No Man's Sky Next, rings, ringed planet

The Rings at Night! Glow Big and Bright! *clap clap clap clap* Deep In the Heart of… of… wherever this is.

So will I keep it up? No, of course not. I’m a rambling gamer and will pass quickly from game to game as my whim takes me. However, with No Man’s Sky focus having changed to one that feels purposeful instead of accidental, I’m a lot more apt to keep it going. Plus, the entire game fits into only a 10 GB footprint, which is efficient and impressive as anything.

It currently is still sitting at $60, though, which I wouldn’t say feels entirely worth it, but if it falls back down to $30, or even $40, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest snapping it up.

 

// Ocho

 

P.S. – If you’re looking for a good planet to settle down on, I highly suggest planet Ocho II in the Mucalls system. Red grass, bright sun, abundant resources, and a pleasant temperature all year long. Nice place to vacation. Just don’t murder me, okay?

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The Elder Scrolls Online, Still Not Quite Getting it Right

Elder Scrolls Online

I’m picky. This should not come as a surprise to anybody by now, I’m very finicky about the way that I play the games I do. What this leads to, though, is a bunch of games that are just not designed for my playstyle, and that’s completely fine! That’s what makes gaming a great hobby, that not every game has to be made for everybody. However, when a game you really think and hope is made for you turns out not to be, it can be quite disappointing. This is kind of how I feel after trying out The Elder Scrolls Online.

Now, the last time I played Elder Scrolls Online, it was during the game’s beta, and I commented how I liked the look of the game, but felt that it just didn’t capture the “feel” of Elder Scrolls, that feeling of total freedom in a huge explorable world, chock full of so much lore that a full playthrough only scratches the surface. But I’m not one to judge a game fully in beta, especially one I *really* hope to like. So when Elder Scrolls Online flipped the switch to the buy-the-game-and-then-you-can-play-it model, I jumped on board with both feet.

Elder Scrolls Online, Fishing

I’m fishing! I have no idea why, but I can fish!

 

I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, though, which so far have been pretty spot-on. I jumped back into TESO, and due to streamers like the awesome CrazMadSci, I was pretty pumped to do so. There are immediate differences, the intro changed and dumps you right into your head city. I created a Redguard character in the Daggerfall Covenant, because Hammerfell is right next to High Rock, and after the intro I was dropped right into the city of Daggerfall! This is good. This feels open. You have the *option* of heading to the two intro islands or not, and options are good. Options are Elder Scrolls. Heck, in pretty much every TES game I’ve ever played I initially run off into a random direction, and when I get pretty powerful finally remember that “oh yeah, there’s a main story I could follow, too!”  Elder Scrolls is about options, not about linearity.

But it was also during the character creator that I found my first “huh?” moment. When creating a Redguard, I found that I could make their skin color… well… white. This immediately struck me as wrong. There aren’t any white Redguards! There could be light-brown skinned Redguards, sure, but not white. But… MMO. I get it. Also, a human race can join the Aldmeri Dominion? Generally, the only race other than elves that would be allowed into the Aldmeri Dominion are khajiit, because the high elves have basically tricked the khajiit over and over again over the millennia. To see *any* other race that’s not an elf take the Emperor’s throne would cause a reaction, and yet, human races can *join* the Dominion?! This makes no sense. But… MMO. I get it. It’s a bit of fracturing the lore to fit the game … it’s just too bad the lore is a tenet of the series… but whatever.

Elder Scrolls Online

Stros M’Kai, we meet again.

 

The skipping of the intro Islands, though? It lies, it’s not really an option. On the intro islands are collectible Skyshards that, if ignored, mean less skill points for your character. It’s an illusion of choice. Sure, you *could* not do them, but then you set yourself at a disadvantage with less skill points at your level until you come back to play them. So, fine, I did them. But I wasn’t happy about it.

My character sits at level 12 now, and making my way through Glenumbra from one quest chain ride leading right into the next quest chain ride (Grrrrr. It’s crazy, actually. I just finished up a quest chain to help rid a giant tree of… evil, I guess, and what did they tell me but “Oh! Someone stopped by while you were helping us! You should go find and help them!” This is about as far from options as one could get.) and I’ve been building him into what I love playing in Elder Scrolls, or pretty much any classless game that will allow me to, a leather-wearing, mace-and-shield wielding sneaking powerhouse that backs up his mace with healing magic. I’m almost ready for the first dungeon, I think, but when I see in chat people ask about DPS or tank or healing classes, I’m really not sure what I would fall into. DPS, as my armor gives me crit bonuses, I think? I use a shield, have taunt abilities, and heal myself, so maybe tank? I can heal others pretty well, too, so healer? I… have no idea, really. I’m all 3? Been pretty successful so far soloing, no problem keeping myself alive and beating down the enemy, but classifying myself in “standard” MMO terms? No idea.

And thus, if I can’t classify myself then others will judge me, as MMO players do. In fact, they already have a few times. The first time I tried to group up for the first dungeon I was *kicked out* of the group for my build. My DPS isn’t on par with pure-DPS players, my healing doesn’t stack up to healers, and I can’t tank like tanks can. Am I screwing myself over by not sticking to a trope? Basically, even though I’m playing the way I want, it’s quite possible I’m playing “wrong”. Any other Elder Scrolls game, I’m an unstoppable powerhouse and I have a blast. Here? I’m a noob, I’m a scrub. Not exactly a feeling that makes me want to log in.

Elder Scrolls Online

I have my mace, I have my shield, I’m wearing my leather. Come at me… nature!

 

It’s not all bad, though. Take a look at some of these screenshots! The game is drop dead gorgeous. Also, the quests themselves? Fascinating and well written stuff! Though not adding much to the overall story, they are quite Elder Scrollsy tableaus and are fun. Also, the few choices that I’ve made seem to have made differences. At the end of the Betnikh island chain, I pissed off the Captain of the ship I was sailing on so much that she kicked me off! She might’ve kicked me off anyway, again another illusion, but the choices *feel* pretty hefty, about as much heft as you can have in an MMO, I guess.

I don’t feel like these positives make up for the negatives, though. So once more I’m holding on to my initial assessment: The Elder Scrolls Online, though a very pretty WoW clone in it’s own right, does not live up to it’s Elder Scrolls pedigree. It’s too linear, it doesn’t respect and breaks it’s own hardcore lore just because, and they lie to the player that they can truly play the way they want to. If anything, playing TESO has made me want to research the lore a lot more, and even has given me cravings to jump back into the previous single player games!

Elder Scrolls Online

Dude, look at this place. Ballin’.

 

 

I may still level to cap, anyway, just because doing so might convince me to change my mind. I’m hoping it does, just because I hate being so disappointed with a game that labels itself as Elder Scrolls.

//Ocho