Everything I’ve read about No Man’s Sky makes me think it’s not a $60 game, so I haven’t picked it up. I tried Elite: Dangerous, but less than an hour of flailing around convinced me that a flight simulator in spaaaace wasn’t for me. Then PC Gamer had a rave review of Empyrion: Galactic Survival, which sounded just right at $20.
I’m about nine hours in, and it took about seven of that to get to the point of having a spaceship. Which is fine, because there’s a fairly substantial crafting/survival basis to the game, and it takes awhile to learn all that.
You start by crash-landing on a planet, only you start out with quite a load of stuff… apparently people from your civilization crash-land on alien planets all the time, so you’re prepared. You build a constructor which can make stuff from simple ingredients, and then you’re off gathering ingredients, mining, destroying the local flora and fauna, and building a base. You have to stay fed, but this is not particularly hard… well, at least not on easy mode.
You can walk around, or you can build and ride a motorbike, because of course you have a motorbike. (Fortunately it fits in your Bag of Holding when you’re not riding it.) You’re on a small planet– I don’t know the exact size to compare with other open-world games, but let’s say “comfortably large”. It’s big enough that you wouldn’t want to walk the whole way around.
To mine, you use a big drill and make a big stonking hole: the whole world turns out to be editable. (You also have a terrain shaping tool for minor adjustments.) With some effort, you can even trap yourself in your mine. (Your drill runs on biofuel, and you can run out. You can make more if you happen to have a constructor and a bunch of seaweed with you.)
My base consists of a bunch of big steel cubes with various devices piled on top (constructor, ammo box, turret, food processor, generator, etc.). I thought it looked pretty good until I checked out the Steam Workshop; people are designing insane bases. You can also, of course, make bases in spaaaaace.
So anyway, it’s a space game too, so eventually I got around to making a spaceship. My design, again, was “just enough steel blocks to stack all the spaceship things on.” Amazingly, it flew. (The only controls you need to fly are WASD plus Q/E to roll.) I flew about a third of the way around the planet and did some silicon mining.
Then, on the way back, I got attacked by drones. You see, drones attack you sometimes. I was not prepared for this and died. You respawn near your ship (or near your base if you prefer); I was still under attack, but managed to down the drone this time. My ship was on its side, but I could still get in and fly it, only something was wrong. No Q/E controls. I flew toward my base like this:
If you look closely at the data in the lower right, you’ll notice that I also had only 2.2 minutes of power left. That was… not enough. I managed to land without crashing, and got out to see what was wrong.
What was wrong was that the drone had shot away half of the spaceship. Most of my steel superstructure was gone, also the fuel tanks and RCS, which is the thing that lets you steer in any direction.
But I’d managed to get reasonably close to my base, so I pulled out my motorbike, rode it home, constructed the components I needed, and rode back to the ship. I fixed it, it flew just fine and I landed it nicely right next to the base.
And that’s when I realized: this is actually a pretty fun game. Being able to flit around an open world with no problems is barely a game. I was inordinately proud of myself for not only building this unholy contraption and flying it, but rebuilding it and getting it home safely after it got shot up.
Next task: get the thing into spaaaace. There are apparently hostile aliens out there, so I’ll have to learn how to fire the guns, too. Building a base in spaaaace sounds like fun, and then there are moons and other planets to check out.
My friend Stav described No Man’s Sky as a trillion miles wide, but a millimeter deep, and Elite:Dangerous as a million miles wide, but a meter deep. In that spirit, I’d say Empyrion is a thousand miles wide, but about ten meters deep. At least, if you measure depth by how much you can do in one location. You can go crazy building nice bases and ships (including capital ships where you can land smaller ships); you can go hunting or mining; you can pester the aliens and take over their bases; you can explore the ten or so planets that are currently available. There’s also multiplayer, so you can do all this with your pals.
The game has been in Early Access for over a year, though it’s certainly playable now. It doesn’t have any story, really, unless it comes in when you meet the aliens. But it seems pretty clear that it’s a game for messing around with planets; I don’t know that it needs a story.
If you try it, I suggest going through the tutorial, which will introduce you to all the elements you need– though not always in the best order. I got messed up, or thought I did, when drones destroyed the core of my base. I started over, but later I learned that I should probably have created a multitool, so I could get all the components back from my destroyed base. But I was content to just redo things better the second time.
I’ll report back later once I get into space…
Edit: And here is Part Two.