[update: based on my testing, I’d say that the typical NMS “planet” is considerably smaller than Skyrim in square footage. And, of course, NMS has far less diversity in terrain and only one biome per “planet”. One simple test is to use the “crashed-ship upgrade” trick repeatedly on your starter world, going up to orbit after each swap and returning to a completely different region; count how many times the next transmission tower directs you to your original starting location.]
Going through the forums, reviews, gameplay videos, spoilers, and rants, I’ve come to the conclusion that No Man’s Sky is the Obama of video games: dazzled by the demos and convinced by vague, evasive statements that it will fulfill their heart’s desires, people blindly pre-ordered, and now they’re stuck defending something that can never live up to its promise.
On the plus side, Steam gives refunds. :-)
Most disappointingly, I was right; the NMS universe really is ruled by killer robots who occupy every single planet that you “discover”. And not only is there no depth to combat, trade, or exploring, the procedurally-generated worlds are maybe 10% as cool as the cherry-picked scenes in the demos.
Bottom line, think of it as an early beta of a 3D version of single-player Starbound, with no mapping functionality and only one scripted NPC on screen at a time (plus the sub-Spore procedurally-generated animals). And what passes for an “ending” is just a hastily-added NG+.
I went in with my eyes open, and wouldn’t have played it much if I weren’t too sick (still…) to do much else. It’s compatible with codeine cough syrup. Actually, I think it helped, since I had the patience to decipher the baffling and inconsistent user interface. Seriously, in a game where you walk/fly around entire planets, there’s no autorun key; you have to hold a key/button down constantly to move at a slow walk across the mostly-desolate wilderness, and another to toggle bursts of sprint/jump. People are now begging them not to fix the glitch where you hold down “walk”, toggle “sprint”, then press “melee” and press-and-hold “jetpack” to zip forward at high speed.
What went wrong? A lot of people have started trying to put it together, but it sounds like a combination of feature creep, a cash infusion from Sony that came with PS4-shaped strings attached, a sudden need to dramatically scale back and ship the damn thing, and Sean Murray talking out of his ass at every opportunity, in the classic “hey, guys, I just promised that we already do X; can we do X?” (for many values of X). Also, the primary QA was done by a Sony team for the PS4 platform, leaving them a bit under-prepared for the 200,000+ day-one Windows users.
Evidence for the big scale-back can be found in inconsistencies all over the place, but here’s a simple one: observatories. If you walk into one and solve the (trivial) puzzle, it will add a marker guiding you to an ancient ruin located nearby on the same planet. But the flavor text when you activate it still talks about locating things in deep space. And, by the way, the markers that get added by interacting with beacons, observatories, and transmission towers never go away; they’ll clutter your display even if you’re on a different planet in the same system. The only way to dismiss them is by walking to within a few meters of the designated spot.
Not recommended if you want the game from the trailers. Not bad for what it is, although it costs three times as much as the usual paid-beta indie game on Steam.