Monthly Archives: September 2016

World of Warcraft: Legion: We Meet Again, Old Friend.

There’s nothing like a World of Warcraft expansion to instil feelings of both excitement and dread. My long and sordid history with the venerable MMORPG has been well chronicled here over the years and, whilst I very much enjoy revisiting this world, it’s always something of a bittersweet reunion. Thankfully these days I know my time with World of Warcraft is limited and thus I endeavour to make the most of it before I move onto greener pastures. The developers over at Blizzard seem to be well aware of this fact and every expansion seems to cater more and more for players like myself; the ones who want the full experience but rarely have the time to commit to it like they used to. Legion, the latest expansion for World of Warcraft, is no exception to this and the few weeks I’ve spent with it post launch have been some of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had.

That’s saying something for a game that’s now over 12 years old.

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Legion takes place 2 years after the events of Warlords of Draenor and sees you returning to Azeroth. Guldan, after the defeat of Archimonde at Hellfire Citadel, has returned to the Broken Isles to open up yet another dark portal to allow the Legion to invade, this time at a scale to rival the War of the Ancients which raged some 1000 years prior. Your quest, as the champion of your chosen faction, is to travel to the Broken Isles and master the numerous artefacts of power that lay within there in order to defeat the Legion once again.

The graphics have definitely had a bump up from the previous expansion with the environments being far more detailed, the weather systems more varied and the number of graphical options available for you to tweak bumped up significantly. The engine is starting to show its age however, not being able to make use of the full amount of grunt my PC has available even when the frame rates start to drop. In the past this wouldn’t have been too noticeable but with my 144Hz, G-Sync enabled monitor any drop below 60fps is readily noticeable. I’ve managed to get it running reasonably well after tweaking numerous settings however when there’s no frame rate difference between 2xMSAA and 4xMSAA I know there’s some optimisation issues at play.  There’s also a rather weird bug that sometimes creeps up whereby I can’t run in 144Hz mode in fullscreen windowed, usually necessitating a restart of the client to fix it. Overall though it’s still a great visual experience, even if I spent more time in the config menus than I thought was appropriate.

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Legion takes many of the core ideals from Warlords of Draenor and streamlines them significantly whilst also adding in a few more changes of its own. The garrison system has been revamped and stripped down into the far more manageable class Order Hall which functions both as your base of operations and a good source of character progression. To replace what was lost by the garrison system Legion introduces World Quests, essentially randomly spawning quests that occur all over the Broken Isles that reward all sorts of loot, faction reputation and resources for your Order Hall. Weapons will no longer drop from any mobs in Legion, instead you are gifted with an artefact weapon to suit your character’s talent specialisation (in my case, the GODDAMN ASHBRINGER!!!!) which will grow with you as you play. Professions have also been given a revamp, now requiring much more investment in time completing quests rather than grinding out materials and items that will be destroyed or vendored. At its core though Legion remains true to its World of Warcraft roots and the fundamentals will be familiar to long time veterans of this game.

Combat, by and large, feels the same as it always has. Before I really got started with my Paladin I spent a good chunk of time researching which talents to go for, what the rotations are and what gear I should be looking out for. Upon logging in I was greeted with the usual cacophony of out of date interface add-ons, skills which no longer existed still hanging around on my action bars and all my macros no longer working. It didn’t take long to work everything out and the result was, once again, a very slimmed down action bar. Whilst I always enjoy levelling as Retribution it quickly becomes clear that it’s not a top tier spec anymore and so halfway through I switched to Protection. Since then I’ve quite enjoyed being able to pull numerous mobs, easily soloing up to half a dozen or more without having to break out one of my longer duration cooldowns. Tanking in dungeons feels largely the same too although it seems like I’ve lost some of the more medium-length cooldowns that I used to have, ones that would get used for those rotational boss abilities that would otherwise require a lot of healing to live through. Indeed I’m no longer the self-healing god I used to be which I think is good given the fact that I could sometimes go entire boss fights without needing a healer. All in all it feels much the same, just a little more streamlined.

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The World Quest system is probably my favourite addition in Legion as it provides a relatively steady, predictable source of gear upgrades if you’re willing to put in an hour or so per day. I have to admit that initially I cracked and bought a few items from the auction house to step up my ilvls a couple notches only to quickly replace them over the next few days. After running only a couple heroics and a single mythic dungeon I find myself at a healthy 839 ilvl, more than enough to tank the upcoming raid. Casting my mind back to Draenor this was most certainly not the case, with a solid month of grinding just barely enough to get me ready for the LFR version of the raids. The upgrades have, of course, started to slow down but that’s allowed me to focus on other areas of advancement. Thankfully the potential month between gear upgrades that I faced back when I was playing Draenor seems to be a thing of the past although I am now placing my faith in RNGJesus to give me the upgrade quests I desire.

The Order Hall system is really quite fantastic, giving you meaningful and tangible progression at every stage through the levelling process and beyond. Gone are the days where I’d have to spend an hour or two getting my garrison affairs in order before I could step out into the wider world. Instead it’s a quick trip to make sure everything is chugging along (even using the app if I don’t want to login that day) before I head out to complete my world quests for the day. Even better is the fact that there’s catchup mechanisms in place if you decide to leave World of Warcraft for a while, meaning players like me could still be competitive even after taking an extended break. It’s a possibility I really hadn’t considered in any other expansion before and Legion may be the first to bring me back before another expansion comes out.

The artefact weapons are great, giving plebs like me the feeling that I really have something truly powerful that doesn’t require months of grinding raids hoping for that one damn drop. Indeed after I came back I realised that I was still sporting a blue shield despite the numerous raids and dungeons I had completed in the previous expansion. Now I have a well levelled Truthguard filled to the brim with relics that bolster my character even further. My Ashbringer might be sitting in my bags, horribly disused now, but I can’t tell you how damn cool it was to finally have such a legendary weapon in my hands after lusting after it for so long. Indeed it was one of the few reasons I kept playing through the torturous hell that was original Naxramas, hoping beyond hope that I might get a Corrupted Ashbringer that one day might turn into the venerable weapon of World of Warcraft lore.

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Legion predictably suffers from launch day issues (although thankfully most are resolved now) but the game client does still have some perplexing issues that don’t have a clear solution in sight. For instance Legion seems to load most assets incredibly slowly, even on my RAID10 array which is capable of some pretty high bandwidth. This has led to some interesting situations where all I can see is the ground plane and nothing else, sometimes up to 10 minutes at a time. Crashes are thankfully few and far between however, although I would recommend against changing settings whilst something is happening on screen (like say riding a griffon to the next flight point). I mentioned the optimisation issues previously and I think they bear mentioning again as, really, a game like this should not struggle on my i7-5820K lavished with 32GB RAM and a GTX970 powering it. Perhaps there’s a setting or two I’ve missed which is causing my grief but it’s not obvious as to what it is.

Legion’s story is your typical World of Warcraft affair, great if you know much of the lore that proceeds it and downright confusing if you don’t. The trash quests are barely worth reading as they’re all some simple premise that will require you to do X thing Y times for a reward. The larger story arcs are more interesting, like the Paladin order hall campaign which sees you travel to Exodar and the Priests’ order hall, being engaging enough to keep you going but little beyond that. If you’re already deep into the World of Warcraft lore then there’s going to be a lot to love but otherwise there might not be much for you. Not that many of us need much motivation to go and grind relentlessly for purples, however.

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World of Warcraft: Legion is everything I’ve come to expect from Blizzard’s expansions. The core game remains mostly the same, keeping the winning formula that has seen World of Warcraft remain the king of MMORPGs for so many years. The new Order Hall and World Quest mechanics completely pander to players like myself, giving us easy progression paths that don’t necessarily require the giant time sink that they used to. The biggest let downs are in the sub-par optimisation of the now decade+ old engine and the so-so story but neither of these things really comes as a surprise to a veteran player like myself. Still I’ve very much enjoyed my time with Legion and will likely hang around to complete the newly released dungeon a couple times before I call it quits once again.

World of Warcraft: Legion is available on PC right now for $69.95. Total play time was approximately 36 hours at 110 achieving an ilvl of 839.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: Us vs Them.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was met with much trepidation when it was first released. Whilst many (like myself) enjoyed Invisible War the wider gaming community didn’t, wanting to banish it from their collective memories. The fear was that another game in the series wouldn’t be able to capture the essence of what made it good and, should it bomb, that would be it for the series forever. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Human Revolution brought both new fans to the series and old fans back from their remastered versions of the original Deus Ex. So expectations are somewhat high for Mankind Divided, putting Eidos Montreal in the unenviable position of having to yet again improve on the Deus Ex formula whilst keeping the game fresh and interesting. Mankind Divided also comes in the midst of a small bit of controversy around it’s micro transactions and tie-ins to other parts of the franchise. Although, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to think of any AAA title that hasn’t been embroiled in some kind of online fracas.

Spoilers ahead for Human Revolution.

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Mankind Divided takes place two years after the events of Human Revolution. The world has been ravaged by the Aug Incident whereby all augmented humans flew into a rage and viciously attacked anyone at random. This has set the stage for a kind of mechanical apartheid, augmented humans now being segregated away from naturals for fear of what they might do. You’re back in control of Adam Jensen, one of the few people in the world to know the truth behind the incident. With Sarif Industries no more you’re now under the employ of Interpol as part of an elite team that responds to a myriad of different threats. You are also the only member of your team who is augmented, something which comes up far more often than you’d like. Working for Interpol isn’t just a job however, it’s your in to find out more about the Illuminati as part of the Juggernaut Collective, a group of hacktivists who are hunting down those invisible men who would dare to try and control the world. Your base of operations is in Prague however your journey will take you all over the world.

The iconic visual style of Human Revolution makes a return in Mankind Divided, albeit with the yellow hues toned down to a more realistic levels. The graphics come to us via the Dawn engine, a proprietary technology stack developed by Eidos Montreal that was based on the Glacier 2 engine which was used in Hitman: Absolution. It’s a significant step up in terms of graphical fidelity as the screenshots in my reviews will attest. The automatic graphics settings err a little cautiously so you’ll likely be able to bump up a few settings without a huge impact to your frame rate. Whilst the overall aesthetic is largely the same Mankind Divided makes far better use of secondary colours than its predecessor did, the yellow hues still present but not washing everything out. This coupled with the better lighting effects, soft shadows and all the other current generation trimmings makes Mankind Divided one of the best looking games of this year.

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Mechanically Mankind Divided is very similar to its predecessor, retaining nearly all of the original augs, combat mechanics and progression systems. The first mission gives you a taste of all the base augs, allowing you a bit of a trial run of everything before they get taken away from you and you have to decide which ones you want to keep. In true Deus Ex fashion you have a choice between stealth/guns blazing and lethal/non-lethal combat. I personally favoured the stealth, hacker and non-lethal approach which seems to be the key in finding most of the secrets in any Deus Ex game. Your weapons are also upgradeable and modifiable although the variety of firearms at your disposal feels somewhat limited. Levelling comes via the tried and true XP/levels system however it can be sped up significantly by finding or buying praxis kits, many of which are hidden in various parts of each level you’ll traverse through. The main differences between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided though are in the form of the experimental augs, both of which open up a myriad of new possibilities when it comes to sneaking around or destroying numerous enemies in one fell swoop.

Mankind Divided does a good job of making your talent choices mean something, both in terms of feeling like you’re more effective at what you’ve chosen to do and being utterly useless as what you haven’t. As someone who invested a lot of points into hacking, stealth and abilities to help me find secrets in levels I had basically no points in health, armour or any kind of survivability. This meant that, unlike Human Revolution, when I went in guns blazing I’d get shredded almost instantly. Honestly I liked that as it forced me to be far more considered in my approach than I otherwise would have been. Indeed I think that by comparison that made Human Revolution a bit too easy, giving me an out when I simply didn’t want to figure out the best stealth approach. This does mean however that my experience of run and gun combat was extremely limited, usually reserved for the last enemy standing when I couldn’t find an easy, or simple, way to take them out.

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Stealth is done exceptionally well, as we have all come to expect from the Deus Ex franchise. You’ll have numerous different ways to approach problems with nearly all areas having some kind of vent system that you can crawl through to get the drop on your quarry. The detection system works well although there are times when enemies will sometimes inexplicably become aware of your presence. Usually this is due to some kind of trigger event which the game could do a better job of warning you about before it happens. There’s also no clarity given over what constitutes an alarm or detection (for the Ghost achievement and XP) as you can be seen by a guard and take him out before he alerts others. The system seems relatively lax in that requirement though as I seemed to have gotten it more often than not. The additional tools you have at your disposal, like the tesla upgrade, make stealth a much more varied experience than it has been in previous games. Overall the likely default mode of play is well catered for in Mankind Divided which I’m sure is to the delight of all the fans.

Hacking has seen a small revamp although it retains the same node capture mechanics as its predecessor. Now you can run afoul of firewalls when attempting to capture a node, both delaying your hack attempt by one second and alerting the subroutine to your presence. You also have a bunch more tools at your disposal though so the hacking mini-game is far more involved than it used to be. Admittedly it does get a little tedious after you’ve done it 20+ times which, thankfully, the game designers have taken into account. You see in Mankind Divided you’ll actually get more XP for finding a way to open doors or login to terminals without hacking them. Whilst this often means you’ll have to hack something else in order to do so it does mean you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t hack something.

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Mankind Divided retains the same mission layout as its predecessor, putting you in a large overworld that has lots of missions for you to do and places to explore. Interestingly whilst running around and talking to everyone who will listen is a good way to get side quests it won’t get you all of them. Instead some of them are found through exploration. For instance I found the Neon quest chain by accidentally stumbling on the impromptu rave in one of the back alleys. I didn’t follow up on it much but walking through the sewers I eventually came across the end part of the quest and, not even knowing much beyond the rudimentary parts of the story that I’d picked up from conversations I’d overheard, managed to finish the mission then and there. Indeed it seems there are many missions which are found in a similar way as I had barely anything to do with the cult of the machine god or Divali, but it was obvious there were missions with them when I went through their areas later on in the game.

Now since I’d avoided much of the conversation around Mankind Divided until just before release I wasn’t aware that it’d contain microtransactions or links to other games in the universe like Deus Ex: Go. The fear that many had was that you wouldn’t be able to build your character the way you wanted to without spending real money. Having played through the entire game I can say unequivocally that is not the case as my nearly end game screenshot of my character can attest to. Sure you can’t max out every skill but that’s honestly not the point; your talent choices should be meaningful and tailored to how you want to play the game. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to seek out the secrets and wants to be a wrecking ball from the very start of the game sure, go ahead and spend the requisite cash, it doesn’t affect the way I play the game at all. If it really burns you that much then feel free to not pay and use something like CheatEngine to edit your praxis to max.

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Mankind Divided, whilst a very polished and highly refined experience, isn’t free of game breaking issues. I was one of the unfortunate souls who couldn’t play for about 3 days due to a bug which would crash when I used the subway during my third visit back to Prague. The only fix available at the time was to restart at a previous save point and not do a particular mission, something I didn’t really want to do. Thankfully Eidos was very responsive to it and managed to get a fix out in short order, allowing me to finish off my play through shortly after. There were also a few niggling little issues, many of which are detailed in the Steam community forum, which for the most part have been fixed. Suffice to say that if you’re playing Mankind Divided now rather than at launch your experience is likely to be far smoother than mine was.

I’m in two minds about Mankind Divided’s story. To be sure the world they’ve created is expansive and there’s numerous avenues of intrigue that you’re able explore fully within the confines of this game. However there’s also tons of world building they’ve done for things that are obviously going to be explored in DLCs which makes a lot of Mankind Divided feel really hollow. Indeed this is the first game I’ve played in a long time where I felt it was far too short, even at some 21 hours of play time for my first run. If the previous DLCs for Human Revolution are anything to go by there’s at least another 10 hours to come and that will, hopefully, fully explore the various story threads that are left dangling at the end of the main campaign. The story that is explored and completed within Mankind Divided is engaging and well thought out however, it’s just a shame that it’s not fully fleshed out in the retail release.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided retains the high standards that was set in Human Revolution. Yet again it stands out as a graphical marvel, the same iconic visual style making a comeback with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect of current generation games.The mechanics that made the franchise great are retained with the addition of new mechanics enough to keep the game play fresh and engaging. The controversy around microtransactions seems to be no more than a storm in a tea cup, not being required to fully explore the game. Its initial release into the world was plagued by some game breaking issues but Eidos was quick to respond, ensuring that we weren’t without our Deus Ex fix for long. Where Mankind Divided stumbles is in its length and exploration of its main story lines with much of it being left to the two planned DLCs which are slated for release over the coming months. To be sure Mankind Divided is still worth playing today in its current form but its definitely going to be one of those games where the director’s cut will likely surpass the original in terms of an overall experience.

Rating: 9.5/10

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.

No Man’s Sky: The Hype Giveth and the Hype Taketh Away.

There’s almost no need to introduce No Man’s Sky, the game that was catapulted to stardom the second its concept trailers hit the Internet. The fervour surrounding it is easy to understand as it taps into that oh-so-popular survival genre that Early Access games are known for whilst upping the stakes significantly, giving you an entire universe to explore and play in. I had long been wanting a game that did full, proper space exploration for some time and so was sold on the concept early on. Then I do what I usually do, ignore any news of the game until it finally gets released and then play it with no expectations.

It seems that I might be the only person on the Internet who’s done that.

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The game that No Man’s Sky teases you with is one of infinite adventure. There are quintillions (literally) of worlds to explore, each with their own unique flora and fauna. You are The Traveller, an explorer who finds themselves wrecked on a planet far from the galactic core. For some reason you’re drawn there, wanting to make your way to the centre to see what awaits you there. However it doesn’t take long for that plan to go off the rails with various threats, distractions and curiosities getting in your way. How you journey through the galaxy is up to you though and the stories you create will be yours and yours alone.

No Man’s Sky isn’t exactly the most high fidelity game out there but that’s likely due to its procedural origins. Initially my system appeared to struggle with it, the not-so-great graphics seemingly able to bring my beast to its knees. As it turns out No Man’s Sky, for some inexplicable reason, caps your FPS at 30 on PC by default. Changing that and maxing out the settings made for a much better looking and running game. The visuals themselves are passable, better than what I’ve come to expect from most games in the genre but falling short of some of the stunning masterpieces I’ve played of late. No Man’s Sky does manage to produce some screenshot worthy moments but most of the time you’ll be in an endless expanse of more of the same. This is par for the course with procedural generation as sure, you get a lot of variations, but those variations are often not that far away from each other.

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No Man’s Sky is a survival exploration game on a galactic scale. Initially you’ll travel around your spaceship, looking for the parts you need to fix it. Then you’ll travel between planets, searching out different kinds of wildlife, plants and resources. Finally you’ll be able to travel between systems, each of which has its own set of unique features. When you’re planet side you’ll spend most of your time exploring the landscape, mining for minerals and cataloguing the various plants and animals you come across. When you launch into space you can trade with alien races, mine asteroids and engage in space based combat. You’ll also be presented with a few story related choices along the way: either you journey to the centre of the galaxy or you’ll follow the Atlas path. I couldn’t tell you how either of them pan out however as I gave up long before I reached the end but if you’re a die hard survival exploration fan there’s more than enough to keep you going here for quite some time.

Exploration typically takes the form of landing somewhere on a planet, checking out what minerals are common and then cataloguing the various bits of wildlife if you’re so inclined. Initially it’s amazing to see the variety in this game, from the different wildlife, planets and alien races that you come across. However it quickly starts to become repetitive after you’ve visited a dozen planets or so as many of the basic things are the same (like the habitats the aliens use) and the procedural components start to become obvious. Still for a long time I was still motivated to follow the Atlas path as that seemed genuinely interesting. However there are, of course, barriers to your progression and that’s when you’ll start looking around for upgrades.

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Like many I began farming resources in order to earn the cash required to upgrade my ship, something that takes quite a bit of time if you do it the “legit” way. After getting frustrated with my progress I took to the Internet and found there was numerous ways to get ship upgrades without paying for them. Indeed this way was also one of the best ways to get rare materials for crafting so I spent a couple hours churning through ships. I tried to do the same with my multitool but, for one reason or another, RNGjesus simply didn’t smile on me and I maxed out at a 10 slot tool after numerous hours. This is eventually what ended up killing No Man’s Sky for me as I just couldn’t be bothered trying to farm the required upgrades to get to the next point. At least with the ships I felt like I was making some slow progress.

The combat, both ground and space based, is barely worth talking about. Your multi-tool is more than capable of taking out most foes with just the mining laser with the combat upgrades just making the process slightly faster. Space combat is janky at best as the flight model just doesn’t feel right. Even with a bunch of upgrades my weaponry didn’t feel anymore effective, probably because I seemed to get matched up against more foes to compensate for it. Since there’s really no penalty for death (if you can get your grave back, which you always can) it’s usually better to just die instead of trying to fight anymore than a couple foes. It’s a shame really as that would’ve been a great progression mechanic, one that I might’ve stuck around for if it was any good.

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No Man’s Sky is riddled with the issues that comes with procedural generation, namely all the edge cases which you simply can’t account for until people start encountering them. I’ve come across buildings that were embedded in mountains, inaccessible unless you had a good supply of grenades handy to blast your way in. Falling through the world is quite possible and easily doable if you land in a semi-awkward position. Similarly the physics engine sometimes freaks out if you clip terrain in a certain way, flinging you away with enough speed for the game to think you’ve engaged the pulse engines. There was also a couple times my frame rate dropped to slideshow levels which I could only attribute to some poorly optimised particle effects which were thankfully gone when I reloaded my last save. I’m sure some of the more egregious issues have been fixed in the weeks since I finished playing No Man’s Sky but they certainly did nothing to endear it to me.

No Man’s Sky strives to inspire a feeling of awe in you through the act of exploration. The base game does a good job of that however the ancillary plot, where The Traveller tells you that its feeling awe, is less convincing. Since there’s not a lot of build up as to why you’re trying to get to the centre (or follow the Atlas path) it’s hard to empathise with The Traveller’s varying emotions. I honestly wasn’t expecting much though, this is a procedurally generated game after all, but the disjoint between the potential of the emergent stories versus the curated plot was somewhat jarring.

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Now whilst I may have avoided the hype I’m not ignorant to the controversy that’s surrounded the release of No Man’s Sky and I do believe it merits addressing. As a standalone game No Man’s Sky is a good, but not great, title that I’m sure would appeal to certain niche. Not knowing of potential features I felt no loss at them not being there and so harbour no ill will for Hello Games. Indeed I feel like we, the gaming community, need to temper our expectations for any game lest we set ourselves up for Molyneux levels of disappointment. Sure Sony and Hello Games are partly to blame for this, whipping the community into a frenzy with teasers and interviews and whatnot, but we gamers are better than that. We’ve all been here before, with promises of games that would redefine genres or push them to new heights, only to be disappointed when the reality did not meet our expectations. If No Man’s Sky was released on Steam Greenlight for $30 and spent the next 2 years in Early Access no one would be shouting “BROKEN PROMISES” as loudly, yet because it had a full release it seems everyone feels entitled to voicing just how angry they are.

TL:DR, stop getting so hyped. It never works out how you’d expect it to.

Good but not great is the tagline I’d go with to sum up my experience with No Man’s Sky. I know of a few friends who’d love it as they’ve sunk many hours into similar games like Terraria or The Forest. For others, like me, it was an interesting aside but quickly became repetitive and so I left it behind. This isn’t unusual, indeed there have been many higher budget games which I’ve done the same with, and shouldn’t count against it if the concept interests you. Even looking back, after getting burned by the grind/upgrade cycle, I still think it’s worth playing, even if it’s just to see a few different planets and systems before it gets shelved. That might not be worth the asking price for you but that’s not a judgement I’ll make for everyone. For me, someone who got 15 hours of game time out of it, No Man’s Sky was worth it, even if I may never go back to it again.

Rating: 7.5/10

No Man’s Sky is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 15 hours of total play time and 45% of the achievements unlocked.