No Man's Sky: My first hours in an endless galaxy (hands-on)

A nearly infinite universe, ready to be explored: Here's what it's like to finally play No Man's Sky for the first time.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
3 min read

When an open-universe game offers more than 18.4 quintillion planets to explore , it's a safe bet that expectations are high. And that's why the gaming world has been waiting with bated breath for more than two years for No Man's Sky, which finally hits the PlayStation 4 today. (The PC version is slated to hit next week; it's not available for Xbox One.)

The game has had plenty of prerelease drama surrounding it, with early copies hitting the street (and Reddit) before the official release date, and a giant day one patch that rewrites quite a few rules of the game -- and effectively resets all those early players back to zero.

Let's get beyond all that and jump right to the part that matters: what's it's like playing for the first few hours. (And, to be clear, I had less than a day with the final code.)

After the shock of having the game crash on me the first time it booted, I finally arrived on my starting planet.

No Man's Sky doesn't do much in terms of hand-holding.

A lot of NMS has you exploring, mining and crafting. The resources you collect serve as the currency fueling your journey, allowing you to travel farther away from your origin planet. First, you'll leave your spawn planet, then the solar system and beyond. Before long, you're able to access warp speed and can quickly jump from one star system to another.

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An unseen hand vaguely guides you along, but there's really nothing resembling any sort of a tutorial. Because of the procedural design of the game -- everything is effectively generated on the fly -- the planet attributes that I saw at the start of my game will be different than what you experience.

There's a lot to unpack in No Man's Sky, but I'm having a good time scanning new creatures and plant life, crafting tools, upgrading my ship, and battling robots. The menu system is laid out in a familiar fashion that mostly resembles the one in Destiny. You'll spend a good chunk of time there crafting items and moving them back and forth from your ship to your exosuit. Everything you discover and scan can be uploaded and cashed in for units, so I'm making sure to do that often.

A marketplace resides in the gameworld where you'll need to buy and sell specific elements and items to progress.

The game runs well for the most part, but you're guaranteed to see a ton of on-the-fly texture rendering as you make your way around new worlds or when flying over them.

The feeling of leaving a planet for the first time is extraordinary, but there's so much left to do and uncover. I'll have a more experienced judgment after I spend time exploring and wrapping my head around everything No Man's Sky has to offer.

"Barely scratched the surface" doesn't even begin to cover my initial experience with this vast game. But I hope developer Hello Games keeps the patches coming in at a steady clip: I didn't play No Man's Sky before the Day 1 patch (1.03) hit, but unfortunately the game has crashed out on me five times in the six hours I've played.