A lot of things have been said about No Man's Sky since its release at the start of August. Enormous, expansive, near-infinite are some of the compliments given to its size, but people also tar it with repetitive mechanics, frustrating bugs, tiresome survival features, repetitive worlds and creatures.
As much as No Man's Sky lived up to a number of its promises, there is also a long list of points it really missed.
So what happened?
Since its original reveal back in 2013, gamers around the world have been wowed by the scope and size of No Man's Sky. With a quoted 18.4 quintillion possible combinations of planets within the game, some of which are populated by a number of possible animal and creature combinations, to create bizarre inhabitants with stubby wings, squashed faces and gangly legs.
Although the variety of planets might not be quite what was promised – color and biome recombinations are the main differences between them – and perhaps the creatures often created by random generation don't make a lot of sense, the scale of No Man's Sky has certainly been preserved in its final version.
The game is huge. It's a game that involves a lot of travelling and exploring and a lot of people have praised it for its relaxation and scope.
Where No Man's Sky really falls down is just about everywhere else. This is game where the designer said there was multiplayer, said you could meet other players in the game. You can't. That's been a sticking point for a lot of people.
There's also a lot of busy work in the game. Surviving involves finding resources. It means fixing up your spaceship, which means mining rocks with a space laser. It's not complicated or challenging, it's repetitive and very quickly tiresome.
As if to make it worse, the resource grind in the game seems deliberately long. Getting a new ship takes forever and it's quickly outdated. Carrying resources is difficult – for some reason – so you're constantly battling with your inventory size. Not to mention the bugs and crashes which have plagued parts of the game since release, leaving many people struggling to play it at all.
There was a lot about No Man's Sky that people just didn't see coming, or thought would be far better than it was.
So again we ask the question: what happened?
For starters, No Man's Sky was built by a very small team. In the hype for the game's release, that impressive fact was lost on many people. That's somewhat surprising, since the fact that Hello Games was building such a big game with a small number of developers was part of what made it so impressive early on.
It's also a game built around procedural generation, which can be great, but Spore showed us that infinite variety sure starts to look rather limited after just a few iterations. No Man's Sky was bound to suffer a similar fate along the way.
But then why the lies about features? Why so little revelation about the core gameplay that makes up much of what No Man's Sky is? Why did so many people find themselves playing a game with little more to do than travel and mine?
Because No Man's Sky is an indie game with a AAA marketing strategy.
There's no denying that No Man's Sky captured something wonderful when it first debuted. It generated a real buzz about a hugely explorative game and it looked great too – back in 2013. But then Sony got involved. It pumped money into its marketing, got the developers on talk shows and pushed the game into the mainstream where it would be consumed and purchased by many more people than would normally play this kind of space game.
No Man's Sky became a popular game before it had even released, which is a terrible idea for a really ambitious indie project. If it had instead received a moderate buzz during development and released in August on early access, with promises of more features in the future, it would have been really well received.
People would have focused on the positives and forgiven the problems. They'd have loved the exploration of the game, but not felt cheated that there wasn't much else.
With more time and less pressure, Hello Games could have released No Man's Sky to an audience which was willing to forgive, an audience willing to wait and an audience that was excited to see what comes next.
Instead, it had an audience which felt like they'd been sold a lie. They had, but the lie was that No Man's Sky was a a ready to play, high-end experience. It's not. It's a quirky indie game which could do with a couple more years of additions and tweaks to turn it into something special.