No Man's Sky is a huge game. It is impossible not to be impressed by the sheer size of it. I'm not sure that the planets and moons are all to scale, and I'm positive that the star systems aren't, but damn it's big. Only big doesn't quite capture it. Vast, maybe? Trillions of star systems, each with unique planets and moons and their own ecosystems, each with a diverse array of flora and fauna and other natural resources. Each planet has its own challenges that must be addressed if one wishes to survive there for any length of time. You can spend hours on any one planet and barely scratch the surface.
Despite all that, it feels kind of small.
Despite the mind boggling scale of No Man's Sky, if you play for any real length of time, you begin to realize that the planets are basically retreads of the same handful of themes. Rocky with abundant resources but no life. Lush and verdant with a toxic atmosphere that requires you to scout around for resources frequently to keep your hazmat protection charged. Or worlds that don't normally drain your protection, but are wracked by storms that can sap a full bar in a matter of moments if you're not careful. Then there's the occasional actively hostile world where survival for more than a few sparse moments drains massive amounts of resources.
You'll also encounter alien settlements and artifacts, but they too seem to run off the same few archetypes. Lone settlements marked only by a save beacon and a shelter or two, in which you invariably find an upgrade for your multitool. Slightly larger settlements where you may meet one of a handful of aliens, who will grant you blueprints for yet another thing you will never use if you can correctly answer some sort of logic puzzle. Manufacturing facilities that have to be broken into, prompting some of the game's only combat, which is both brief and frustrating.
Space is more of the same. Warp from system to system, find the space station to buy and sell trinkets you've picked up and maybe buy a ship if you're so inclined, and hope like hell you don't run into pirates, because your ship might as well be unarmed for all the good your guns do at lower levels.
I know this is a game that could take ages to fully explore, but when you can take a wild ass guess on what sort of system you've entered and get it right before you ever set foot on a planet 90% of the time, it kind of takes some of the awe away. It feels small and claustrophobic, despite the size.
And at the same time, it's a desperately lonely game.
I know that No Man's Sky is a game primarily to be enjoyed by oneself, but that doesn't mean it has to make you feel so alone. Encounters with aliens are reduced to a few brief lines of text, most of it gibberish unless you obsessively seek out knowledge stones, and a simple logic puzzle. If you get it right, you get goodies. If you get it wrong, you get nothing or lose standing. There's no meaningful interaction with anyone or anything, and when combined with the sameness of the various planets, it really doesn't work very hard to draw you in.
Combat is boring and infrequent. Sentinel robots can be found on just about every planet, snooping around like the world's most anal retentive hall monitors. If they catch you fooling around with the wildlife or even mining resources, they can be provoked to attack, and with the exception of the occasional sturdier enemies, it's a simple matter of spraying bolts in their general direction until they explode. Rinse and repeat as necessary until the threat passes. Again, I understand that fighting is not the primary objective of No Man's Sky, but really, why have it at all if you're not going to make it good? Either double down and make combat challenging, or take it out altogether.
Space combat is a challenge, but for all the wrong reasons. As mentioned above, your starting weapons are basically useless against enemy ships, and your shields are at Star Trek levels of laughable uselessness. Both can be upgraded, but each upgrade takes up vital space in your ship's inventory, which is already miserly to begin with. If you invest in the resources to make your ship worth a damn in a firefight, you're crippling yourself when you land, because inventory slots are both crucial to success and doled out with a reluctance that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge proud.
Your exosuit's inventory is a bit easier to upgrade, as upgrades can be found through diligent exploration, but the climbing cost of each additional slot means that eventually, you hit a point of diminishing returns. You find yourself wondering if it's really worth it to drop another 150,000 units on increased storage when you could put that money towards a ship with a more inventory slots or a mutlitool with more inventory slots.
Let's face it, playing No Man's Sky is at least as much about inventory management as it is about exploration, and that's not a good thing. I'm not saying they should just give out unlimited inventory space, but in a game that wants you to explore and collect resources, you shouldn't have to agonize over every single thing you pick up. That's fine in a survival horror game, where you spend your whole time on the cusp of being eaten by horrific monsters. It adds tension and contributes to the desperate atmosphere. Here, it's just annoying.
All in all, No Man's Sky feels like it has the skeleton of a great game, but it's just a skeleton, devoid of life or more than the occasional bits of flesh that haven't been picked clean. In a few months, after careful consideration of user feedback and targeted improvements, it may just turn into the game it set out to be. Until that point, the diligent explorer can keep endlessly entertained, but for the average person, it's little more than a mildly entertaining time sink, certainly not worthy of the $60 price tag.