This review of No Man's Sky (NMS) is based on the recently leaked gameplay footage of the final game and all the information about the game made public by Hello Games.
While the game is not out, the fundamental gameplay mechanics and graphics/sound are all known. The details of every single item/creature/planet are not needed to review the game.
MineCraft in Space? Not really
NMS nails the 'mining' aspect. Procedural maps, underground caves, different mineral types, creatures you can pet, trading with aliens. These are all game elements designed to keep you moving from one place to another and make you explore your environment.
This need to 'explore' is what NMS is hinging on to keep you playing the game. Every single game element requires some other element, which means you have to keep exploring further and further.
Isn't this how MineCraft makes you addicted too?
What doesnt work
There is one key element that is very much subpar to MineCraft. Crafting.
In Minecraft, you can visually see your progress through the 'structure' you are creating. You collect items, and your reward is that you can turn your home into a castle. You can see it yourself or show your friends your accomplishment. It gives you a sense of ownership.
In NMS, your only reward is seeing stats for your items increase in the 2d menu interface. Upgrading your ship or suit in NMS just increases a number in a 2d menu.
Your one man spaceship will never become the Starship Enterprise capable of carrying hundreds of aliens. Your only interface to the ship will always just be the HUD. This is nothing compared to seeing your bunker turn to a castle in MineCraft.
There is no in-game structure you can come back to and say 'this is better' now. No place you can call 'home'. It is not fundamentally possible in NMS since its focus is so much on keeping on moving. The whole 'lego' aspect of MineCraft is missing.
While exploration and increasing stats will be fun for a few hours, you will eventually get the feeling of not having any tangible reward for your efforts.
While in the early trailers last year the graphics looked very pretty, they look terrible in the final game. Very last gen.
That said, the aesthetics are good. The planet looks and feels huge. You feel like exploring when you come across a huge cave or some other giant structure.
There is a lot of pop-in. Its not just Level of Detail (LOD) but entire structures seemed to pop in as you move closer.
The menus where you spend your time upgrading look almost exactly like Destiny.
Amazing. Makes you truly feel like you are in a huge sci-fi world.
NMS nails the exploration. Its Achilles Heel is the 'Crafting' portion. Without visual in-game structures to see your progress, you may end up feeling like its all work with no reward.