Finding My Sky

The spaceport’s trader, or rather the lifeless unblinking eye of a terminal that passes for one, is offering twice the going rate for Gravitino Balls. This doesn’t do me much good, seeing as how I’ve been through a dozen star systems in No Man’s Sky and haven’t seen a single one of the glowy cash balls, but hey, sometimes it just feels good to know that a sweet deal is out there, you know? I settle for offloading the less lucrative junk that’s piled up on my sleek, twin-engine starmobile and hop back in the cockpit, ready to continue my slow march to the center of the galaxy.

I don’t know why. A dozen systems and two starships ago, the motivation flowed freely. Each planet contained strange new creatures, precious minerals, and an abundance of prefab shelters full of upgrades for my gear. But planet by planet, the creatures blurred together, different in their composition, but identical in their strangeness. Planet by planet, the appeal of the minerals faded as I found nothing worth making from them. Planet by planet, the shelters rewarded my exploration with technology I already had, not even bothering to instead grant me some pity cash.

And so I just kept jumping. Ingredients for warp fuel are cheap and abundant, so I just warped from system to system, taking the biggest leaps I could toward my distant target, not even bothering to land on the planets that lined the road or duck into the spaceport to stretch my legs and see if the attendant could teach me the Korvax word of the day. Just jump, jump, jump.

I don’t know why I decided to stop by at this particular spaceport. Maybe I needed to top off the warp drive. Maybe I wanted to unload a pile of aluminum that I’d been dragging along with me for a few thousand light years. Maybe I wanted to see if I could talk a Vy’keen pilot into selling me a bigger ship. I guess it’s not important. What is important is that it’s a seller’s market for Gravitino Balls. Well, that might not actually be important either. Sure, some cash would make it easier to find a roomier spacecraft, but Ol’ Sleeky has been getting the job done so far, and the lack of cargo space isn’t that big a deal when you’re set on cruise control toward the galactic gore. So I don’t know why I’m hanging out in this spaceport, and I certainly don’t know why I head down to the surface of the nearest planet.

I park the wheels on a vast snowy world. The environment scanner reads back the worst news I’ve ever seen in my life, which is a testament to both the awfulness of this planet and the charmed life I have lived up to this point. Weather: Cold Beyond Reason, Also There Are Storms. Sentinels: Pissed Off. Fauna: Also Pissed Off, Wouldn’tcha Know? Flora: Fine, Actually. So I’ve got that going for me as I look around the snowy but pleasant-looking marble and see dozens of tiny, glowing dots. Gravitino Balls by the dozen. I have landed on a planet that is essentially built out of cash money, and there’s not a soul around to exploit it except for myself. The dream lasts right up until I pluck my first glowy globe from the snow, at which point my suit’s Spidey Sense flips on to tell me that those Sentinels, you know, the laser-shooting droids with a particularly nasty local chapter, are here to enforce the “look but don’t touch” policy with regards to Gravitino Balls. In fact, they come out in more force than I’ve ever seen from the metal bastards before, so now I’m shooting not just at floating metal death-spheres, but laser-powered robot dogs. It’s at this moment that I realize that while I’ve discovered just about every available weapon technology, I haven’t actually built any weapon upgrades. Ditto for suit environmental protection modules, I note as my thermal protection is reduced to shreds by the bitter cold. I ponder my life choices as I gun down the nearest robots, fill every pocket I can find with Gravitino Balls, and hop into my ship for a hasty escape back to the warm, safe embrace of the space station.

I unload the globes for a frankly irresponsible sum sure to cripple the local economy, if such an idea existed in this world, and the fever grips me. I need more. More Gravitino Balls. More cash. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let robots or hypothermia stop me. So, for the first time in my twenty or so hours in No Man’s Sky, I actually find a reason to engage with its crafting and survival mechanics, to shore up my defenses against freezing wind and searing lasers. I make a few upgrades out of the spare materials in my ship’s cargo hold and head back to the snow-covered nightmare to snag “a cool mil” worth of Grav Balls, as I excitedly say to myself.

And it’s glorious. The changes to my suit and weapon are immediately apparent. I’m able to brave the cold for longer in search of my cash crop, and many a sentinel and ankle-biting space crab are reduced to piles of aluminum or carbon by my enhanced laser gun. I grab more globes. I kill more baddies. I hop back to the spaceport, maybe a dozen times, to sell my glowing tickets to an early retirement. I am killing with ease my hundredth sentinel when I realize that I have now solved all my problems. The cold is no match for my much thicker jacket. The sentinels have not upped their aggression in response to my continued pillaging of the local Gravitino Ball supply, and my upgraded multitool is now more than enough to deal with the small squads they continue to send after me. I have gone from nail-biting suspense to the glory of triumph to the ennui of victory in about an hour. I am space Alexander, though it is too cold to weep. The party over, I grab a few more goodies, make one last sale at the spaceport, and head off to the next system.

In this moment, I wish there were a lot more to No Man’s Sky.

 

*****

 

A dozen hours and twice as many systems have passed since the Gravitino Ball Caper. I’ve got a slightly larger but distinctly less boss-looking spaceship to my name. My eyes are once again set on the galactic core, so it’s jump, jump, jump. I start to miss the old ship, which I left abandoned on some procedurally-named world so that I could fix up my current rig, which I found wrecked in a ditch, because it had an extra two inventory slots which I’m not even using right now, so I decide to start cruising planets for a new wreck to fix up like a hermit crab with shell buyer’s remorse. As a backup plan, I mine whatever the local starport is paying double for, just in case I go long enough without finding a wreck that I can afford to buy a fully functional craft instead. Systems come and go, with no new ships making a good case, and with the occasional sale of aluminum or heridium netting drops in the 50-million unit bucket I need to fill to buy a ship.

Of course, bothering with a new ship is a pretty dumb endeavor in the first place. My current ship may look like a couple of Pringles cans stood too close to a hot glue gun and got stuck together, but it’s got it where it counts, so to speak, especially when it comes to the hyperdrive. This thing can get me to the core in a hurry, but here I am, chasing my tail looking for something better. I give up on the search and get back to the mission. Jump, jump, jump.

 

*****

 

“I don’t know why.” It’s a phrase that landed me on that snowy deathtrap so long ago. And now it’s leading me down to an unimportant planet in this, some unimportant system, a break from this, some unimportant trek toward some unimportant dot in the center of some unimportant map. But I guess “I don’t know why” is the ethos of No Man’s Sky, a world built entirely out of content, and completely devoid of context. It is not a world that considers why; it only deals in what. And on this particular planet, the what is absolutely nothing. No flora. No fauna. Vast, empty expanses dotted with craters, twisting rock formations, and stillness. Even the in-game music has vanished. There is nothing here. And it is beautiful.

This empty world has a moon, which I decide to pay a visit. I don’t know why. I have played about sixty hours of No Man’s Sky at this point, and it has easily been a dozen or two since anything has surprised me. I’ve had plenty of memorable experiences, like diving for undersea treasures with my new breathing apparatus, or accidentally parking my ship out reach, leading to an hours-long hike through toxic jungles and acid rain in search of a ship-summoning beacon, but the repeated people, places, and things indicate I’ve pretty much encountered everything that this supposedly near-infinite universe is capable of throwing at me. And I’ve seen plenty of beautiful planets in No Man’s Sky, idyllic planets, even, green and lush, filled with gentle animal friends and a gentler breeze.

But something about this moon stops me in its tracks. It is gorgeous. I can barely mine enough plutonium to refuel my ship’s jump thrusters because every time I turn around, some shocking new vista commands my attention. I clumsily bounce to and from the game’s menu, turning off the in-game heads-up display to provide a cleaner screenshot opportunity, then turning it back on so I can find my way around the world and make sure my life support isn’t running low on juice. This moon is a fantastic place, calming and centering. It’s an incredible place to sit and think, not about anything in particular, but about whatever needs a good thought. At some point I’ll have to leave this planet, and of course, in this fleeting, fickle, disposable galaxy of No Man’s Sky, there’s no way to come back when I need a moment of zen, so all I can do is hope that it’s repetitive nature will play out in my favor in another time of need. But for now, I’m content to calmly ponder worlds both real and imagined in this perfect little garden. The occasional breaks to refuel my ship or life support system are mere distractions, contrivances from some other world that couldn’t possibly understand my current state of calm, island living.

In this moment, I wish there were a lot less to No Man’s Sky.

 



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