No Man’s Sky, No Man’s Sky. Never has the gaming community seen such a merciless disappointment in virtually every aspect. Never have we seen a game overhype itself so much the moniker “No Man’s Lie” became a trending and more searched term than an actual title of the game. Never have we seen a project simultaneously so ambitious and so disastrous. At least until Star Citizen comes out and flops, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

But this is not about No Man’s Sky’s failure, this one is a love-letter. A love-letter to Hello Games and their stalwart commitment to the project. A love-letter to human tenacity. A love-letter to No Man’s Sky’s rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix.

Where to even begin with this one?

I think it behooves me to start with a man. A person who, unironically, is responsible for the huge amounts of initial interest in the game, its amazing failure, its subsequent rebirth and success, and possibly, its second failure if he doesn’t start learning from his mistakes, all at the same time. That man is Sean Murray.

See, Sean Murray is the co-founder of Hello Games and the person who literally would not shut up about No Man’s Sky. Despite the better judgement of people working very close to him telling him otherwise he would go to high-profile interviews and overhype the game. He would tweet about it daily and promise mountains of content.

Murray would go on record as stating that there’s functional multiplayer at launch, that the procedural generation of planets would make each of them unique, that the combat system is extensive and satisfying. He would make you believe this game is the hottest thing since sliced bread and worst of all—he would do it well. People bought that.

No Man's Sky Sean Murray
Seen here recreated inside his own game, for posterity. A meme we can all get behind.

Why you don’t promise the impossible to gamers and then don’t deliver.

The problem? The popularity of No Man’s Sky also meant that expectations were high. Like, ridiculously high. And none of them were unfounded really, although despite Murray’s assertions, the official information never promised anything Murray ever talked about. No Man’s Sky was supposed to be a simple and straight-forward game about space exploration. A bit repetitive maybe, but not bad honestly.

But Murray just would not shut up. It came to a point where No Man’s Sky couldn’t possibly have delivered on all these promises. So naturally, the game failed to deliver spectacularly, leading to a backlash the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the ending to Mass Effect 3. Ironically the greatest hurdle to No Man’s Sky success was always Sean Murray.

And now that the game has actually gotten good and delivered on most of those promises (spoiler alert, I guess?), he’s back at it again! As we speak he’s probably writing a self-congratulatory tweet about how the game is doing well now! This man, I swear, he’s gonna be the death of this game, for the second time! It would be damn impressive, were it not so tragic.

And to be absolutely fair to Murray, it’s not entirely his fault. Nobody had as much faith in the project as him and this shows now 2 years later when it really became the game he hyped us about. In the end, the undeniable fact is that Murray delivered. All I’m saying is that he could have chosen his words better when describing the game.

No Man's Sky
Don’t jeopardize this Sean, it just works. It’s enough for Todd, why can’t it be enough for you?

Come hell or high water, we WILL deliver.

Although it would have been easy for Hello Games to just give up, and lesser men would have, they didn’t. They buckled up and kept steadily working on all the things Murray promised, inching closer and closer to what the game was supposed to be back in 2016.

They knew they had a lot of work to do—the procedural generation of flora and fauna was a disappointment, the geography and the quests hugely repetitive, the space exploration boring, customization nonexistent and worst of all, and that was the biggest sticking point of all, it had no functional multiplayer, despite Murray’s assertions that it would.

No Man's Sky
Now that’s just cool.

So the game is actually good now. Wow.

So they started with adding variety. Patch after patch they would add more new stuff, starting with basic functionalities that really should have been there to begin with, like giving players the ability to recall their ship to their position, tweaking the scripts that procedurally generate new areas, or adding more questlines and NPCs.

Moreover, the weight of the game has been shifted to support multiplayer, meaning the start of the game takes a bit longer now, but you’re supposed to do it with friends. And this helps immensely, as there’s a wealth of emergent narrative now as you have fun with your friends exploring, shooting, building and laughing together.

In hindsight, this was obvious to anybody who played Borderlands or, well, any multiplayer survival game. The difference is, and it’s a big difference, this one has space travel and lots of different ways of approaching it. There’s much more personal customization, so now it essentially plays like Subnautica, but in space, and with more story. Several stories in fact. Some of which, without spoiling, can veer into weirdly esoteric and lofty ideas.

No Man's Sky
As promised you can do space battles now. Like, actually fun and cool space battles. Now that’s pod racing.

The work isn’t quite done yet.

Despite the immense amount of work that has been put into this project by Hello Games, it’s far from over. While the multiplayer is a great addition that makes the game more fun, it still suffers from the issue of being largely repetitive. You still pretty much have to do the same activities over and over again with increased complexity, just now you have pals around.

The shifted weight of the multiplayer also caused some activities that you would have accomplished fairly quickly in the older version of the game, to go much, much slower so now if you don’t have friends? Boy, you’re gonna be grinding for a while, for very little meaningful pay-off. The game could certainly use a lobby system or some form of matchmaking because as of right now, it’s hard to get into it without a group of friends.

No Man's Sky
Typical, we came here to play together and Jeff is just chilling on the ship. WE NEED MORE ROCKS JEFF, get to work!

Like a phoenix from the ashes.

Be that as it may, I’m writing this mostly because this is genuinely one of the most heart-warming comeback stories in gaming. Of course, to paraphrase video games critic Jim Sterling: while the success of No Man’s Sky is great, it’s initial failure to deliver on the promises it has made, should not be forgotten. An atmosphere where developers can simply fail to deliver a product to deliver it later, and it’s 2 years later in this case, means that people could become reluctant to buy games at launch.

And with pre-orders still being something developers actively push for, this is not a good combination. If No Man’s Sky initial failure is not recognized for what it was, people might just stop buying games. And if we stop buying games, we won’t be getting more games. Let us not forget that while this is a comeback story, all of it is merely a silver lining to a failure story.