With Your Host, Rob Remakes

Tag: MMO

Settling Down In No Man’s Sky

It’s quite something that after five years and thousands of hours, I’m still having an absolutely lovely and chill time with No Man’s Sky.

The last time I put words to page about it, I celebrated its rediscovered messiness. Since then, so much more has been added and with that, so much more mess.

As I wrote last time round, it’s the good kind of messy. The messy that keeps things interesting, keeps everything from seeming a little too rote, ensures the game never feels clinical in its approach. It’s the rough edges, unfiled.

Case in point: settlements.

One of the more recent additions to No Man’s Sky is the ability to run a small settlement for a bunch of aliens.

As the overseer of the settlement the player is charged with making planning decisions, helping out with construction and settling petty complaints between townsfolk like some sort of cosmic headteacher meandering through a space playground dishing out space litter duties.

In my own infinite wisdom, I’d decided that rather than try and find the best or nicest looking settlement, I’d take the first one the game threw at me.

Molyneux save me, did I ever end up with a rough one.

The settlement I look after is on a freezing world with regular long and blinding storms. Vy’keen scatter themselves around, taking brief walks in-between the hellish weather fluctuations and sentinel assaults on the base, running for shelter and safety when it all kicks off.

It is rarely not kicking off. This is a settlement of tremendously healthy and well exercised Vy’keen thanks to the storms.

The weather is so terrible that it often takes me five or ten minutes to find whatever half built building I need to drop some materials off at. It’s so terrible that on the occasions where Sentinels (No Man’s Sky’s intergalactic robot coppers) decide my settlement is an anomaly too far and opt to try and shut it down, I often have to take the game’s word for it because like I can see anything through the storm.

For all I can see, the Sentinels could be stopping by to hold a Punch And Judy show. Either way, they’ll need shooting.

It is honestly ridiculous. It’s so extreme that it borders on unplayable. I get mere moments in the clear even as fully decked out with protective gear as the game permits.

I love it. I love it because yes, it really sells the whole harsh world thing. But also, I love it because it’s frankly funny. There is absolutely no need for the game to have planets this brutal and plenty of other games would knead the kinks out into something vastly more controlled, more palatable.

No Man’s Sky is all like “nah” and goes all in. Nobody really needs to see what’s going on anyway, right?

It’s all part of the joy of the settlement stuff for me and kinda why the addition of these microgames within a larger game, and the way Hello add stuff to the game, amuses me so much.

It’s how absolutely unnecessarily completely Hello Games commit to them. Exploring derelict freighters doesn’t have to be an over the shoulder horror minigame complete with spoopy tales of how the derelict came to be! But it is.

Settlement management doesn’t have to involve procedurally fleshing out the settlement with new buildings, it doesn’t have to involve petty disputes, citizens determined to go and wander into harm’s way because they’re bored and especially doesn’t need little management game style bubbles showing the current thoughts of each citizen. But it does.

And it certainly doesn’t need to include planets that are complete stormy horror shows, but it does.

I don’t think I’ve played any game ever that’s been quite this sort of journey. From the strange, janky, Out There but you can explore the planets for realsies of the game at launch to this beast of an MMO that exceeds most of the promises that Cloud Imperium have been struggling to even meet the basics of with more money and more time available to them to begin with.

I suspect it helps that whilst each addition over time widens the amount of things to do in the game, they’ve been discreet enough so as to largely be optional – it is a big dicking around in space simulator first, a videogame second and once you’ve got the initial speed bump done with, the game leaves you be. It is the agreement every good MMO makes with the player, an understanding that this is a world to be in, the entertainment to be found there is on you.

And, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, it’s definitely the jank too. That the game follows the all too rare Bethesda ethic of it’s better to have this stuff complete with all the problems it brings than not have it, we’ll worry about it falling apart later and it will forever teeter on the brink of falling apart. That, I find, is where the most magic has been found in recent years.

I know intimately the reasons why most games aren’t this, it’s because it’s bloody well difficult to pull off at scale. I don’t think I ever expected this silly little sci fi book cover generator to become what it is, I certainly don’t want every game to follow the same paths Hello have in transforming the experience so thoroughly into something else,

I’m glad this one exists though.

And I’m glad that for all the changes over the years, that little game I enjoyed taking screenshots of is still a videogame I enjoy taking screenshots of.

Yeah, that’ll do me.

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The Elder Scrolls Online

A picture of a castle, behind a tree. It's a bit drab.

Look, it’s been a hairy few months shielding and trying not to catch a killer virus, obviously there’s no better time for me to lose myself in an MMO. For some inexplicable reason, I already owned The Elder Scrolls Online so it seemed as good a choice as any.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) kinda ticks off most of my needs at the mo. I can scale play to whatever I can manage, if I’m exhausted then I can pop it on and do a few hours fishing then spend another fifteen minutes shaving the fish. I am exhausted a lot right now. I have shaved a lot of fish.

A spoopy cavern that's remarkably blue.

Otherwise, as MMOs are generally built to accommodate, the more energy I have to spuff on a game, the more of a challenging activity I can go off and do. Though to be honest, I mainly just run around collecting things when I’m not fishing. It’s calming.

It also provides a certain routine. Log in every day, do a bit of crafting, go and have a nap. Do the same tomorrow.

Bluntly, ESO is Very MMO.

One of my houses in the game. It's a wooden building with lots of wooden furniture, a fireplace and a curious glowing device on a table.

I couldn’t say it exactly does anything especially amazingly. I couldn’t even tell you what I’m doing or why most of the time either. It’s kind of a meat and potato game – filling enough, if largely unexciting. But that’s fine because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic so unexciting is sweet relief from the daily news. It’s more than fine at this point, you know?

Sure, it would be nice if the writing had a bit of charm to it (any charm at all really), but I guess I can’t have everything. The writing is largely not great and y’know, skippable. Best off just hitting things rather than reading things. I have skipped a lot of writing.

A scary mansion, it has blood red lighting, some fetching drapes and a couple of glowing alchemy bottles in case you forget this is a fantasy game.

My favourite thing about ESO though is how ESO perpetually very nearly looks good but somehow manages to flunk it at the last hurdle. Whilst some of it is understandable given it needs to run on a toaster almost, there’s definitely some interesting colour and art choices been made that mean the game falls flat for me no matter what angle I spin the camera to.

I know some decisions around the art are due to the internet backlash over its early art style that could have politely been described as “very PS3” and fair enough, that wasn’t an especially good look for a fantasy role playing game. The solution was partially to make the game look like A Very PC Videogame and whilst it has, absolutely, worked and it looks like A Very PC Videogame, it’s a Very PC Videogame from 2006 or something. Which is less kind on my eyes.

It's a videogame forest, red plants in the foreground, a sweep of green and a selection of autumnal shades make the trees almost, but not quite, akin to a painting.

But! I kinda like that. Sure, I’d love something with the kind of fidelity Ubisoft bring to their games or whatever but there’s something about the “photorealism circa the mid to late 2000’s” look that reminds me constantly that this is a videogame rather than a place.

It’s absolutely wrongheaded on my behalf, no doubt, but I like being reminded that a videogame is a videogame. It’s just somehow easier for me to relate that to “humans built this” and kinda marvel at the results. Even if the results do seem to have fallen through time.

A very profoundly blue rocky cavern. Really, it's mainly blue.

I realise I’m not exactly selling ESO here. It absolutely is a game I’d struggle to recommend to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a good story, it’s a game where I’d struggle to recommend it to anyone who wants an exceptionally pretty game and mechanically, I press buttons and things happen, it works. Sometimes I press buttons and this happens and that’s great.

Frankly, an absolute mess of colour that makes it difficult to see what's actually going on in the game.

But I don’t always want exceptional! Sometimes I want something that ticks the right boxes and I don’t give a toss about much beyond that. Not everything has to be astounding to be worth my time, sometimes it’s fine to just be a thing. Sometimes, that’s everything I want.

It’s also something I don’t think videogames as a space appreciates enough with everything being a race to the next best thing. I think people, generally, appreciate that games can just be and that’s fine. It’s just videogames again, really. Videogames is an odd, silly, place.

Will my dalliance with an MMO last beyond coronavirus? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Right now, ESO brings me a peace I don’t find much of in real life and that’s more than enough.

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