cataloging

Review: No Man's Sky (again); Conan the barbarian

Having spent a solid chunk of time playing No Man's Sky, I can now say with certainty that there are things I like about it and things I don't. Things I like: the scope of the thing--the worlds are big, the spaces between them are big, and there's enough variety in types of planets that exploration remains interesting. Driving around in the all-terrain vehicles reminds me of playing with remote-controlled cars when I was a kid, and I'm still a bit gleeful about my astronaut character build, even though the only time I see him is when I'm taking pictures or getting in/out of my spaceship. Being able to build a frigate fleet is pretty nifty, as is customizing the inside of your freighter homebase, including the ability to set up an entire hydroponics farm if you want.

Things I'm disappointed/frustrated by: primarily the alien interaction mechanic, especially when revisiting the same aliens for different types of interactions. I know this probably has to be super-formulatic in order to allow for the procedurally-generated nature of the game map, but it's seriously annoying to have to click through so many gibberish dialog screens just to get tothe "ask for directions" option, for instance. No need to tell me that this merchant looks squirrelly--especially when apparently they all do--just get down to business so I can be on my way again. And speaking of menus, having to scroll through them is seriously annoying, especially in the building menus where you have so many options.

But I think really my other main frustration exists only because I played Subnautica first. Now, Subnautica is not a perfect game, it has its own idiosyncracies and shortcomings, but one thing they very definitely did right was in how they integrated the missions/storylines into the game play--which is almost completely. I mean, sure, the off-screen (because they're dead) NPCs all had the habit of scattering data pads everywhere, but you find them simply through searching for the resources you need to survive and get off the planet. Periodically the radio lets you know that another set of escape pod coordinates have been found, but that's about it. In No Man's Sky, on the other hand, every space station has mupltiple NPCs looking to give you quests for this that and the other (including feeding random animals). And every solar system you enter has a space station, and most worlds have some settlements with NPCs also looking to give you quests, and after a while things start to feel very crowded.

I can't help but wonder if they'd backed off a bit on hyping up the "nearly infinite procedurally-generated worlds" thing and focused a little more on building in these things more naturally via artifacts found in abandoned buildings and whatnot, if the whole game wouldn't have come out feeling better integrated with itself.
But all in all, it's definitely enjoyable, and I'm collecting so many extraterrestrial landscapes that it's fast becoming ridiculous.


Switching from sci-fi to fantasy, I recently discovered that Project Gutenberg has a bunch of Conan the Barbarian novellas available, and have been happily chewing my way through them. They are indeed quite pulpy, but in a highly enjoyable way that reminds me of all the Tarzan novels I read as a kid. There are some writing tics that would get annoying in full-length novels, but in these shorter works they can easily be overlooked, and Robert Howard has a definite flare for atmosphere and intrigue. It's funny--I recently read a novel (Arrows of the Sun) which is well-constructed and includes many of the aspects that I enjoy about the Conan series, and yet it's lacking that certain something which would make me interested in revisiting it or telling other people about it. Definitely not the case with Conan, who has a captivating vitality to him, even if Howard does mention it overfrequently in the narration.

Not sure there's any point in me recommending the series, as anyone interested in the genre has doubtless read them already. But on the off chance that someone's been thinking about reading the stories and just hasn't found an easy way to do so, here's Project Gutenberg to the rescue.