On the weekend, No Man's Sky finally launched on PC. And while thousands of gamers registered their discontent, it didn't stop myself and Gizmodo's Campbell Simpson from spending the majority of the weekend with the game. But while we were able to play the game without much trouble, we still ran into issues of our own. So let's talk about the PC version, and what we thought of the game in general.
Alex Walker, Kotaku Australia editor
So after a painstaking wait of a few days, No Man's Sky finally launched on PC — and the crowd went wild.
In the worst possible way.
28,850 user reviews on Steam. Only 57% were positive. Social media was filled with complaints about stuttering. Crashes to desktop. Appalling frame rates. A game that was "crippled" for consoles.
When I fired it up, I understood what the mob meant. There were jitters every few seconds. The graphics weren't great, but then we'd gotten an indication of that first hand from the PS4 version. And it was a giveaway in the system requirements anyway; you don't set a graphics card several generations old without a reason.
So I dug through the options. Fullscreen was enabled; so was FXAA, a FPS cap of 30, and bizarrely in one of the .ini files, Gsync.
So I set about correcting matters. I disabled Gsync manually. I'm on a i7-4770K and a GTX 1070, so FXAA was swapped out for the superior 4x SSAA. I unlocked the FPS cap and expanded the cramped field of view to 100, an option not available on consoles. And I switched from Fullscreen mode to Borderless.
Since then, the game has been fine. The stuttering has largely disappeared. I can ALT-TAB to the desktop without crashing. The frame rate hovers around 90-110; a little low given the system requirements, the raw power of my hardware and the fact that I'm playing at 1080p, but acceptable nonetheless.
And it hasn't crashed since. Cam, how's it been for you?
Campbell Simpson, Gizmodo Australia editor
So, I woke up Saturday morning to install No Man's Sky, downloading it from GoG. My first exposure to the torrent of negative feedback from PC gamers was the almost comically negative reaction in the comments section of the gamev's release announcement there. Then, Reddit, and the links to TotalBiscuit's Twitch stream that he abandoned from pure frustration at stuttering gameplay. So I was cautious. But I'd played it on PS4, and I knew that I wanted to play more on PC.
And when I loaded up the game, it ran perfectly. My home machine is reasonably modern - i7-6700k and SLI'd 980s, as well as 32GB of RAM - and I'm playing at 1080p, both of which probably help a lot. But constant 90fps-plus after turning off v-sync and throwing the FOV to maximum and bumping up a bunch of texture and geometry settings is more than enough for enjoyable gameplay, even before any new patches or updated graphics drivers come out in the next week or so. Just about the only pain is alt-tabbing, which doesn't work so well.
I'm happy to report that it's even more enjoyable - for me, at least - on PC over PS4, mainly because the versatility that a keyboard and mouse has over a controller. Navigating the inventory - which you spend a significant proportion of your time doing in NMS - is a lot easier with a mouse and hotkeys. It's a game that looks really good on a big screen, so it lends itself to console gaming, but if you have the opportunity I strongly recommend you hook your gaming PC up to a TV.
But a game crippled for console? I don't think so. Sure, the art style is a bit lo-fi, and the highest quality textures still aren't great, but it's a whole, equally fun game on both platforms. Now, the one thing that I've seen the most annoyance about is the fact that you have to hold buttons to interact with items rather than tapping them. To me, that's the most minor change to make, and one that can hardly be the focal point for any legitimate complaint. What do you think?
Alex: I think I mentioned during our livestream last week that the interface would be way better on PC because of the constant back and forth — and by God, is it ever. The transitions are even snappier if you're playing on an unlocked frame rate, and the few occasions where you have to hold down the left mouse for half a second aren't annoying in the slightest.
As for the lo-fi art style, I think it's a little more than that. It feels like all the models and textures are being upscaled from 720p, and it's not done well. My partner spent the whole weekend playing on PS4 next to me, and the PS4 version just looked sharper across the board.
Even forcing settings through the NVIDIA Control Panel and downsampling the game from 4K didn't result in parity, which has led many to question whether some of the graphics settings are having any impact at all.
It's a royal pain in the arse. NVIDIA said they'd push out a Game Ready Driver some time this week, and I'm looking forward to seeing what that, along with some patches from Hello Games, can do. They're already working overtime, but it's obvious that a lot was missed in QA — and I mean a lot.
Just take a look at the announcements on Steam over the weekend. Here's a list of all the issues Hello Games have pledged to patch:
- Shaders are being built during gameplay
- The Max frame rate setting results in sub-60fps on some setups
- Sometimes the sound crackles
- Alt-tabbing in fullscreen mode (not borderless) is completely borked
- Flickering textures and the fat frame rate drops that come with it
- Hard crashes to desktop because the game is accidentally selecting the integrated graphics, instead of the discrete GPU, on some systems
- The game sometimes starts hogging the CPU — because the graphics card runs out of memory
- "Thousands of lines of assembly" — that's a quote from Hello Games — had to be rewritten so the game worked with AMD Phenom CPUs
- Gsync was enabled by default, an option you can't even turn on or off in-game
They've even published a beta branch of the game on Steam — which is a bit of a pain for those who purchased through Good Old Games. If they're having issues, will they get access to the beta branch as well?
It's an utter mess, and I can understand why some drew parallels with last year's catastrophic Batman: Arkham Knight. But with all the above — and there's plenty of problems to pick at — the game still functions pretty smoothly for a lot of people.
But those complaining have plenty of reasons to do so, especially if the game doesn't work at launch. I know more than a few PC gamers who just flip a table if things don't work immediately. If you're charging full price for something, however, paying customers have every right to whinge and demand a refund.
And as much fun as I'm having — there's very few games that I will play for 10+ hours in a single sitting — even I have my gripes.
I've got a i7-4770K, 32GB RAM, a GTX 1070, latest drivers, and I've ramped everything up to 10 in the NVIDIA Control Panel — and it still doesn't look as sharp as my partner's game on the PS4.
That's a problem. Will it stop me from playing? Christ no. What about you?
Cam: No, not in the slightest. *But*, and this is a big but, I'll be playing it a lot in small amounts. I think that, for me, is what a game like NMS is all about — it's not about the "hey, whoa, where did those last eight hours go" experiences that I've had with heavily story-driven games like Tomb Raider and even shorter titles like Firewatch, or RTSes like Homeworld Remastered where I'm more likely to spend time 100%-ing a map before I finish up for the night. With No Man's Sky, I've found that I'm happy to jump in for a shorter period of time to just have a bit of a muck around.
I don't really play games all that often, and that means when I do play games, I'll devote a significant amount of time wherever possible to make for a seriously long enjoyable session where I don't feel like I've had that experience cut short by the demands of the real world. I don't feel that urge with NMS. I don't think I've had a session where I've played it for more than a couple of hours at a time. To be honest, I'm not sure — yet — whether it's just that it's the kind of game without a clearly defined objective — usually the kind of game that I thrive on — that means you can duck in and out as you want, or whether it's that the gameplay itself.
At the moment, writing this literally seconds after another two-hour session, I feel like the game isn't gripping. But that's probably just fatigue. I know that in a few more hours time, when I likely sit down in front of my PC again to play for another 10 minutes or half an hour or maybe even a complete hour, it's not because I feel any obligation to. There's no significant story to speak of, and I certainly don't feel obliged to try and make one for myself. I'm playing NMS in the same way that I've played Minecraft, just immersing myself in a world that doesn't really care whether I'm there or not and just taking some time out to enjoy mining or exploring or zooming around space.
I like that Hello Games has pledged to make fast fixes to the biggest pain points that players have with the game. I think that even afterwards, there's going to be a small but vocal backlash from players who won't be satisfied no matter what gameplay experience they have from now on in. That's the trouble of an imperfect launch — I know I have no interest in playing Arkham Knight, and I know it's fixed. Do you think NMS is a game that, from your time with it so far, will keep players interested and enticed enough that they: 1. keep playing, and 2. keep positive about the future potential of the game?
Alex: Keep positive? If the last few months are any guide, the only thing that can be counted on is a propensity to overreact. Just look at the death threats to Stephen, Kotaku's US editor, for reporting that the game would be delay. Or critic Jim Sterling saying his site had been DDoS'd because he gave NMS a 5/10.
People go nuts for this game, perhaps quite literally. Maybe they need to lay off the iridium.
But the way you're playing is kind of what I was hoping for — something that can be enjoyed in small doses, a game that works around my life instead of being an interruption. I played NMS all throughout the weekend, and happily cooked, entertained, watched movies, watched the finals of The International, did the washing, whatever was required.
And I could do that because NMS was, for lack of a better phrase, a chilled game. And that's what I wanted.
So provided that matches people's expectations — and it's understandable if that's not — I think people will stick with the game for a while. And that's not factoring in the potential for mods, although whether that's compatible with how NMS coded the game isn't known.
At the end of the day, you and I are pretty fortunate. Any issues were fixed with a couple of tweaks. And that's been a common thread I've seen, where people have either had troubles getting the game to work at all, or to work smoothly. But a driver update here, a few changed options there, and normal service resumed.
Thing is, people shouldn't have to do that. There are enough oversights that make you question whether Hello Games had the resources to QA the PC port before it went out; the complaints on Steam are certainly indicative of that. And at the end of the day, first impressions last.
You didn't touch Arkham Knight because of its horrible reputation. A lot of interested players might not touch NMS for the same reason, or at least until it goes on sale. And plenty have given it a hard pass because they realised it wasn't the game they thought it would be.
No Man's Sky is a colourful, vibrant grind in space. That's fine — it's what I wanted from Elite: Dangerous. But a lot of gamers don't buy into that, because sooner or later they want something more. And it's up to Hello Games to provide that — as soon as they iron out some of the more critical bugs.
For those of you playing on PC — how's the experience been for you? Let us know in the comments!