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The No Man’s Sky that actually exists is my favorite game of the year

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Yep, seriously

No Man’s Sky screenshot
No Man's Sky
Hello Games

No Man’s Sky is very small.

This fact goes against all the marketing and buzz that the game relied on for its first batch of huge sales before the crushing disappointment hit. The universe was supposed to be huge! There were supposed to be nearly unlimited planets and aliens and things to see and do and it would be the best game ever in the history of ever!

The reality is that the game — as it was actually shipped and not as it was sold — may be trillions of miles wide, but it’s also only a few inches deep. It’s a game that I can play for an hour or two before I have to get up and do something else, but that hour is perfectly relaxing. That hour became part of my daily routine in 2016.

It’s a game that rewards you for being alone, even as some gamers screamed about the lack of social options. I’m not sure the difference between a game as it was hyped by its publisher or developer and the experience that came on the disc or download has ever been more stark. If you wanted the thing that was shown on that E3 stage, you’re likely still angry about how everything turned out. Hello Games barely talked about the issues with the game, a situation that continues to this day, meaning the most prominent voices were the the angriest.

"I have thought about the story of No Man's Sky a lot," The Game Awards host Geoff Keighley told Polygon last year. "Did we create this black hole of hype that the developers couldn't pull themselves out of? Some of that was authored by me.

"There is a good moral of that story, and it's part of what I'm trying to address this year; to have developers be more transparent about the state of their game."

But there’s another universe out there where No Man’s Sky wasn’t presented to players as if it were the next Call of Duty, and the studio and publisher did a better job managing expectations. In that universe, the people who enjoyed the game for what it was were many, and the people who waited for the reviews and avoided it because they knew what it wasn’t were happy with their decision. In that universe No Man’s Sky was comfortable being a modestly successful indie game with a strong vision and some beautiful visuals. Where other people enjoyed the same game I did, without the weight of hype hanging around the neck of the $60 purchase.

No Man’s Sky is a game where I didn’t feel like I had to see it all, because doing so was next to impossible.

I still haven’t gotten very “far” in the game, even though I’ve put many hours into it. The game doesn’t live up to the product that Sony and Hello Games tried to sell to us, but the game that was released was absolutely my jam. I have enjoyed every moment of flying around space in my own ship, seeing environments that were splashed with the sort of colors we rarely see in the gray worlds of most $60 games.

There’s isn’t that much to do, even after the updates. No Man’s Sky is a small game, and after only an hour or so, you’ve experienced it all, even if you’ve only seen a tiny bit. I can’t blame people who thought they were being sold something so very large, but that smallness is why I love the game so much, and why I find it so comforting to return to every night.