Scale vs Gameplay: Balancing too much, and not enough

– by Andrew Charlton

No Man’s Sky was released this month, and reviewers are quite handily divided. Some love it for the sense of scale, the ability to explore endlessly and find new things. Others rail upon the game, for actually having very little to do in that big wide universe.

Either way, both sides admit that No Man’s Sky is a very repetitive game. You gather resources, to expand your inventory, so you can get to the next planet, so you can gather resources, ad infinitum.

Now, this brings an interesting question to the forefront. How little gameplay are we willing to have in exchange for scale and spectacle? No Man’s Sky is hardly the first game to do something like this, after all.


Minecraft can be said to be similar, but in some respects I’d say it has far more gameplay than No Man’s Sky. There’s always something to do that’s new in Minecraft because of all the hidden mechanics. Those mechanics are what make Minecraft loved, not the scale, and size of its worlds, though that certainly helps.

Another example of a different sort is Dear Esther. Though not necessarily about technical scale and wonder, Dear Esther has very little gameplay, and is more about telling you the story than having you play it.

Both kinds, technical or story, have their own merit. But there is a point of having gone too far. The story based games tend to be short, as well as cheap. Ones like No Man’s Sky though? This is a full price game, and one people expect to divest dozens to hundreds of hours into.


But after the eighth hour, when you’ve been doing the same thing, over and over, how many are really going to stick around? How many will feel like they’ve head their money’s worth?

I fear that games like these are risky to the players, and can turn people off of equally ambitious games that focuse more upon the gameplay. At the end of the day, people play games to play them, if someone wants visual spectacle and to watch an experience, it’s a movie. Visual spectacle and scale is wonderful, but in the end, I don’t think it’s what most people play games for. I could be wrong, there are plenty who adore No Man’s Sky, but I doubt they’re the majority.

Photo credits: Images-1gog, Wired, Neonobservatory

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