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It doesn't actually feel like a real universe, there are no planetary physics and gravity is the same on all planets. There are no actual solar systems. The planets don't rotate around a sun but are stationary, sitting together in a blob. The moons don't even go around the planets.
All of the various wonders of the universe (neutron stars, supernovas, pulsars...etc) are entirely absent. There are no systems with a dozen planets, or gas giants, or even ringed planets.
There are no stars, they're just part of the skybox but you can't fly to them.
The 18 quintillion planets that was so heavily marketed isn't impressive when you realize what that actually means: if you took 11 things and come up with 50 variations for each, that is close to 18 quintillion combinations. Most planets are entirely the same but with different bumps and colors, they have the same objects on them and largely the same resources. Once you've seen the first dozen planets, you've seen them all.
There is no actual differences between the ships, except the number of inventory slots. There are no ships specializing for say speed or combat.
You can't actually fly between these systems or go into say the dark space or outer asteroid belt. The only way to travel between them is to open up the map and click warp, which initiates a loading screen animation and loads up the new planets. There is no deep space. You feel like you're in an instance with 3 or 4 planets that are mostly the same, then you load up a new skybox with a new set of similar planets. It's nothing like say Space Engine, where you actually do get a true sense that you're in a real universe.
You can't even fly your ship. You can't fly low across a planet as there is an invisible boundary and you can't crash your ship. The controls are terrible, it has none of the complexity of other space flight sims.
You can't manually land your ship, you simply press a button for it to autoland. Tons of other maneuvers (like entering a space station) are entirely autopilot.
The asteroids which are everywhere have insane pop-in issues, they only show up like 50 meters in front of you. Same while you're on land, the pop-in can get absurd at times.
The freight ships don't move, they just sit there passively forever. They add zero gameplay depth.
The space stations are all basically the same.
The planets are littered with outposts, all identical and with a single NPC alien standing still and staring into the wall.
The NPCs are entirely shallow, there is literally no point to even talking to them since they never say anything interesting and simply give you something random you likely don't need. Even the automated quest giving NPCs in Bethesda games that hand out those Radiant AI quests would be a massive improvement.
All of the monoliths are the same, it's nothing but a chore to chase them down. The words you learn don't add any depth to your interactions with the aliens, since they never have anything interesting to say anyway.
There are no actual biomes on each planet. Each planet is the same no matter where you land.
The animals are build on 14 different skeleton designs, with a bunch of random animal parts scrapped on top of each section to maximize the number of permutations and there is no attempt to make the animal make any sense in it's environment or have anything unique in it's behavior. The animals have no evolutionary history and animal AI is practically non-existent.
There are no tall trees like were shows in E3, they're all saplings. There are no large forests, no large creatures. There are no large valleys, huge mountain peaks, no giant volcanos, all terrain is uniformly similar across planets.
The grinding which makes up most of the game is not only boring, but frustrating due to the completely messed up inventory management.
You don't have a sense of scope / scale to your journey. In the galactic map you can see other stars but there's no sense of where you are in relation to the center of the universe. Likewise you don't have a way to track where you were. No mapping or history, waypoints or other ways of tracking your progress. There needs to be a way to see how you're progressing and also give some meaning to how far you've gone.
The interface is absolutely atrocious. It's amazing that it can be messed up this bad, the fact that we need a mod just to remove the requirement that you have to hold each click for a second speaks volumes. You need to load up a menu to do anything, and the menus are terribly designed and completely unintuitative.
The game is a technical mess. It looks like ass yet runs with all sorts of framerate issues.
The traveling on foot is insanely slow and tedious. There should have been a buggy or car, or at least some sort of fast jet pack like in Tribes.
It fails as a survival game since nothing in the game leaves you threatened. Each planet is seeded with abundant resources, and the few things that do attack you are easily defeated. Compare to minecraft where there's a very definite risk / reward system to exploring a deep cave system. Nothing really threatens you in a meaningful way.
It fails as a chillout game as the interface and warnings are constantly annoying you. Every 3 minutes you get a "Life Support Systems Low" warning when its at 75%. You are constantly pushed to mine more in order to fill out your life support system, it's nothing like Journey or Abzu where you chill out. And the "Milestones" interrupt you almost non-stop, taking away control to play a pointless milestone cutscene.
The different minerals and resources don't really matter. Since most of the upgrades to explore the universe are yours within the first hour / two hours all the rest are kind of nice add ons.
There's no challenge to exploring. There's very little combat and what combat there is is very boring.
You never actually feel you are discovering any planet, every single planet and moon has been colonized. They all have outposts everywhere. Every system has a space station. You never truly go where no one hasn't already settled.
Inside a solar system there's no way to decide if a planet is interesting or not without actually visiting it. There should be some 'classification' of the planets e.g. class M, class X, etc that allows you to say a certain type of planet might be safe vs unsafe.
All planets are accessible right from the start of the game. I was excited about the idea of acid planets, radioactive planets, cold planets ... I was thinking that in order to explore a radioactive planet you'd need to craft some special gear. There was a pretty obviously gameplay loop where the dangerous planets had better minerals / ruins / whatever but were very hard to explore. Instead every planet is basically just a copy of the others.
The constant need to recharge things, which don't really serve a purpose. It makes the game very grindy without any positive feedback. Instead of feeling free to explore the world around me I feel annoyed that if I see something cool it means 30 seconds of tedium while I mine the abundant plutonium. I end up not landing and exploring because of how annoying it is that to take off again I have to enter a menu and recharge my ship.
None of the aliens interact with each other or have any sort of AI other than 'walk around a bit'. There's nothing to sit and watch. An occasional ship will fly overhead but they don't do anything. You never really see a battle take place or the ships acting in any sort of interesting manner.
The ending is straight up insulting. It's the worst ending in any game I have ever played.
This is a textbook case of why hype culture is cancerous to gaming, it leads to companies looking to hype as many people into preordering then sitting back and releasing a shallow, broken game. This game is completely empty and lifeless, with nothing to do but go around looking at things you've already seen copy pasted for the millionth time.
Mario Galaxy 3U