It's almost without question the biggest game of all time. In, like, a geographical sense. A universe with quintillions of planets, each one full of flora and fauna, caves and cliffs, just begging to be explored. But the only way to see them is to become a grim space Once-ler, mowing down plutonium Truffula trees with your laser to get enough fuel to hop to the next planet. The only way to see more of what you love is to mar and destroy it.
There are some pretty visible seams where the "game" shows through the "world." You can teleport items magically back to your ship, but not in the other direction. You can use your mining laser to melt down an house-sized mound of gold, that you can somehow then carry around in your backpack. It's almost enough to break the immersion that the game makers have clearly worked very hard to build.
It's an almost incomprehensible amount of terrain to explore, but what most of us will spend our time in the game doing is trying to arrange things in our inventories so that we can sell them to buy a widget with a bigger inventory.
And yet... during the day, I catch myself thinking about it. Not planning strategies or pining over items I want to get one day, just sort of daydreaming about how much there is to explore.
And yet... I know that all each planet and valley and ridge and cave is being created randomly by an algorithm, which means that each time I make a "discovery", I am literally the first person ever to see that particular thing. Not even the game's creators have ever seen the particular vista I'm looking at, standing on a cliff and looking down at a plain spread out below me, spiny pinkish mushrooms under a purple sky.
And yet... I know realistically that each little question mark I see on the map is probably just going to be another outpost with a crate full of thamium. But what if it's not? My ship is right there, and it would only take a couple minutes to find out...
This is not the best game ever made. But it's the first one that's ever hit my urge to explore this hard, and that on its own is some kind of accomplishment.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see what kind of atmosphere that planet on the other side of the system has. It's just a few minutes away.