While the game at release technically kept its creators’ promises of nearly infinite animals, planets and star systems, the actual experience was far more pedestrian than it had been presented in trailers and interviews. Much of the core gameplay involved trudging around similar-looking environments and shooting a laser at rocks until you collected enough materials for your spaceship.Some worlds are scenic and beautiful, begging you to use the camera mode to capture the views of rolling hills with colorful plants and animals dotting the landscape and a ringed planet hanging over the horizon and peeking out between clouds; others are barren and ugly wastelands; and others are just bizarre.The new Saturn-ringed planets – one of many entries on a popular Reddit thread of things missing from the game – have featured heavily in screenshots shared by players on social media. Despite some performance issues, the visual improvements are welcome. You can now fly close to a planet’s surface, through more distinctive valleys and trenches, and damage your ship by crashing into trees.
This summer, however, marks its biggest update yet. Dubbed No Man’s Sky NEXT, it’s essentially version 2.0, a soft relaunch of the game that brings it closer in line with the expectations many had for it. For many, the biggest of these changes is multiplayer: Now you can explore the game’s unprecedented vastness with up to three friends. So of course we strapped back into our starships to check it all out.It is a grander, more cohesive experience that makes the infinite expanse of space feel much less lonely. But what Next really ends up emphasizing through all of its quality-of-life improvements and additions was that the game we got on day one was always going to be “the game.”The opening hours of No Man’s Sky: Next are still mostly flailing about, shooting laser beams at dozens of rocks that all kind of look the same on dozens of planets that also kind of look the same. It’s a great game to play while doing something else—running Netflix on a second monitor, for instance. What you seek can vary; it may be answers that explain your identity crisis and the odd state of the universe or a wealth of natural resources to fund an extended tour of strange, far-off planets. Though you begin as a disadvantaged lost soul, it’s entirely possible to study your surroundings, take advantage of what they have to offer, and become a social and military force in the eyes of No Man’s Sky’s alien races.Well, if you’re not interested in a pointless stress simulator, you’re playing the wrong game. Cards on the table: I am one of the people who did not care for No Man’s Sky 1.0 when it launched a couple of years ago. I put about four hours into it, decided the gameplay was too clunky and the goals were too obtuse, and never touched it again.As you’d expect from procedurally generated content, these missions are basic and begin to feel similar after you’ve tackled a few, but they do vary from “collect 250 chromatic metal” to “take a photo on a desert planet”.
The catalogue of resources – and how they’re combined and used – has changed again. If you return to No Man’s Sky after some time away, and reload a saved version, you will find that your stockpiled resources are useless for anything but sale. Ships are unaffected, though, and bases can be restored.faster when a visually impressive storm hits – and you always fill it back up by injecting it with with the same cure-all resource. While animal life is hugely varied – sometimes hilariously so, with bouncing blobs, giant rabbit-crabs, flying sharks, and full-on dinosaur-like beasts roaming everywhere – but they have few unique behaviors to distinguish one from the next when you want to do more than look at them.In Next, resources have been simplified and fused together, making the number of required materials a bit easier to hunt down. But still, every action you make costs resources. Even not making an action has its costs.Combat is simplistic and weak both on the ground and in space, with a small selection of weaponry to work with and uninteresting AI to shoot at. Dull fights and relentless pursuits (it’s impossible to jump away or evade ships in space without landing on a space station, and killing one just brings more after you) make all the combat-based missions you can run a drag.But I’m fine with that. The story has much more of a spine than it did when you played at launch, but the game is still mostly interested in directionless exploration, and in players finding their own fun or reason for playing.In fact, after a few initial goals are met, you receive a message asking if you’d like to continue the story, or define your own path–whatever that may be. Through a combination of new mining and terraforming tools and the freedom to build how and where you wish, it has never been easier to make any planet into a home. Finding the raw materials to do so and refining them into their most useful form is now a quick and relatively painless fact of life. Multiple land-based vehicles now exist, making traversal even less of a dangerous hassle. As for space, frigates and fighter crafts are easier to obtain.
It’s just a headache. I’m fine with making people work to access another star system. But going around the block for a quart of milk should be a freebie.Most enhancements, like a gauntlet that allows you to harvest poisonous plants or a shotgun-like attachment for your gun, require you to go on scavenger hunts for specific materials, and that gives meaning to the endless searching. To build a Warp Cell, I need to build Antimatter and Antimatter Housing. To do that, I need to land on a planet and use my mining laser to mine oxygen and ferrite dust, and build a refiner that can turn metal and carbon into chromatic metal and condensed carbon.Multiplayer tended to create random stutters and bugs more than anything else I did in game–even when playing the otherwise technically astounding Xbox One X port. That said, you can still wander around, help people farm resources, and have backup while breaking into a well-guarded facility. Portals and teleportation devices are now a staple in No Man’s Sky, and showing off your new home has never been easier. Altogether, No Man’s Sky’s universe finally feels like, well, a universe.Arriving about six months after the initial release, Creative Mode ditched all the grinding, the resource collection and management, and let you focus on exploration and base-building. If you just want to casually tool around the universe, build some bases, and look at bear-dinosaur-bird creatures, choose Creative. I can’t emphasize it enough.
The Verdict –
it shouldn’t be surprising that people are willing to go back to square one. No Man’s Sky is not a game you play for the story, and this update – plus the promise of future free content and events – provide plenty of reasons to spend more time simply exploring space.t still carries a lot of caveats: It’s mechanically repetitive no matter what planet you’re on, the dull combat should be avoided whenever possible, and bugs are plentiful. But buying new ships and building new things is enough motivation to make it entrancing – for a while, at least.