Even if you never played the game, chances are you’ve heard of No Man’s Sky. The universe-spanning indie game proved incredibly ambitious coming from tiny studio Hello Games, who helped steer the hype train all the way to its release in Fall 2016.
The shoe dropped rather spectacularly, creating one of the bigger video game dramas in recent history. It launched with loads of technical bugs and problems, and even on launch day consumers weren’t sure if the game supported actual multiplayer (it didn’t).
The result was a massive drop-off in players and a huge round of refunds. Hello Games went quiet, for better or for worse, but kept plugging away at the game.
Since then they’ve released four major content updates, all free. These updates have updated, improved, and changed major aspects to the core game, including adding land-based vehicles, base-building on planets, and controlling a fleet of frigates. The latest update, titled No Man’s Sky Next, officially added multiplayer support, nearly two years after launch.
With two years worth of updates, No Man’s Sky is unquestionably a better game than the original launch version. It sits comfortably as a more relaxing, friendlier survival-crafting game that emphasizes exploration above all else, yet it still falls far short of its initial grand ambitions.
From the beginning I’m able to quickly jump into a game with a friend. Despite the fact that the universe supports countless planets to explore, only four players can join a game together. When joining a game you plop down near the location of the host player. If you want to return to single player, you can reload and seamlessly return to back where you left off.
The multiplayer is oddly the least impressive new change. Having a friend to bounce around planet withs, firing lasers together isn’t terribly exciting, at least in the early game. Not being able to opt-in with sharing resources, inventory, or even missions is a terrible constraint that highlights multiplayer as a tacked-on feature rather than built into the gameplay.
I didn’t have much luck with random folks either. While exploring a planet I had a quaint fellow named “Lucifer69” join my server. This fine chap proceeded to ram into me with their space buggy, bounce all around me, and begin firing their terrain manipulator at the ground beneath me, trying to bury me in a makeshift cave. Players can’t really hurt each other but they can certainly be an awful nuisance. They were the only other human being in our entire universe, and I hated them.
Builder Better Worlds
I hadn’t played No Man’s Sky since that ill-fated initial launch, so all of the previous updates were new-to-me as well. The base building is solid and well-integrated into the tutorial. It doesn’t do anything I hadn’t already seen in other survival games like ARK: Survival Evolved, however. I gather resources by blasting rocks and trees, and use them to construct walls, doorways, and roofs.
Bases provide a nice sense of permanence, though No Man’s Sky’s themes are still deeply rooted in pressing forward and continuing to explore the stars, not necessarily putting down roots. Thankfully many of the important buildings, like the refinery, are built to be mobile and easily picked up when I’m ready to move on to the next planet.
I haven’t yet unlocked the ability to build land vehicles or purchase my own frigate, but those are definitely interesting goals to work toward. The ongoing story campaign feels roughly the same, and I actually enjoy the way it holds your hand through every step of the process, whether it’s how to craft Antimatter or teaching me to refine Ferrite Dust.
Space Stations have also been vastly improved. No longer are they embarrassingly big and empty. Now they’re full of aliens milling about, all of whom can be interacted with. Some provide side quests, other trading opportunities or gifts. It’s not exactly Mass Effect’s Citadel but it makes the universe feel much more alive.
My primary issue with No Man’s Sky’s is similar to most survival games – it demands a large amount of your time before it gets interesting. The early game is still very much about shooting lasers at rocks, though inventory management is much improved these days. I start with a larger inventory on both my exosuit and my starting ship, and receive less random items that I have to travel all the way to a settlement or space station to sell.
The economy of resources and credits is more streamlined, which is also No Man’s Sky’s greatest strength. Since there’s no food or hunger bars and most fauna aren’t hostile, the universe is a much more relaxing space to explore.
The bleeding-color art style evokes classic sci-fi literature at its purest form, before Star Wars pretty much took over the genre and made space all about war. I love Star Wars as much as the next geek, but what No Man’s Sky provides is a journey into a science fiction universe I rarely see in games or any media. One that’s primarily about making new discoveries and taking striking screenshots.
The procedurally generated universe can still provide endless hours of exploration, though you’ll quickly see through the curtain after less than a dozen hours, recognizing the basic template of every rock, tree, creature, and planet. The universe loses its sense of wonder after that, and even traveling planet-to-planet with friends doesn’t quite hold up to the ambitious space game we dreamed about. No Man’s Sky is definitely a better game now that it was two years ago, but it remains a cautionary tale of over-hyped glitz that was doomed to disappointment.