When I first played No Man’s Sky almost two years ago, I was a little but underwhelmed. I could see that the foundations for a solid game were here but questioned whether the game was really for me. The game just felt like one of those fever dreams you had as a kid – explore a planet, jump in your spaceship, and literally fly into space to another planet and land to repeat it all again. While at a very basic level this was possible in the game that released two years ago, it felt like a large but empty experience.
Fast-forward two year and No Man’s Sky has expanded considerably with both the Atlas Rises update, which released last year, as well as the very new NEXT update which hit this week. In a rather humble but necessary move, Hello Games have tinkered with and continued to work on No Man’s Sky through all the vitriol, all the poor reception and all the disappointment to turn the game upside down and address nearly every major complaint I had about the game.
Within hours I was jumping between planets in the original No Man’s Sky and seeing repeated assets, repetitive naming structure and planets that looks like dreaded pallet swaps of one another. There was clearly some randomisation here, but it was clear looking around the internet that this wasn’t the wide and vast universe that we were initially promised. Simply put, it was as if the pool the game was drawing from wasn’t big enough.
Playing the game today, with the Atlas and Next updates applied, it’s clear that Hello Games’ vision for for the game has been achieved with a greater sense of gusto. No longer do planets feel cobbled together by an algorithm that feels just barely finished. Everything looks great, and more importantly feels believable. A planet with a toxic atmosphere has bizarre looking creatures that breathe noxious fumes and warped almost dead looking flora, for example. Everything just feels more authentic, and while it’s still not quite at the level of the original reveal trailer, it’s hard to find fault with how No Man’s Sky has built its world.
Perhaps even more impressively, there’s now a few different ways to play the game depending on how you want to. Players can choose to follow the rather detailed 20 or so hour storyline if they crave more structure, or just jump in with unlimited resources and build to their hearts content. Especially with the latest Next update, which makes base building near limitless in terms of where and how much of a base you want to build. Finally, those who really want a challenge can take on the Survival or Permadeath mods, which are as gruelling as they sound and they’re modes I daren’t try.
I think the biggest improvement with the game is just that there is so much to do now, no matter how you want to play the game. Before, I felt like No Man’s Sky only pushed you in one direction – to explore. Now, with the improvements that the latest update have brought, anyone can really jump into the game and enjoy it. If you’re one to collect and scan all the different types of flora fauna on each planet, you’ll probably run into a whole lot less duplicates than previously. If you want to use all those resources you’ve found on a planet you adore, you can build to your hearts content. If you just want to float in space and engage in space battles you can too.
The choice is yours now to play how you want, and it’s a huge commitment from Hello Games to continually polish and widen the breadth of their world to the extent that we see here. Make no mistakes, No Man’s Sky provides one of the most organic sandboxes for you to do so.
One thing hasn’t changed with No Man’s Sky, however, and that is the phenomenal realisation of the game’s world. No matter what planet you land on, the atmosphere and the character is dripping off in droves. There hasn’t been a single planet, even the ones proclaimed a “dead” by the game, that hasn’t evoked desire within me to explore and discover what it has to offer. It’s bizarre that a game that’s essentially randomly generated can evoke such feelings within me, especially given my penchant for more structured experiences.
But it does, and it’s easily the strength of No Man’s Sky today. I have no idea what it would be like to explore an alien planet with a toxic atmosphere in real life, but No Man’s Sky sells itself with a sense of authenticity that I really have no choice but to believe that this is what it would feel like to take one small step for man.
The biggest update here is that No Man’s Sky now supports multiplayer! I didn’t dabble too much in this on my adventures as I really enjoyed the sense of isolation when exploring these alien worlds, but it works well if a little bit vague on the details. Essentially, about 16 or so people can inhabit an instance of the world at any time, but only up to four of those people will appear physically in front of you. You’ll warp in to a players game near them, but if you’re not partied up then the other 12 or so players will appear as floating orbs, much like in a previous update. It’s a cool feature that I’d imagine would get a lot of use with some squads, and helps sell this idea that you’re all exploring the universe together.
Obviously, the game is still not going to be for everyone. The story here, while lengthy, is pretty tropey sci-fi that only genre fans will enjoy and while I eat it up, it’s not for everyone. When you take away that, there’s still a game similar to what was on offer two years ago – just miles better.