In 2016, 65 Days of Static released their latest album, ‘No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe’. As a fan of the Sheffield-based band, I gave it a listen at the first opportunity, and was blown away by how good it was. Back then – as solely an Xbox gamer and my own naivety – I was completely unaware of what No Man’s Sky was until hearing this album and digging a little deeper. It was enough for me to rush out to buy a PS4… and No Man’s Sky with it.
As someone who didn’t surround myself with the pre-release hype until a few days before the game’s release, I was not left disappointed by the ‘finished’ product; unlike so many others. Sure, it was certainly a flawed survival game, made over complicated without any real narrative, and the ‘ending’ left a real sour note, but I never felt it deserved the criticism it received. There was still a lot going for it, even if it was not what people were expecting.
Two years later and with four post-release updates, No Man’s Sky arrives on Xbox One, with a lot of the same fanfare it was receiving when it was originally released. Two years can be a long time, even longer when you have over 18 quintillion planets – 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 to be ‘precise’ – to explore.
Before I could even begin to investigate all the new features, I first had to overcome 100°C+ firestorms on my starting planet. Deep end. Thrown in.
At its core though, No Man’s Sky is very much the same game as the one that launched two years ago. Players start on an unknown planet with their ship wrecked on the ground next to them. The first hour or so involves collecting resources from the planet in order to fix the ship and get it moving again. This helps set the tone for the rest of the game; resource gathering. Whether that be to repair your ship or to make your 18th jump to hyperspace, everything requires resources that you need to gather from the planets you land on.
Another idea that remains – frustratingly so – is the overall UI and inventory management. It’s been tweaked substantially but if anything, those tweaks make it even more confusing. Any resource or item you pick up will instantly take up an inventory slot, but these slots are also used by upgrades to your Exosuit and ship. Updates to the game have added the option to separate certain items and upgrades into other compartments in your inventory, but it isn’t explicitly said what you can and can’t move. A bit of trial and error ensues until you can find something suitable and free up a more standard slot.
Another update appears too – at least to me – and this centres on the distance in which you can transfer items from your inventory to your ship. It has shrunk substantially. It makes more sense to have this distance restricted, but it isn’t half frustrating when you fill up your inventory mere moments after setting off to your next target and are forced to turn back. This is particularly frustrating in the opening hours before you have had the opportunity to improve the number of inventory slots available.
Where the game has improved substantially is the appearance of pretty much everything. The colour palette still looks like it’s been ripped straight from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the random generator that caused the alien species to look like laughing stocks when first released has been tweaked and now sees them looking more ‘normal’, or at least less likely to topple over at any point. That said, to a degree it is still possible that you will encounter those janky species that made the No Man’s Sky highlight reel when it first released.
The multiplayer component that was promised at launch – and subsequently disproven on Day One – is now finally here, but it can be very tricky to use, particularly when creating a new save to jump into multiplayer with for the first time. This has seen my group arrive all on the same planet at least, just everyone was very far away from each other.
Even though that multiplayer has taken two years to arrive, it still feels tacked on. My party were all in agreement after our time together that it was better to explore the universe that No Man’s Sky delivers on our own; it gives all of your actions and reactions much more impotence.
These updates might not mean much to Xbox owners that are experiencing NMS for the first time, but it is worthwhile pointing them out still. Xbox owners should know that the game they are getting now is much different to what originally launched.
That is, away from the core gameplay loop at least. See, this remains very much in place; collect resources to advance to the next solar system, and then collect resources to move on again. However, with the sheer amount of new and far more interesting things to do, this motive to get to the centre of the universe now feels second fiddle to purely exploring everything this game has to offer. I for one am feeling far more productive in-game, trying to become fluent in each of the different alien race languages for example.
The images used in this review piece are all places I have encountered in my, relatively speaking, short time playing the game. They are incredibly varied as well as showing a wide range of things to see and do. There will be repetition, but NMS is looking better than ever, and the algorithm used to procedurally generate planets, terrain, flora and fauna has been given an overhaul and that ensures the game plays miles better as a result.
And that gets me on to my next point, and what would seem to be a trivial addition has turned out to be one of the better ones altogether: the game can now be played entirely in third-person. Previously only first-person was available (and that is still the default option), but once you turn over to third-person you won’t look back. Believe me on that one.
If all this wasn’t enough, there are various different modes now available to allow you to play the game to suit your own style. Over the two years, Hello Games have added extra difficulty modes such as Survival – where everything is a little harder (fewer resources, harder enemies etc.) – and Permadeath mode… Survival mode with the addition of a progress wipe upon death. There is also a Creative Mode where the base building element of the game comes into its own: no building costs and invincibility. Expect to see some fantastic creations from the community soon from the opportunities this allows.
Despite all the good that has come to No Man’s Sky since its original release, there are still quite a few bugs and glitches present, particularly when transitioning from outer space to a planet’s atmosphere. The game struggles with this every time and stutters, sometimes to a complete stop. It would be amazing to see an undiscovered planet laid out in front of you as you enter the atmosphere, but instead we get frame rate drops, major audio glitches and as mentioned, sometimes the need for a few seconds to allow the game to compose itself. It’s a real shame as we should be the ones composing ourselves at our amazing discovery, not the game.
Most achievements in No Man’s Sky are related to progression through many of the included ‘Milestones’. These offer the chance to see player progression in fields such as steps taken, units accrued, alien colonist encounters and space exploration amongst others. Players will likely unlock these through playing the game, but some are trickier than others. There are also specific achievements for reaching the centre of the galaxy in Survival and Permadeath mode that will be the hardest to unlock.
As much as I have raved about NMS here, this isn’t a game for everyone. It’s a game where there isn’t much structure to what the player needs to do, and instead it very much comes across as a playground for you to go out and discover everything for yourself. A game where one person’s experiences will be wildly different from another, and they can spend hours talking about them afterwards.
For me, this is a journey where every time I turn No Man’s Sky on I have an idea of what I would like to achieve in this episode, but all it takes is a look through my visor and I see something new on the horizon and I’m off exploring again. I know right now I will never make it to the centre of the universe in my playthrough, but I understand now that isn’t the point of NMS anymore. The point is that, well, you need to discover your own place within this wonderful universe. And I am having an absolute blast in doing so.