By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
A difficult beginning
No game has had quite so upsetting a launch as No Man’s Sky. Well, maybe Fallout 76. And, well, there was Star Wars Battlefront 2. And there was Anthem. Come to think of it, The Division was pretty ugly. Oh wow, do you remember the initial launch of Final Fantasy XIV? That was a dumpster fire. What was that one by the makers of ARK? Atlas? Yeah that’s it. That was pretty much a stinker too.
Heck, it almost seems like over half the online multiplayer games that come out are just awash with problems. Only some of those games have redeemed themselves. FFXIV, for example, is arguably surpassing World of Warcraft in popularity these days; in my opinion, it has long since surpassed it in story quality and gameplay. No Man’s Sky’s launch was inarguably bad, with a laundry list of valid complaints, as OnRPG.com’s editor in chief, Jaime Skelton (Twitter @jaimeskelton), demonstrated in her review of the title, one month after its release.
In her article, Jaime talks about a wide variety of issues, and I’ve added some other common complaints, including but not limited to: a lack of multiplayer experience; shallow NPC interactions; lack of biodiversity among individual planets, no flowing water, and no sandy planets as demonstrated in certain previews; the non-stop annoyance of the Sentinels, which failed to provide any legitimate challenge, only frustration; an utter lack of variation in the type or function of spacecraft; no third person view for either ships or players; portals not working as demonstrated in demos; and ship combat proving unchallenging and unrewarding, with no ability to lock on targets – but harsh punishments for accidental friendly fire, even if it was just a glancing blow.
The number one area where No Man’s Sky developer Hello Games really seemed to fall short, however, was in their lack of transparency or communication with the community who had shelled out $60 USD to pre-order what was, ultimately, a rather overpriced, underwhelming title.
Jaime says in her article:
If it hasn’t been obvious yet, the list of grievances against No Man’s Sky all boil down to the same format: Hello Games presented a feature (through interviews and promotional media), and the feature cannot be found in the current version of No Man’s Sky. The result has been a tangle of misinformation, exaggeration, anger, fact, philosophy, and digital violence – practically a mid-life crisis of the gaming community.
This is a sad truth. Now, it is safe to say that the role of Community Manager wasn’t nearly as common in developers in 2016 as it is in 2019, where it has become almost a mandatory position for any team over 10 people. No Man’s Sky, by the way, is a studio of 25 people as of 2019. Rumor says that in 2016, when the game was released, the total number working at Hello Games was 16, which is a number referenced frequently in the game.
Be that as it may, No Man’s Sky was dubbed “One Man’s Lie” by some. It was described as being “as vast as an ocean, but as deep as a puddle, with its general lack of features, yet over 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets (there are 18,446,744,073,909,551,616 planets possible, spread across 255 galaxies.)
Each of these colored lights is a solar system, most with many planets. According to Sean Murray, even if one planet is discovered every second, it would take 585 billion years to explore them all. This, without a doubt, makes No Man’s Sky geographically (spatiographically?) the largest game ever made.
There were many shouts of “malfeasance” thrown at Hello Games, and claims that No Man’s Sky was nothing but a scam or cash grab. With all the unfulfilled promises and build up of hype, coupled with a lack of transparency, it’s understandable. But again, as Jaime has said before:
The likelihood of the matter is that Sean Murray and Hello Games did not lie by intention. The Occam’s Razor of this situation in the video game industry is that these features were in development but, somewhere before release, were removed from the game for logical design reasons. Glitches, bugs, balance issues, engine limitations, and general quality of play all can play a factor in a feature’s ultimate removal from a released game. That some of these features seemed to be working in press demos further indicated that they were not imaginary selling points for the game.
The point being: No Man’s Sky was a PR nightmare, and a Community Manager could have saved them from untold woes. While I think Sean Murray is a nice guy when he does make an appearance or speak in public (here he is on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), he is ultimately a developer, not a publisher, and hiring someone to handle those duties would clearly have been the smart play.
Rolling up their sleeves
It would have been understandable for Hello Games to throw in the towel and give it up for a mistake, especially given the reaction of the audience. In an article with The Guardian, Murray once recounted the fact that he was sent death threats because there were no butterflies in the game, despite them having been seen in a demo. Sean Murray was personally vilified, and there are videos cataloging his “trail of lies” (that don’t bear sharing here).
Giving up wasn’t on the agenda for Hello Games, however. Instead, they sat down, shut up, and got to work. Just three months after the release of No Man’s Sky, the first large collective update was released called Foundation (note: this does not include the many small bug fix patches released between 1.0 and Foundation’s 1.1 version.)
Up to this point, and really through the release of their NEXT update, which was version 1.5, Murray and team kept largely to themselves. This continued lack of transparency served to further the frustration of the community for a time, but as the updates rolled out, and mistakes were rectified, the tone of critics and the player-base began to shift. By patch 1.3, Atlas Rising, which also marked the 1 year anniversary of the launch of No Man’s Sky, things were definitely seeming to take a turn for the better.
What remains of this section of the article will be a summation of each of the large updates, each of which has been released free of charge. If you would like to see a full history of patch notes and release logs, including the full patch notes for each large update, please refer to the No Man’s Sky homepage’s release log.
Foundations was Hello Game’s effort to lay the foundations for future updates, as well as give players the opportunity to literally create foundations for their bases. New base mechanics were added in at this time, though each player was only allowed to have one base at a time. Base teleporters were introduced here, however, and players could transport from any space station they visited to their home base and back again.
This update also introduce new playmodes to No Man’s Sky, including Normal, Creative, and Survival Mode (Permadeath mode was added later in version 1.2). Quick menus were added to the game, allowing you to refuel your ship or multi-tool functions without having to navigate your inventory.
Ten different plants were introduced with Foundations alongside the game’s horticulture system. Foundation allowed you to recruit NPCs to your base, and also brought in portable equipment, such as save points and mineral harvesters, that did not require being within the boundary of your base to function.
Vehicles were one of the primary focuses of the Path Finder update. Three new exocraft (land based vehicles) were introduced at this time: the small and agile hovering Nomad; the four wheeled medium sized vehicle, the Roamer; and finally the massive, large carrying capacity Colossus.
Path Finder also added a great deal of variety to the game. This was the first update to allow you to own multiple ships, and introduced a class and ranking systems to both ships and multi-tools. The Scatter Blaster, Pulse Spitter, and Blaze Javelin weapon modifications were added to the multi-tool. Ships, meanwhile, received the Cyclotron Ballista, Infra-knife Accelerator, and Positron Ejector weapon systems. Version 1.2 introduced a new ‘currency,’ Nanite clusters, as well as station vendors who offered blueprints for upgrading your exosuit, spacecraft, and multi-tool.
On the pathfinding theme, the Discoveries menu was reworked, making it easier to keep track of things you’ve found and if you were the first to discover them. Perhaps one of the greatest features of Path Finder, however, was the Photo mode, which allowed you control of a camera accessible virtually any time, giving you full movement options as well as a number of filters, the ability to move the sun, and other tools for taking just the right screenshot. These screenshots could then be uploaded to PS4 Share or Steam, depending on your platform.
As mentioned before, Atlas Rises was released around the 1 year anniversary of the launch of No Man’s Sky. This update carried with it some very nice changes, and it was during this cycle of No Man’s Sky’s life that I first purchased the game. It was towards the end of the Atlas Rises era that I signed on, though, as I remember seeing an announcement for the NEXT update and that being an impetus towards my purchase.
This update was the first to introduce what now serves as the game’s main storyline; notice, a full year after its release. It’s understandable if some older reviews you read suggest the game has no real story element. Atlas Rises introduced a story that will take you, on average, a good 30 hours to complete at a normal pace. That time is only spent dedicated to fulfilling the missions to further the quest, and not the base missions, station missions, or other side distractions. For example, on my current save I’m creeping up on 50 hours of playtime, and I’ve not yet completed the entire quest, though I likely could within a few hours if I dedicated my time to doing so.
Atlas Rises also brought a major overhaul of the galaxy map and changes to system generation. Sensors were introduced that could be installed on your craft that would allow you to see the wealth, economy, and aggression levels in a given solar system; all new mechanics to this update. Portals finally could be used, and for the first time, you could actually see other players in the game, albeit only as glowing orbs of light. Local VOIP was integrated into the game during Atlas Rises, and for the first time we saw the intriguing Exotic ship designs.
The next update, titled simply NEXT, came almost a full year after the Atlas Rises update, and unfortunately, Hello Games still hadn’t really learned to communicate with audiences during that year. Shortly before the release of the NEXT update, Sean Murray conceded to his first major interview since the launch of No Man’s Sky. The article came out on July 20th, a mere 4 days before the release of NEXT, on July 24th, 2018.
While perhaps not as large as some of the previous patches, NEXT none-the-less made heavy changes to the game’s tone. Appearance customization was introduced, with 5 different player races, including the main three races you encounter in the universe: the fiscally savvy Gek, the warrior Vy’keen, and the inquisitive hivemind of the Korvax. Additionally you could choose to be an Anomaly or Traveller. The customizations weren’t extensive, but with the color palette available, you could definitely find something to represent you that would stand out from your friends.
The appearance customization was important, as it paved the way for two other features: The ability to see your friends in multiplayer games, as well as third person mode for yourself, both for your avatar and your ship.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of presets. You can use any of those, or go completely original.
This was also the first patch in which you could build more than one base among the multitude of stars in the universe, and with each update more and more base elements have continued to be added.
NEXT also introduced frigates and fleet missions, as well as multiplayer missions that were, at the time, accessible from the bridge of any player’s capital ship. Massive number of graphical improvements also came with NEXT, including planetary rings and visor enhancements.
The Abyss update for No Man’s Sky dove deep into the oceans of the game, offering a wide variety of aquatic updates, including enhanced visuals and procedural generation for underwater settings. New underwater base pieces were added in, as well as an underwater Exocraft, the Nautilon.
As of this update you could now find crashed ships underwater, much as you could on land, as well as crashed freighters, abandoned underwater buildings, and missions that took you into the serene depths of No Man’s Sky’s oceanic environments. Along with your increased time spent underwater, a cosmetic diving helmet was added, as well as new exosuit mods to improve your time spent in the sea. Better underwater controls were also added, allowing you to propel yourself at speed using your exosuit’s oxygen tanks.
This update also introduced the Pilgrim Exobike, which was a land based motorcycle style exocraft.
Visions was mostly focused on improving the visual aesthetic of No Man’s Sky. This included more biome diversity on planets, including entirely new sub-biomes. New types of liquids were added, altering the color, and at times toxicity, of the planetary bodies of “water”. Also, rainbows were added that would appear sometimes during precipitation events.
New varieties of dangerous flora were introduced, such as the gas and the flytrap style plants; before there was only a single whiplike vine or the small toxic gas emitting plants found in or near caves.
On extreme weather planets you could now harvest valuable storm crystals. These crystals sell for a pretty penny, and can also be used to make an improved form of warp fuel to power the warp drives of your various intersolar crafts. These crystals can only be harvested during the harshest of weather conditions, which rapidly drain your exosuit’s protective resources.
As of the Visions patch ,other less dangerous planets would sometimes hide new wealth beneath their surfaces. Broken parts of civilizations, in the form of scrap salvage, can now be found, and on other planets you will find bits of bone from creatures that may now be extinct. Both of these types of materials sell for significant amounts, with three different levels of rarity that progressively have higher value the more scarce they are. On the most rare and exotic of planets you may actually find strange and exotic artifacts and trophies that you can place in your base.
To be perfectly frank, I think if No Man’s Sky had released its 1.0 version as early access, and called Beyond its actual full release, there would have been nary a bit of controversy or hubbub. Beyond is easily the largest update to date, and it’s no wonder that Hello Games chose to give it a full 2.0 version. The game is still quite bug ridden, including some that have been around since I began playing, which is disappointing. But most of those bugs have a workaround, which likely makes them lower on the priority list than, say, bugs that let you fall through your freighter’s floor and die.
We’ll begin the discussion about changes in Beyond with the new Nexus Hub. What was previously merely the home of Nada and Polo has now become a meeting place where players can gather to a variety of ends. Meet new players here, or use the Nexus teleporter to visit a base that has been uploaded to the system (or use it as a regular base/station teleporter). This Nexus Hub is also the new location for multiplayer missions. These missions sometimes offer Quicksilver as a reward. This currency is used to buy special cosmetics for your avatar or base, and was previously only available during special community events.
Up to sixteen players may be on board a given Nexus Hub at any given time, and this applies to all game platforms. Every player you encounter will now appear as a fully fleshed out avatar. The random encounters with glowing orbs are gone entirely.
The Nexus Hub also has several new Traveller NPCs to encounter. Among them you may spend nanites to purchase module blueprints for your exosuit, exocraft, spaceship, and multi-tool. Frankly, I prefer to save my nanites to purchase the S rank modules on stations, especially where exosuit mods are concerned. However, in the early game, some of these basic modules are useful, especially in craft or tools that you don’t intend to keep (as modules cannot be transferred from ship to ship or tool to tool).
There is also an interface where you may spend your base salvage schematics in order to buy blueprints for base components. This interface has a sleek new layout with a fully displayed tech tree, broken into various types of components. Before, everything was lumped into one window, and you could only see a set number of items at a time. Now you have much easier access to the items you want. All told, to completely unlock all tech trees, including decorative base components, it will cost over 600 salvage, which will keep you busy for a few hours collecting.
These new base tech trees also include many new individual components. None-the-least among these are new base electrical components, that allow you to construct a power grid using wiring. Solar or carbon powered generators can be used early on, and can be replaced later by industrial electromagnetic field generators which supply nearly infinite power. This power system completely replaces an older system that used items as fuel (when it used fuel at all). Power can also be “stockpiled” in batteries. This is especially useful at night if you’re running a solar generator system, or if you set your base up with a number of power saving logic switches available.
This base powered by Sith.
Another new base feature added in Beyond is the Nutrient Processor. This goes hand in hand with several new mechanics added to the game. Its primary purpose is to process a wide variety of ingredients, obtained both from fauna and ten new species of flora, into other consumable items and ingredients. For example, you can actually process wheat into flour, process milk into butter, and then add the wheat and butter to eggs, in order to make a cake.
Where do you get the milk and eggs? By domesticating fauna, of course. First you must get their attention using creature pellets. Next, you use an advanced bait, which you again craft from the nutrient processor. This will create a smile above the creature, as well as allow you to harvest any products that it may produce – or in some cases, will allow you to mount the creature. In order to discover which type of advanced bait a given creature prefers, you must first analyze then with your visor.
To discover what type of food a creature enjoys, you just scan them with your visor.
Once you’ve made a cake, what do you do with it? Well, you can eat it, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, eating foods only gives a small boost to the life support in your suit. The real fun of cooking lies in returning to the Nexus Hub and visiting Iteration: Cronus. I’m just going to leave that bit there, and let you experience it on your own. Enjoy.
The electromagnetic generators are part of a system new to Beyond called the survey system. Once you install a survey module into your visor it allows you to partake in a sort of hot & cold minigame where you track down one of three types of nodes. Each of the three types of nodes, mineral, gas, or power, also have a rank, similar to ships, ranging from C, B, A, and S, in order of density. Higher density locations will result in more resources or power generation when placing a mineral harvester, gas harvester, or electromagnetic generator in the area.
You can place more than one harvester or generator in the radius of a given survey node, without diminishing the capacity of the other harvesters. The further you go from the point of the node, however, the lower the output will be. Currently, this is considered one of the most lucrative efforts in the game, as an Advanced Indium mineral farm can gain you hundreds of millions of credits per hour if set up right.
If you can find a nearby electromagnetic field to build a power source, you don’t need to mess around with solar and batteries, but this still works quite well to make money.
Base building in general received a very nice upgrade in Beyond, as new visible snap points now exist. These snap points also give a ghostly blue outline to show possible places you may connect one component to another, as well as a more filled in greenish outline to show where you are currently placing a piece. The old system you could only move your mouse or controller around vaguely and hope that the piece you were trying to place would snap onto the place you wanted before you lost your mind.
The other major base building addition is the ability to build in free camera mode. This allows you to leave your body behind (advisably inside a structure, as you continue to take weather damage, unlike normal camera mode) and float to areas that would normally be difficult to access while building. The new building camera mode, plus the new snap points, make base building vastly more enjoyable.
Beyond Virtual Reality
Oh, and did I forget to mention? No Man’s Sky Beyond has added fully integrated Virtual Reality headset and controller support. This makes No Man’s Sky easily the most involved VR game in existence. While VR mode does lack a camera mode, and you also cannot currently ride creatures, it is still nothing short of an experience. When I first tried out VR in No Man’s Sky on our Oculus Rift I started a new game, so I could experience the tutorial. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, getting used to the VR interface, but with the help of the tutorial I was quickly integrated, and loading up my original save.
This is easily one of the greatest features of VR for No Man’s Sky. You can seamlessly move back and forth from playing via VR to desktop, on the same save game. You do have to fully exit the game and relaunch it in the desired mode, but beyond this nothing changes. This is true both for PCVR and PSVR players. This also means that VR players may crossplay with their respective platforms, though unfortunately each platform, PS4, XBox One, and PC, may only play with their own respective platforms and their VR counterparts.
I don’t typically experience the motion sickness that others report when playing VR games, so it’s difficult for me to give a completely fair assessment on the comfort features of the game. That being said, there are several features included which are meant to mitigate discomfort for players, and all are adjustable. For one, you may choose between smooth movement or teleportation style. With teleportation, you move the joystick and an indicator appears which you then place on a space within range, and when you release the joystick, you find yourself in that place.
Similarly, you may change the facing direction either on a rigid click style movement, or a smoother 360 degree flowing turn. I call it facing because what it really adjusts is the direction your HUD faces, which is honestly a little bit awkward. If you turn your head you can look around you, including viewing what is behind you, but your HUD will be facing the same direction you started. If the seamless save transition is the best feature of No Man’s Sky VR, this is easily the worst (barring of course the features completely lacking).
Despite all of that, when I started my tutorial, I was instantly in awe. The graphics were crisp on my RTX 2080. During certain points there was some issue with the camera catching up to my face, which caused some blackness around my peripheral vision. Yet weather, like the snowflakes, were something that felt so magical, I wanted to reach out my hand and feel their chill on my skin. The word to describe it is, simply, awesome.
Of course, the first thing I did when I loaded up my main save on VR was to jump into the cockpit of my hauler spacecraft. I went into settings to set my controls to inverted, because in my experience that means that when you pull back on the joystick, you tilt up, and when you push on the joystick, you go forward. Unfortunately, this is considered normal settings for No Man’s Sky. Once I got that all straightened out, the controls were mostly intuitive and enjoyable.
When sitting in the cockpit of a vehicle, you actually use your hands to reach out and grip the controls. Or at least, that’s the visual. Really, you’re just lining your hands up and gripping your controllers. Once your grip is locked into place, moving your left hand forward or back will adjust the throttle inside your cockpit. Moving your right hand adjusted the joystick, which altered the ship’s tilt, pitch, and yaw. It’s worth noting that this, too, took some getting used to, as I was expecting to move my whole arm in order to move the joystick, but the movement was really much more centered around my wrist.
All in all, the entire VR experience in No Man’s Sky could best be described as tactile. In order to equip your multi-tool, you actually have to reach up over your right ear and then hit the grip button on your controller. Turning your visor on involves a somewhat similar motion with your left hand coming to your temple, then clicking the trigger.
Want to get out of your ship or exocraft? Reach over, grip the handle to the cockpit, and lift it. Interfacing with objects, which on PC amounts to simply holding the “e” button (default) in VR involves pointing at the object, gripping the trigger, and then physically pulling your arm back, as though picking or opening the object you’re trying to work with. This creates an incredibly immersive feeling of actually physically interacting with your environment.
It is incredibly unfortunate that I was unable to calibrate my system to get recordings for No Man’s Sky in VR, but the normal methods for recording VR, at least for my Oculus, didn’t seem to want to work for me. I would love to have shown you what it looked like to be inside the cockpit, but there are other people, evidently more VR savvy than I am, who were able to get some good recordings.
Where that leaves us
No Man’s Sky is really in the best place it’s ever been, and that’s saying something. Over three years the progress of improvement has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s certainly still far from perfect. The game has a great deal many bugs, though few of them are truly game breaking.
More depth could be added to NPC interactions, certainly, and perhaps more procedurally generated missions could be offered by the Gek, Korvax, and Vy’keen. This is definitely an area where the game could still use some work.
It would also be amazing to see planets be more four dimensional. As it stands, you find an ice planet, and it’s an ice planet from pole to pole. Now in most cases, that’s understandable, but it would be nice to find the occasional planet resembling Terra, where weather patterns were distinctly different from area to area. I’d love to see gas giant planets, especially if they were to make sub-orbital bases a part of the game.
But these are wish list items at this point, and I don’t feel they’re critical for the enjoyment of the game. Would they make great expansions/additional content? Yes. Does the game function fine as it is? Other than the bugs, which Hello Games is frequently working on patching, definitely. Is the game worth playing, and worth $60 USD? Without a doubt.
But what can I do in No Man’s Sky?
It seems “Yeah, but what’s the point of No Man’s Sky?” is a frequently asked question. As a sandbox game, people often feel lost, and this is something I can totally understand. With 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets in 255 galaxies, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The fact of the matter is, the game isn’t “wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle”; No Man’s Sky could be better described as “wide as an ocean, deep as your imagination”.
The sandbox experience isn’t for everyone.
And that’s okay.
Let’s repeat this, just to help it set in:
I don’t have to like every game out there. That doesn’t make it a bad game. The sandbox experience isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
I occasionally will say, after reviewing a game, “Such and such genre just isn’t my thing”. Games like Dark Souls and Ashen for example, or others with the “Souls-like” moniker just don’t do it for me. Sandbox survival and crafting games, like No Man’s Sky? Those are what tickles my fancy, and No Man’s Sky in particular hits all the marks.
Now, if you’re still unsure if the biggest sandbox video game in existence is what you’re looking for, I’m going to give you some ideas on what to do, and some examples of people who’ve done it, or guides to doing it. I think that’s the best I can offer at this point. Between Jaime’s article, and the updates, you should by now have a pretty good idea of what the gameplay is generally like. For my part, I quite enjoy collecting words for languages, finding cool ships and multi-tools, and finding awesome planets or creatures. Ultimately, what you do in No Man’s Sky is experience it. I give my experience in No Man’s Sky 4.5 out of 5 Grah. If it wasn’t for the game’s bugs, it would be a straight 5.
No Man’s Sky ‘to-do’ list:
- Play the main storyline missions.
- Play the base missions.
- Find and share
a cool shipthe perfect ship, awesome freighters (and be the admiral of a fleet of frigates), or kick ass multi-tools.
- Master the languages.
- Maximize your standing with the three guild factions and three race factions.
- Build on planets:
- Make Money:
- Become a chef of galactic cuisine!
- Crafting (there’s an app for that)
- Be a pirate (attack NPC ships and freighters).
- Do station missions (also good for raising faction!).
- Dig for treasure:
- Scrap salvage
- Be a photographer.
- Join a community:
- Check out mods:
No Man’s Sky Gallery (Beyond Update)