I started No Man’s Sky NEXT from scratch, partly because I wanted to play it on the Xbox One X, a platform that the game is new to, and partly because the initial hours of the game are some of the most eventful.
The history of No Man’s Sky (and my own personal history with the game) goes back to those infamous 2015 showcases and interviews that built up so much hype, followed by a release on PS4 and PC back in 2016 that, well, could have gone a little better. In hindsight, the hype seems a little artificial and the muted release was hurt by expectations that were far too high, but it still stands that the 2016 game felt rather unfinished, even if the initial exploration was breathtaking.
3 major free updates later and Hello Games have reached a point where the game now feels very different to the launch version and yet retains the basic DNA of their vision. As a player, starting from scratch is really the best way to experience this NEXT version because so much has changed. Trying to get back into my PC version from an old save, I hit quite a few snags along the way, not least that the technology and building has changed to a point that some of the stuff I’d spent hard earned credits on was now useless junk. It also means that you’ll possibly miss out on new story elements that serve to bulk out the Atlas Rising story.
Those new to the game will find a vast universe of planets, all procedurally generated, waiting for you to explore. Your starting point will stick you in the thick of the survival elements of the game, hunting for resources to keep you alive, find your ship and then fix the broken technology needed to leave (or explore) the planet. While it puts you immediately in danger, it still works as the best way to learn No Man’s Sky’s basic functions. From here, technology and new functions are slowly spoonfed to you if you follow the storyline or you can just head out into space and try to find it all out for yourself.
With space exploration comes the need for different fuel types (launch fuel, general propulsion fuel and hyperdrive to skip to other solar systems. With these comes a lot of grinding. Different planets will have different resources, though most will have much needed Carbon and Ferrite, and you’ll need to try and keep some of these in reserve to power your ship and your tools, as well as your life support. While mining for resources is fairly easy, as long as you keep an eye on what you need, there’s one thing standing in your way; the Sentinels. These hovering droids really hate people taking too much from their planet and they’ll attack you and hunt you down should you take too much advantage of the plants and animals. In doing so, you get a temporary wanted level, in a similar way to GTA5, where the threat will ramp up until large AT-ST style mechanical monstrosities will stomp their way towards you, firing deadly lasers.
An easier way to find what you need is to visit a trading point on the planet or pop into the space station for that solar system and trade there. You’ll need credits, of course, earned by scanning for local wildlife or through selling off what you’ve accumulated, but at least you won’t get hunted down for them. The other bonus to finding a trading point is that you’ll meet the resident aliens of that system and build up a standing with them. You can also ask them for dialect help or directions to some interesting relic, downed freighter or building. Ships also land on these bases and building enough credit up will give you the chance to trade in your own ship or buy their craft outright.
The overall aim, though, is exploration and, through that, piecing together the reason while you’re there and who you are, as well as finding your way to the centre of the universe. You don’t have to do this alone, though. This time co-op has been added to the game and feels as if it was there from the start. Working with three other people makes harvesting materials easier, as well as making the game far more fun generally. Even working alone you can come up with a whole plotline of your own making as things happen around you, I found myself wanting to find a good planet with no storms and to build a fantastic base to settle in, going out to explore and coming back via the use of teleports from space stations.
If the standard story mode isn’t enough there is also the creative mode, where you get free reign to build and explore, and the survival mode which really pits you against the harshest of elements in a bid to kill you off as quickly as possible. Both of these manage to feel very different to the main game and yet still feel like side-lines to the main mode.
No Man’s Sky isn’t perfect, there are some occasional bugs, especially in multiplayer, and the need to keep refilling your fuel and tools can feel as if the game is deliberately preventing you from travelling too fast through the story, but this NEXT update does make it feel like the game it was always supposed to be, and more.