No Man’s Sky: Rough Start
When No Man’s Sky was first revealed during the VGX Awards in December of 2013, the gaming world (players, journalists, developers) collectively lost their minds at the prospect. With the promise of a universe which would be created entirely through procedural generation—stars, planets, fauna, flora, as well as sentient aliens—using deterministic algorithms and random number generators, resulting in over 18 quintillion (1.8 x 1019) planets to explore within the game, it is understandable why all eyes were on Sean Murray and Hello Games.
No Man’s Sky quickly became one of the most anticipated games in recent history, with a huge fanbase that progressively fueled the ‘hype train’ to unbelievable levels. These same fans were first in line to criticise the development team shortly after release in 2016 for not delivering the game-defining experience that they were hoping for. The immediate backlash sparked a lengthy debate surrounding video game returns, as many gamers felt misled by the game, stating that the differences between the game that was discussed and the game that was launched were ‘night and day’. At this point, many people turned their backs on No Man’s Sky.
This occurs all the time with games, players hype a game up to ever-higher levels prior to release—resulting in unrealistic expectations—only to be ultimately disappointed at launch. We have witnessed this with games such as Destiny and The Division, with many fans abandoning those games and ultimately missing out on the subsequent updates that improved upon the base game. Warframe for example, was widely panned at launch; I remember when each frame only had 4 revives per day, after which you either needed to wait for the daily reset or spend Platinum to restock them! Fast forward to 2018, and Warframe is rapidly growing in popularity; thanks to the subsequent updates and the developers listening to their fans.
No Man’s Sky is no different. I actually enjoyed the game at launch, but acquiesce that the initial trailers were not necessarily representative of the ‘lush worlds’ many encountered. The above screenshot of mine from 2016 is about as good as it got back then. But over time, the game continued to improve; NEXT is actually the 4th major update to No Man’s Sky.
The Foundation Update was released in November 2016, which added the ability for the player to define a ‘home planet’ and construct a base on said planet. This update also added two new play modes: Survival (higher difficulty and death results in their progress being somewhat but not completely reset) and Creative (unlimited resources for constructing bases).
The Pathfinder Update arrived in March 2017, introducing the ability to share bases with other players, new vehicles known as exocraft to aid exploration, and a permadeath option that completely wipes a player’s progress upon death.
The Atlas Rises Update was released in August 2017 and included over 30 hours of new narrative added to the game’s story mode, procedurally-generated missions, and the ability to use portals to quickly transport across the game’s galaxy. A limited online co-op mode was also introduced, allowing for up to 16 players to explore the same planet whilst using voice and text commands to communicate with others; but unable to directly interact with each other, as other players were seen as glowing spheres.
What Does NEXT Bring?
The changes that NEXT brings to No Man’s Sky are impressive on paper. As it appeared to me that No Man’s Sky is potentially a completely different game from what it was on launch, I decided to start from scratch. Here are my initial impressions:
It is worth noting that NEXT did not release when everybody expected it to. Several streamers went live at around 9am EST (2pm BST) when it was thought it would go live. As is par for the course with No Man’s Sky, at least in terms of controversy surrounding the game, the waiting game generated quite the buzz on social media, streaming platforms, Reddit, and even on Steam. As of the time of writing, the NEXT update is live on PS4 and the game is already available on Xbox One; but PC users are still waiting on Steam to update their game. (Steam updated the game as of 7pm BST, 2pm ET)
Here is a list of some of the changes that NEXT brings to the table:
Visual and Cosmetic Changes
- Massively improved lighting and atmospheric effects.
- Increased draw distances.
- A new cloud rendering system.
- Improved textures and water.
- A third-person perspective camera.
- A new sense of scale, with a more “earth-like” planetary generation system that produces more mountains, valleys, flora, fauna and architectural “props”.
Main Quest Changes
- The entire opening mission has changed again to make it more accessible and better explain the game’s systems.
- You still have to gather resources for your downed ship however, and the emphasis is still on gathering and managing resources.
- You get access to a new item, the terraformer, that lets you shape the earth around you at will, as well as base building and freighters early on.
Ships and Fleets
- Freighters, introduced in a previous update, have been reworked again – you now get access to them much earlier on as a freebie, rather than you needing to pay huge sums of money for them.
- You can find improved versions with better stats around the galaxy as you progress.
- Freighters now have customisable areas in more prominant positions.
- There’s a new Frigate system: you can now buy Frigates and have up to 50 of them in a fleet that follows your Freighter around space.
- Frigates have their own specialisations, and can be sent on procedurally generated missions which play out in real-time.
- You can actually follow them across the galaxy, as they go to actual locations to performa actual tasks, or you can let them run remotely on their own.
- Base building has been reworked – with a greater focus on construction using individual pieces (floors, walls, ceilings, etc.) to make more elaborate, more distinct rooms and layouts, and room pieces now automatically carve out the landscape to fit in nicely.
- You can now build anywhere on a planet, rather than at set “habitable outpost” places.
- You can now have multiple bases.
- The headline addition in NEXT is of course multiplayer – you can now play in groups of up to four players, viewing their actual avatars.
- You can customise your own avatar (yes you can play as Gek or Korvax, etc.).
- Special, ‘live’ missions are coming soon, and completing them rewards you an in-game currency that lets you purchase things like exclusive emotes, ships, parts and vehicles.
- There are no microtransactions.
- You can mark points of interest to your group, drop resources directly into friends’ inventories, and join players at will.
Full patch notes can be read here.
I have always enjoyed No Man’s Sky for what it was: an action-adventure survival game that was inspired by the works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. I did not get swept away by the expectations of the ‘hype train’ and enjoyed my (albeit) limited time that I spent within the procedurally generated universe for what it was, something different. The game was never horrible, and thanks to the subsequent updates, it continued to improve upon its foundation.
The NEXT update for No Man’s Sky coincides with the release of the game on the Xbox One, and with No Man’s Sky featuring enhancement for the Xbox One X, I imagine the initial reception will be much warmer than that of the Playstation 4 release almost two years ago. Which, considering it is a completely different game now, makes complete sense.
Will the NEXT update completely repair the credibility of Sean Murray and finally deliver on the hype that was built in 2016?
Only time will tell.
But, I do think this new update warrants a fresh review of the game, as it is a far-cry from its original state. I guess I know what I’ll be working on.