It’s been a long and rocky journey for No Man’s Sky since its middling reception at launch. Despite being one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, many felt disappointed by the lack of content and broken promises made by developer Hello Games and director Sean Murray. However, the developer would continuously work on updating the game well after launch, providing patches, fixes and general quality of life improvements that make it a notably different – but familiar – game now. The NEXT update marks the most substantial update that the game has seen yet, adding the long-requested multiplayer to the game along with more diverse planets, refined base building mechanics, and a third-person perspective. Do all these changes significantly improve the experience, though? Let’s find out.
No Man’s Sky NEXT begins similarly to its launch release. You awaken on a strange planet with no memory of what happened, and are tasked with gathering the necessary resources to fix your ship, exo-suit, and multi-tool before taking to space. However, unlike the previous version which put you right next to your ship, NEXT throws you several miles away from it and you’re forced to fix your scanner first before locating it. It’s a puzzling change, but one that felt necessary because it also forces you to learn the ins and outs of the overhauled resource management added in the new update.
Gathering resources and crafting is made slightly more complex now; instead of gathering a finite amount of materials, you have to constantly craft new materials from your inventory. This adds a bit more complexity to the overall experience, but doesn’t detract from the grind. In a lot of ways, it actually improves resource management and makes it feel more realistic as a result. You no longer have to worry about scavenging for minerals and resources when you can easily craft components that take up far less space in your inventory.
Once you fix your ship and take to the skies, NEXT’s scale really comes into perspective. The first thing I encountered was a fleet of Korvax ships bursting into the solar system, and then waging war with a rival faction. It was a heated and intense space dogfight that asked me to pick a side. Feeling inclined to join the Korvax because they looked like Daft Punk models, I initiated war with the rivals to emerge victorious. From then on, it was back to regular space exploration and generally exploring new, uncharted reaches of the solar system.
Upon landing on my next planet, the visual improvements became immediately clear. Textures received a glossier, more detailed shine to them while impressive particle effects immersed me in the alien nature of the planet. The landscape itself seemed vastly different than the usual rocky terrains and flat surfaces I was so used to. Instead, there were towering mountains in the distance, and biomes that drastically changed the weather depending on the type of ecosystem. More NPC ships flew overhead, either blasting off into space or docking at the nearest trading post. Everything just felt livelier than before. Alien creatures, instead of being isolated chunks of procedurally generated masses that wandered around aimlessly, now roamed in herds and were generally protective over their kind. Predators were constantly on the prowl too; I found myself fighting off large colonies of them whenever I tampered with the wildlife.
Speaking of tampering, the resilient security on each planet has been drastically bumped up. Sentinels are far more alert now and pop up frequently, often putting an immediate halt on your resource gathering. It can get a tad bit annoying at times – especially if you’re quickly dying from a lack of hazard protection – but the more aggressive sentinel AI adds a great sense of danger and urgency to the game. This is especially problematic if you engage in combat with them, as waves of bigger (and more intimidating) sentinels close in on your location. This is where your survival instincts kick in and it’s a fight to the death against increasingly dangerous robots.
No Man’s Sky’s Atlas Rises campaign, which adds a hefty 30 hours of story missions, remains intact, although slightly tweaked to accommodate some of NEXT’s changes. The story admittedly takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s fairly gripping with plenty of awe-inspiring moments – especially considering that it was written in a few months and attached to the base game as a free update.
If you’re not keen on the campaign, though, you can take the lone wolf path like me and just explore space at your own pace. This is where some issues unfortunately hinder an otherwise solid experience. If you’ve played the base game, you already know what you’re in for: countless hours of gathering resources, grinding your way towards better ships, weapons and upgrades, or getting lost in the enormous networks of caves on most planets (I was once lost in a cave for over an hour. Not fun). The planets have received great visual upgrades and improvements to the overall layout and colour palettes, but they’re familiar enough to dissuade most doubters of the game. It still feels a bit barren, even with more tasks and objectives to do; even they can become tedious as it usually resorts to fetch quests or slaughtering a handful of defenseless aliens.
The multiplayer rarely worked for me as I encountered many server problems, so I only had a limited time to play with a couple of friends. It is highly enjoyable, though, but it’s evident that Hello Games need to do some patchwork to fix latency issues. Otherwise, wait for some much needed patches to roll out before really getting familiar with multiplayer. The potential is there, and with a few tweaks, it can be something truly special – at least adding to the replay value of No Man’s Sky.
Overall, the NEXT update surprised me on more than one occasion. It doesn’t drastically change the experience, and some might feel disheartened by the fact that No Man’s Sky is still a bit too enormous for its own ambitions. However, the changes that have been introduced here still deserve plenty of praise. Character customization, while limited, adds a new level of immersion to the game, and thanks to an improved resource management system and more aggressive sentinels, it’s enough to keep you invested for longer periods of time than before. No Man’s Sky has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go if Hello Games continues to support it with great updates like this. Two years ago, there was little hope for the game being truly amazing, but now, it’s within arm’s reach.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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Sony Interactive Entertainment
PC, PS4, Xbox One
24 July 2018
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