No Man’s Sky will remain a lesson in history on how to not release and market games before launch. The game carried a great potential and unlimited replay value with the marketing buzzwords about how the players can explore more than a quintillion planets that are all procedurally generated through an algorithm. It resulted in a lot of hype leading to the launch of No Man’s Sky, which quickly ended up with a massive backlash against the game due to lack of features that the devs promised in interviews.
It has been 2 years since No Man’s Sky is out on PS4 and PC, and it finally looks like the game might have a new life with the release of the NEXT update. As someone who avoided the vanilla version of No Man’s Sky but kept an eye on all the updates and improvements released so far, it was exciting to see how the game has come so far. I am usually not a fan of first-person unless it is for a shooter so, with No Man’s Sky, the survival elements didn’t really mix it well for me. The new addition in the NEXT update is now the ability to play the game in default with a third-person view, which has immensely improved the overall appeal for me.
First, let’s talk about the state of the Xbox One port. Despite the late release, this is a fairly competent port on the Xbox One. It plays to the strength of each Xbox One iteration with the base Xbox One offering an enjoyable experience, but it is the Xbox One X version that truly makes it a huge upgrade, and one that might prove its worth. I played the game on Xbox One X and it surprised me to see the choice between a native 4K resolution that looks fairly crisp on 4K TV, or a lower but still 4K resolution that offered 60 FPS. In my experience, the latter option was far more desirable to have in No Man’s Sky and while the lack of clarity is noticeable when playing on a 4K screen, the gameplay feels a lot better due to the improved response rate.
If you are new to No Man’s Sky, it is possible to get intimated by the opening. The first couple of hours in No Man’s Sky end up feeling like a giant slog and almost turned me off from the game. The opening directly drops you in a hostile environment with a tutorial that aims to teach you how to deal with some of the more harsh conditions and survive in them. The cool thing though is that the planet that you start in will usually be random so you can have a completely different experience compared to others. In my case, it was a planet that had a good amount of wildlife that felt real enough since even the wildlife uses procedural generation, but gathering the materials was tricky for me because I felt confused by the layout mixed with the hazardous conditions.
The first couple of missions are for your character to fix his ship and warp drive. It then ends up with you learning how to build a base and this all requires you to gather materials and resources. After you get done with the first set of challenges, the game properly opens up letting you explore the different galaxies and find some great looking planets. This is the point in No Man’s Sky where you have the choice of either trying to stick with the story or go on your own way. It is possible now to play the game together with friends in 4-player co-op and this has improved the experience of exploring the procedurally generated planets miles better.
My biggest qualm with the game is the grind required to do many of the tasks. Since each task will essentially demand a grind, you are on the lookout for all types of new materials to mine for resources using your mining and terraforming tools. It can end up feeling rather overwhelming the more you play the game, and it also distracts from enjoying the freedom offered in the open world sandbox of No Man’s Sky. One example is the need to find fuel for your ship which will keep stopping you from continuing with your exploration.
The UI in No Man’s Sky is not as beginner friendly. It is confusing to figure out how to actually upgrade or repair items in the inventory, but I have since learned that this was even more cumbersome in the past until recent updates changed it. You get to carry a lot of materials in your inventory but it is a nightmare to sort and manage through them all. There are thankfully more ways to traverse the land now so you can fly through the sky in a jetpack or use the multiple land-based vehicles. The controls for them are not as precise as other games in the genre but they are a fun distraction.
Don’t expect a great narrative from the game. There is actually no pre-defined path until you get done with the introduction, which itself will take you a couple of hours. Once you have your base, the game starts to offer you missions that can all lead to an ending, but there is also full choice given to the player in the order they approach them, so you are free to continue exploring the different galaxies if that is what you prefer. The multiplayer experience lets you visit other player’s base or ride around in spaceships with them. Voice chat has made it feel like a proper gathering and the freedom offered here makes it a riveting experience. The drawback here is that resources cannot be shared among the players but this feels like a minor annoyance at best.
No Man’s Sky is worth sinking your teeth into if you can overcome the constant hurdles thrown at you with the need to grind for materials. It is an enjoyable game otherwise that could have been one of the most interesting experiment this generation if it didn’t suffer from a botched up launch. If Hello Games can keep updating the game, there is little reason to doubt that they can fix many of its current issues and make it a better game.
No Man’s Sky – NEXT Review (Xbox One)
Game Reviewed on: Xbox One
Game description: Inspired by the adventure and imagination that we love from classic science-fiction, No Man's Sky presents you with a galaxy to explore, filled with unique planets and lifeforms, and constant danger and action.
No Man's Sky has received many noticeable improvements over the course of the past 2 years but the NEXT update is perhaps the most significant one. Sadly, it still has some dated design with the need for the constant grind and a lack of rational narrative that holds back an otherwise enjoyable exploration and survival game.