I wasn’t writing reviews for 3CR when No Man’s Sky released, and if I was, I probably would have defended it. I would have argued something about measured expectations, and how No Man’s Sky actually turned out to be the game that I expected it to be—a sort of Minecraft with spaceships. The biggest error made by the now infamous Sean Murray was his touting of multiplayer, a feature that seemed like a no-brainer in such an open sandbox type experience. Well, no multiplayer and a lack of meaningful progression beyond “get better stuff” was the catalyst for one of the most vitriolic outcries against a developer I’ve ever seen. For many there was no chance to boycott, as developer Hello Games already had their money, based on the lies of Sean Murray. Well, Hello Games kept their heads down and steadily improved on their dream game when many lesser studios would have easily taken the money and run. I have to say they fixed their game with their “NEXT” update. Not only does “NEXT” have multiplayer–the one feature I couldn’t forgive them for omitting—they even fixed other problems I originally overlooked. They made No Man’s Sky have meaningful, even addictive, progression.
No Man’s Sky has been steadily updated since its release two years ago. Game systems were tweaked, and there were some pretty significant additions. Vehicles were added in the Exocraft update, and No Man’s Sky’s story progression was improved significantly with the Atlas Path update. NEXT is the most significant upgrade yet, touching almost every part of No Man’s Sky, and improving most everything in meaningful ways.
The first four to six hours of NEXT start a lot like vanilla No Man’s Sky did, but with a more guiding hand. In fact, progression is vastly improved upon from the original. You can choose to follow the path they lay out, or you can explore aimlessly. It’s “easier” to follow the guiding hands of the Atlas Path, but you can acquire all upgrades and play as you like from the beginning—or stray from the path anytime you see fit. You start stuck on a planet, having to repair your first space ship, until you can get out into space. But the guiding hand that is the Atlas Path creates a progression that hooked me, and I had a hard time putting down a game that I already spent a great deal of time in.
Multiplayer is a huge addition to No Man’s Sky, and probably the most important one NEXT brings to the table. You can play with someone from the very start. I chose to start a brand new character with my longtime co-op partner, and even our starter ships spawned next to each other. But you don’t have to start a new game to play with your friends. You can easily play with them as you will teleport to where they are playing. If this leaves you far away from important quest locations in your main playthrough, you can simply restart that activity at a closer location. Player versus player engagement is possible, but as you control who can play in your game, it’s not compulsory.
With exploration being the main premise, No Man’s Sky’s core hasn’t really changed too much since release. You can run around on planets, gather supplies to power your ship and exosuit systems, build upgrades, etc. Next did overhaul what types of minerals and lots of familiar recipes that persisted since release, but things work similarly to how they did before. You can scan animals and plants, and rename most things—even the planet itself—as you see fit.
Base building has been expanded in Next. You are no longer tethered to specific points where you can construct bases anymore, and you can now build almost anywhere. It’s possible to build some truly impressive structures. Base building is also incorporated into the main progression, as most activities are, but you can choose to devote as little or as much time to it after that point. But with bases come extra goodies and eventually upgrades that can greatly increase your quality of life as you explore across the stars. Having a base doesn’t tether you, either, as you can teleport to your base from any space station.
The freighter system also got an overhaul in Next. You can claim a capital ship, and hire frigates to do a number of different expeditionary missions for your benefit. If a frigate is damaged in the course of a mission, you have to repair the components, an activity that is amusing at first, but is tiresome and sometimes buggy. In fact, the entire freighter/frigate gameplay feels a little unfinished. Despite its bugginess, the ability to build bases on freigthers is great, and they can really feel like a mobile base leading your fleet of ships across the stars. Friends can dock and travel to other systems on your freighter, saving everyone materials and adding a fun bit of immersive gameplay. While you can’t directly control freighter flight, it is always impressive when you summon your freighter close to a planet’s atmosphere, as larger freighters can take up an entire horizon. Despite how fun it is to have your capital ship with you in multiplayer, as it is right now, only a single player in a session can have their capital ship in the same system. These ships are so integral to gameplay, I’m hoping that this is something that is patched in sometime in the future.
For those looking for a realistic space sim, No Man’s Sky is definitely not it. The scale in No Man’s Sky is so unrealistic as to be jarring. Planets are much smaller than they should be, and distances are strangely shorter than real space. But then again, a lot in No Man’s Sky doesn’t follow physics as we know it, with floating islands and other impossible sights a commonplace occurrence. This leads to another of my major complaints: there just isn’t enough variety. True, animals, aliens, planets and ships all might look slightly different as you travel across the cosmos, but they’re all made up of a combination of similar parts, and I’m not really ever surprised by what I come across. Planets are all one single biome, too, and even though there are some truly fantastical sights and beautiful vistas, they all start to the look the same after only tens of hours.
NEXT turns No Man’s Sky into a game that I think finally fulfills the developer’s original promise. Ironically, it feels like it was released before it was completely finished, but if their previous track record holds, Hello Games will surely keep diligently working on their dream project. The tide of public opinion seems to be turning, and for good reason: No Man’s Sky is addictively fun.
No Man’s Sky is available now on Steam, PlayStation 4, and recently released on Xbox One.