I’M JEALOUS OF PLAYERS EXPERIENCING NO MAN’S SKY FOR THE FIRST TIME. ITS AMBITION IS FINALLY MATCHED BY ITS FEATURE SET.
The Next update is ace, but the launch game burnt me out
Back in late 2016, I briefly became besotted with Hello Games’ polarising procedural space romp. 40 hours counts as ‘brief’, right? Indeed, I was so obsessed with No Man’s Sky, I even got its platinum – “Total Perspective Vortex” is just one of my 22 shiny plat children. And yet even though I had a decent time in this campy, extra grindy universe, two years on I’m filled with regret.
That’s because now No Man’s Sky is a substantially better game than the one I uninstalled upon making its platinum pop. First, the Atlas Rises update introduced 30 hours of new story content and ancient portals to zip around in. Then came the Pathfinder update, which brought groovy space buggies and online base-sharing to the intergalactic party. And now there’s Next: by far one of the most ambitious pieces of DLC to ever appear on PS4.
The latest update finally transforms No Man’s Sky into that bewitching shared sci-fi universe so many people hoped the game would be on release. Compare the current version of the space sim to the bare-bones launch package, and the changes and gradual evolution deliver a transformative experience. A brilliant new third-person perspective; fresh alien species; weekly challenges; community events; improved graphics and added visual effects; oh, and an all-singing, all-dancing multiplayer that lets you explore all those trippy planets with your online chums. For players experiencing No Man’s Sky for the first time, the sense of wonder and awe they feel will be intoxicating. While I was also briefly overcome by the breathless scope of the launch game, it quickly became apparent NMS was as wide as the Atlantic ocean yet as deep as a thimble of water. Exploration became horribly samey within hours, and the pull of getting to the centre of the universe was a drag thanks to the overwhelming resource grind involved. Quite frankly, there just wasn’t enough to do. Even two years on I still feel salty about the launch game’s shortcomings.
NEXT BEST THING
That’s why I’m jealous of players who get to experience No Man’s Sky for the first time post-Next. Now the game’s ambition is matched by a thoroughly diverse feature set, with the addition of multiplayer, much more attractive planets (those new cloud formations? Hot. Damn.), and extensive base management finally giving gamers reason to put roots down on a planet and linger a while, rather than immediately blasting off for that next world in the distance. Hello Games may have whacked a whole lot of noses out of joint with overly ambitious promises and a botched PR campaign, but to the tiny team’s credit, since launch it’s worked quietly and tirelessly to transform No Man’s Sky into the game many always hoped it could become.
And yet, for this solemn space traveller, it’s all come too late. My Pile Of Shame has expanded exponentially in the last two years, and there’s no way I’ll ever devote as much time to playing Next as I did the launch game. While exploring bizarre extraterrestrial worlds in third-person is great – lord, I love the spacesuits – and being chased by giant alien hamsters is an absolute hoot, the inferior launch game burnt me out. If Only No Man’s Sky could have arrived in this sort of stellar shape in 2016. I might never have come back to Earth.
Dave Meikleham has semi-fond memories of scanning alien beasties as he chased down No Man’s Sky platinum. He also considers it a perfect podcast game – he may have listened to an entire season of Serial while playing. Still, he wishes he’d waited for Next.