No Man’s Sky Next Is Almost To Infinity and Beyond
How Next made Tom fall in love with No Man's Sky all over again.
I won’t go into a lengthy pre-amble about the backstory of No Man’s Sky. Why? Because by now you’re probably all weary from the review deja vu of:
“Two years ago in a galaxy far, far away…
“The developer Sean Murray and Hello Games were involved in a catastrophic PR nightmare.”
I won’t lie, I jumped on that hype train when the game was released two years ago, quicker than a hipster in Borough Market shouts: “Is that ethically farmed, emotionally stable Brazilian Arabica?” I was awestruck at the promise of a game that didn’t take 6-12 hours to complete. I was fascinated with the idea of a never-ending Minecraft in space, being able to get lost with friends, find strange creatures and have epic space battles was something I needed in my life. Well, sadly it never happened. I knew there had been troubles and I know first hand the development process is fraught with more disaster than Dwayne Johnson climbing out of a skyscraper.
I wanted to love NMS. I played it and played it endlessly, meticulously naming flora, fauna and planets with the most comedic names I could muster, hoping some hapless soul would stumble across “2 Out of 5 Stars: Trip-Advisor” or “Worse than Clapham Junction” but alas, my interest with it eventually waned and the sudden realisation kicked in that this universe, that was supposed to be full of wonder and discovery, was nothing more than an interplanetary grind.
Jump forward 18 months since I last logged in, and I hear buzz about the Next update. “I’ll give it one more go”, I say to myself, hoping I’ll rekindle that lost love.
So I did.
I can honestly say the Next update brings some features that should’ve been in the game two years ago. Multiplayer being the most substantial. It changes the dynamic of the game altogether, suddenly space doesn’t seem as lonely. Now, it seems scary and taught me how paranoid online survival gaming has made me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I loaded up my old save expecting to have lost most of my ‘space junk’ but was pleasantly surprised that it was all still clogging up my inventory. Somehow though, everything felt unfamiliar. My inventory and multi-tool was now littered with the words ‘obsolete tech’ I found that pressing directional buttons produced a plethora of new options and pressing the options button took me to a screen of new ideas and tutorials.
The new update outs the old and brings in a new way of upgrading technology. Earning Nanites, you can now purchase upgrades at space stations, which seems to streamline the grind and makes it finally feel like you’re not on a frantic outer space treasure hunt for 5% more power on your Mining Laser.
After getting to grips with the controls and new menu systems, I was greeted with an American voice shouting “Hello, Tommy Ladds”. This was new to me. I’d never heard a voice before on NMS, let alone seen anyone waving back at me. M3chToaster was my first multiplayer companion. I felt anxious and cautious but went with it. It felt a little bit like my session had been hijacked.
This is because with the new multiplayer system you get all or nothing, meaning at any time someone can join your game session. After stumbling around the menu system, I finally found the gestures menu and threw M3chToaster a wave and a thumbs up. As my new impromptu companion approached, I noticed him making a beeline for my refiner full of condensed carbon – just one of the many reworked elements. Panic instantly set in and I pointed my Bolt-Caster at him. This was also new to me, not once in previous expeditions of the NMS universe did I ever feel threatened, or like I was about to lose something that would be anything more than a mild inconvenience – it was finally exhilarating. At last, the experience I wanted from NMS since the beginning.
After an hour of confusion and gestures to and fro, my companion left me to get back to exploring. M3chToaster had left me some high end ‘goodies’ in my refiner which excused him from being shot in the face, not that it would’ve done much good as interaction is still minimal.
I was eager to cash in on what he had left me, so I plotted a course for the nearest space station. On my way through the stratosphere, I noticed new changes here as well. Volumetric clouds and new graphic tweaks give the game even more life, everything seems to have lost its vibrance and gained more muted tones which gives back a little bit of immersion.
Approaching the space station, my ship suddenly started making beeping noises – looking down I noticed another new feature. Ship comms? After fumbling around again with the menu system, I finally found out how to answer – it was a distress call from a nearby freighter. “Oh well”, I thought, “best go try out the space combat whilst I’m here”.
I’d like to say this is something that has dramatically improved, but for me space combat still feels clunky and under-developed. I want it to feel like I’m piloting an X-wing ala Battlefront but it’s still not quite there, and you find yourself mostly lining up head on with enemy ships, blasting them until your weapon overheats, then rinse and repeat until you, or they, explode. It was a bitter pill that even after two years and numerous updates still feels redundant. Once my space foes were finally defeated, I was requested to board the freighter and speak to its commander – “nothing new here”, I thought, from the countless times before, but hey, more cash.
I was pleasantly surprised when said Freighter was handed over to me gratis, as the commander had grown tired of being hijacked. I think one of the many reasons I put down NMS was the amount of units it took to buy these ships and how endless mining lost its appeal, but again, this was a pleasant surprise that reinvigorated my experience. Upon acquiring a freighter, you are now greeted with a new tutorial and side quest, which involves building rooms inside your new ship and unlocking the ability to send frigates out on excursions, earning materials, units or tech depending on what’s available from your navigator. I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a feature (dev joke) but my Vy’keen navigator changed to a Gek after building my frigate room – I guess he went on lunch?
The frigate ‘mini-game’ is another nice addition, however the annoyance comes when 9 out of 10 missions, or at least for me so far, result in your frigates being critically damaged and needing to return for repairs. This does however open up yet another side quest, meaning you’ll need to dock with your frigate and repair it. This is sometimes a bit tedious, especially when you’re just 1 gold short of a full repair, and if it happens as frequently to you as it has to me, you’ll probably just abandon the chore for something more fun. Something to note about the frigate repair, is the open space. They say curiosity killed the cat and in my case it definitely did. Jumping off the side of the Frigate into open space results in a fall to certain and awkward death. This is something of an oversight and I would love to see you be able to use your jetpack to pull off difficult space walks (you can have that one for free, Hello Games).
The new update managed to get me to sink another 20+ hours into the game and there’s so much I haven’t covered. Yes, it’s still a grind. Yes, it’s rough around the edges. No, I haven’t seen a butterfly yet. But I love the story of the little dev that thought they could. I love that Hello Games and Sean are making these changes and massive updates without making them paid DLC. It’s a testament to integrity that many large publishers could do with taking note of. It’s not quite there yet – I think my expectations, like many others, was that NMS on release would be Kerbal Space Program or Star Citizen but bigger and I think one day, it possibly will be. We’re not quite there yet, but, with every update, it gets better and better and iteration is key to a great product. As the Steam reviews reflect, it is a mostly positive experience and I’m happy to say the ‘Next’ update has rekindled my love for No Man’s Sky.