Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Playstation 4
Rating: T for Teen
When I first heard about No Man’s Sky, it sounded like a game that would put you in the boots of a one-person away team from Star Trek, which sounded amazing. When it launched on PC and PS4 last year, the hype was palpable as people anticipated its procedurally-crafted universe of alien worlds. What they got instead left a sour taste in thier mouths. If you want a snapshot of the game at release, please check out Damien Chambers’ review from August 2016.
Hello Games timed the release of the Xbox One port with their most recent free update, “Next,” which gives the game many new and additional features. Whether you view the new features as welcome additions or no-brainer pieces of the game that should have been included at launch might depend on your time already spent in the game.
Editor’s Note: While we normally do not review a game twice, even when it is ported, I thought that we would extend grace to Hello Games and their efforts to right what may have gone wrong with the release of NMS two years ago. Given their sincerity, and dubbing the XBone version “Next,” I decided to enlist the services of a writer who would experience the game for the first time. Consider this review, then, the “low sodium” edition.
No Man’s Sky is rated “Teen” for fantasy violence, and the Next update doesn’t change any of that. Space pirates and Sentinels (robots) explode when attacked, animals fall over, and players can be killed. All of this is done in a non-gory fashion.
There is no official mention of religion in the game, but when the player finds alien monoliths, they can sometimes have a small interaction that can feel like a vision quest where they see things that aren’t actually there, or feel some otherworldly being speaking to them. Successfully completing these interactions yields a small reward or knowledge of a new alien word.
It’s difficult to go into any game 100% blind, especially one with the reputation No Man’s Sky has garnered for the past two years. Nevertheless, I didn’t know much before starting my playthrough, therefore I feel unphased by the excitement for some of the Next updates. One feature that has been highlighted in particular is being able to build a base anywhere—that seems like an obviously good thing, but apparently you couldn’t do this in the original game. Also included now is multiplayer, where you can jump into a friend’s game or even a stranger’s, and roam the stars together—something I thought was supposed to be included at NMS‘s original launch.
The overall feeling I got reading the patch notes was less of a “Oh that sounds cool!” to more of a “…this does not sound all that remarkable, why weren’t these features in the game from the beginning?” I then started to understand why people turned so quickly on Hello Games after they failed to deliver on the hype. That being said, they deserve props for sticking with No Man’s Sky for the past two years and bringing the game more into line with the original vision for it with free updates. And they also deserve applause for saying “No” to microtransactions as well, even though I briefly thought I’d found some with the Atlas Pass.
Normal difficulty in No Man’s Sky Next is described as a “chill” experience which is pretty accurate. No matter how you play, you’ll spend a lot of time flying to places, exploring, crafting, and managing your resources. NMS ends up playing more like a survival game than a space game, especially in the early hours of gameplay. That’s actually another place where No Man’s Sky Next shines—it doesn’t hold your hand. I nearly died from heat exposure before I realized what element I needed to recharge my suit’s protection. The tools you need are there if you pay attention and read the logs and guide, but don’t expect a “press ‘A’ to run” tutorial; the game drops you in the pool and tells you to swim. How deep the metaphorical pool is depends on the difficulty of your starting planet.
Besides their look, each planet differs from the next in several categories. Weather, sentinels, flora and fauna, resources, and what alien monoliths appear are all different. After about 10 hours of play, I can honestly say that only a couple planets seemed similar. Also, one of the major criticisms from the game’s launch has been addressed: you can still get the most common elements on any planet, but many of them now carry unique elements that you can’t pick up just anywhere, making each planet visit more worthwhile and meaningful. I didn’t rename each planet I found, but it’s still a fun little thrill to do so (feel free to visit Craig-IV).
The reworked story—which the developers graciously give you a chance to opt out of at a certain point—initially irked me with they way it was designed to push me along. However, once I realized how easily I could put it on the back-burner and explore at my own pace, I enjoyed having a reason to move along other than just to see what’s in the next galaxy or on the next planet. NMS was successful at drawing me in; I just have concerns with what happens after the story is 100% done.
I worry that like most games, what was thrilling the first time will be annoyingly dull the 30th, and since there is a lot of repetition such as mining for example, the chance for burnout feels high. In order to mine, you shoot your laser at a rock or mineral or plant until it breaks, but you have to go in bursts so your mining laser doesn’t overheat. I also wish there was an option to auto-reload your mining tool or life support instead of having to drop into the menus each time, like how a shooter only makes you press one button to reload.
To combat the repetition, NMS throws a few curveballs at the player from time to time. Space pirates attacking you on the way to a station, weather anomalies, sentinels, and chance encounters with aliens or abandoned tech all serve to keep the player engaged. I still remember on my first planet, in a panic to escape a storm, I jumped into a cave only to realize it was filled with toxic plants and I failed my first attempt to use the jetpack to get back out. After a slight panic, I calmed down and got out just as the storm subsided. Death isn’t a huge problem, as long as you didn’t die far away from your last save; the game auto-saves every time you get out of your ship.
No Man’s Sky Next is by no means perfect, however it’s definitely come a long way. Players looking for a fast-paced thrill ride may be disappointed, but if you want a mostly relaxing trip through space where you can explore, mine, interact, manage inventory, and fight in a procedurally created universe, you should check out No Man’s Sky.
Review code generously provided by Microsoft.
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