I’m a big fan of No Man’s Sky. I liked the ideas Sean Murray threw out in his initial presentations. I liked the concept of a practically infinite space exploration game. We’d already seen games built around similar concepts, but the direction of No Man’s Sky set it apart from other games.
Unlike other games in the steadily growing procedurally generated space exploration genre (or what I like to call PROGSEX), No Man’s Sky is a true sandbox. You can do whatever you want in it. And with the NEXT update, it’s turned into an entirely different game altogether.
There’s been a long list of changes made to No Man’s Sky over the years, but whatever came before NEXT really doesn’t compare to what the game is now. Now in its fourth iteration (although according to the game’s lore, this is its sixteenth), for the first time in its existence No Man’s Sky finally allows multiple players to explore and have fun together, which is a massive achievement for Hello Games. Multiplayer in procedurally generated environments isn’t easy, and there are bugs in NEXT that show just how difficult it is in practice.
As an example, some players have had mostly flawless experiences, while others can’t see their friend’s bases, even when they’re both in the same system. Bugs have reared their heads several times during my time with NEXT, but it’s forgiveable. The team at Hello Games has set a rapid pace for its patch releases, and each week there’s been an update to NEXT that has fixed bugs, like restoring lost saves and inventories.
The game was only 11.8GB on my PS4’s drive before the update. NEXT is a 9.8GB update. A lot’s been changed. Let’s go over the important bits.
Everyone’s an alchemist
With the universe reset, which happens with every major iteration, the base minerals and chemicals you came to know and love before NEXT are almost all gone. Replacing them is a new periodic table of elements that changes the game’s economy and how you can earn money. At the beginning of every game, players are instructed to craft a portable Refiner. This is a machine that can be carried in your inventory and fed certain substances (metals, base elements, and exotic materials), which it’ll then combine and refine into more energy-rich materials. Add a fuel source, take 250 copper, feed it into the Refiner, wait a few minutes, and you end up with 125 chromatic metal.
Early on you might see the Refiner as a gimmick or at worst an annoyance, but it’s a vastly capable tool that saves you time. Different recipes exist that allow you to combine substances to make more valuable trading goods, or to more efficiently manage your inventory space, or to extract resources that aren’t readily available in the system you’re in. Uranium, for example, is a useful fuel, but it can only be found on certain planets. However, you can make uranium by combining gamma root and salt, or phosphorus and ferrite dust. Larger Refiners allow you to maximise the output of farms and the frigates you’re able to send on expeditions, thereby creating ever-more efficient and exotic materials for sale on the Galactic Trade Network or via the Galactic Hub.
In fact, the Refiner is an important part in the production of rare items like Supercapacitors, Fusion Igniters, Liquid Explosive, and Living Glass, items all worth half a million to a million credits each, depending on the system you’re in. Within a week of grinding, you can become a billionaire. The ability to create these enormous volumes of money does dull the challenge somewhat, but this is a sandbox after all – you can play as the insolvent interloper, or be a wealthy fatcat with a literal army of trading ships at your disposal.
The vital importance of refining materials also means that it becomes an important mechanic. While you can spend time crafting fuel for your spacecraft, in the long run it’s more efficient to use the Portable Refiner to minimise the amount of space that resources like Uranium take up in your inventory.
A house is not a home without some radiation
With NEXT, base building takes a bit of a back seat in the beginning of the game. It’s an important thing to take care of story-wise, and it’s especially necessary for quickly learning new technologies, but with the emphasis on refining minerals, and the various get-rich-quick schemes floating around the internet, most people won’t be building bases until later in their games. But man, we’ve never had it this good.
On consoles and on PC, base complexity has been massively increased, allowing you to build your base as big as you want (within the memory limit, unfortunately), and you can go as high as you want. Several people have taken this to heart and started projects like hub cities and large-scale farms, while others build space elevators and elaborate reconstructions of modern buildings. There’s currently a planning committee investigating the possibility of turning an entire planet into a city, much like Coruscant in the Star Wars universe. Several candidate planets were examined before settling on one called TopOfTheTree3 temporarily, in the Arm of Vetizen system. When the committee meets again, the final candidate for the hub’s capital will be renamed “New Lennon”. Hello Games has embraced this idea by making a Galactic Atlas for players to explore online, which you can see here.
Thanks to the massively increased complexity, players have been doing awe-inspiring things with the new base materials. Some have built underground lairs for their farms in order to generate the resources for making GekNip, others have built towering skyscrapers, and several space stations have been constructed in the Galactic Hub, geosynchronously orbiting with their chosen planet. There are plans to build guild halls and construct additional space stations, and there’s a growing number of community farms available on certain planets, where interlopers can harvest resources without spending all the time and money it’d take to get their own farms running.
There’s a service called Huber, which allows you to catch a lift on freighters owned by other players, which will then warp you to other systems that’re beyond your current ship’s capabilities. The community in No Man’s Sky isn’t just building bases. They’re building alliances and their own economy. In time, we may see a community similar to the kind we see in Eve Online and Elite: Dangerous spring up here.
There are even people dedicated to role-playing, acting as pirates, space cops, or roving traders who deal in rare goods. The organic way in which this has all happened is what was missing from the game at launch, and I only wish I could wipe my memory clean and experience what new players can today. It’s a lot of fun. There’s even some cosplay going on in the game – the character customisation has seen people dressing up as Stormtroopers, Iron Man, Thanos, and a host of other characters (there’s also a set of armour that looks suspiciously like Master Chief’s).
Bugs, glorious bugs!
There’s a ton of new bugs in the game, several of which are pretty frustrating. For example, I’m currently unable to craft a large Refinery in the storage room of my freighter because it’s bugged. I haven’t found a black hole for the last fifteen warps, which is annoying because exploiting black holes is a neat way to rapidly earn gobs of money. There are even some bugs that affect the main story and base-building missions, and there’s not much you can do about it when you run into them. “Hello, you’ve reached IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?” rings true for a lot of players.
Thankfully, the speed at which these issues are being addressed is staggering. Hello Games has pushed out fresh updates every week, fixing issues identified through their support system, and on Reddit and Discord. They’re also constantly tweaking the game’s economy to make it less grindy. This does mean that get-rich-quick schemes have a short shelf-life, so if you really want to cap out at four billion units in a month, you’ll have to do it soon.
The game also does very little hand-holding. There’s not much in the way of tutorials telling you how to earn money, or how useful freighter missions can be in the late game, or how to protect your cargo. There’s nothing to tell you that the in-game market can be crashed and exploited if you’re patient, and that there’s zero incentive to being a bad person to other players. Learning to git gud at space dogfighting is another area where there’s no hand-holding. You’re either going the get the hang of it very quickly, or you’re going to be running away from a lot of battles. That’s kind of the main theme here anyway – when you start the game, you’re literally fighting to exist and not die alone on some ghastly planet.
But it’s that nature of the game that makes it so appealing, especially to returning players. No Man’s Sky is a fun game, and NEXT elevates its status into something approaching an MMO. Hello Games has more plans for the game in the future, improving things like ship designs and resources, and there’ll be community events and future DLC available on the horizon – all of which will be free, of course.