It was a little hard to believe that I was sitting around, eagerly awaiting the release of a No Man’s Sky update yesterday in 2018, something I never would have considered two years ago after the game launched. Regardless of No Man’s Sky’s initial issues, in no way did I think the game would still be getting updates this big this late in its release, and with NEXT, we’re at the point where the game has essentially transformed into a sequel of itself.
It has been heartening to see Hello Games slowly march toward redemption for No Man’s Sky, a game that launched without a number of promised features, and one that became cautionary tale about hype and expectations.
And yet, I was one of the game’s biggest defenders at launch. Yes, it was a missing a lot of things, but what was there was something I found strangely soothing all the same. Playing No Man’s Sky to me is like video game meditation. Finding beautiful worlds and creatures, and doing so alone in a vast, nearly empty universe. Sure, I wished there was a little more to it, but I did appreciate what was already there as well.
Well, now there’s a whole lot more there.
This is actually the third or fourth major update to No Man’s Sky at this point, as past ones have added base-building, ground vehicles and story quests and active missions. NEXT adds almost too much to even keep track of, and you can read the thousands-of-words-long patch notes for a full accounting if you like.
I have only spent a day with No Man’s Sky NEXT so far, and mostly in creative mode so I could do as much as I could without worry about grinding for fuel materials and such. There’s a lot more to experience, but so far my impressions of the update have been…somewhat mixed, actually.
One of the biggest changes to the game has been visual. Planets are supposed to be more diverse both from afar (they have rings now!) and when you get down to the surface. Visual fidelity has been increased everywhere, which you can especially see on ships, wildlife and even the ground itself on planets.
This can result in the game looks as gorgeous as I’ve ever seen it. All you have to do is search the #NoMansSkyNEXT hashtag on Twitter to see some absolutely stunning shots from the game, and yet the game has always been capable of producing some pretty gorgeous imagery, even before photo mode was even added.
But I keep running into some pretty severe technical problems with this update. Visual pop-in is now worse than ever for me, with objects springing into existence when you’re even just a few meters away from them. And while everything looks great up close, the new volumetric clouds in the game look horrible, like giant, blurry blobs of color that feel like you have macular degeneration or something. It was in the patch notes that they’re being updated at some point, but for now, they’re just terrible looking and can ruin any screenshot you find them in.
Past this, the game keeps doing this weird thing where every time I use my pulse drive to go into hyper speed, the sound on my game glitches for a few seconds spitting out a loud BRRRRRRRR at me, which was enough to make me jump the first few times. And it happens every time I fire up the engines. And more generally, playing No Man’s Sky makes my PS4 sound like a dying 1994 Geo Metro, like it’s constantly on the verge of overheating with the fan working overtime to play, no matter what I’m doing in it at the time.
As for all the other stuff? The best way to experience No Man’s Sky at this point is probably to simply start over from scratch, which is sort of a bummer to the account I put 100 hours into around launch and for the first base-building update, but so much has changed there’s really no point in continuing. New currencies, new materials. The elaborate base I constructed on a planet I loved was broken thanks to the entire planet changing with the new update.
So it’s probably the best plan to say, be an Xbox player, having never experienced the game before, starting from the ground floor in what is essentially a totally different title than the one that launched in 2016. But I can never have that experience, not really, so it’s a bit tough to judge what’s changed, what it would be like to experience all of this fresh.
I will have to gather further thoughts as I try and do a new “story run” without infinite resources and such, but I will say that some of the stuff being added isn’t anything I particularly care about. This relentless focus on multiplayer, for instance, has no interest to me, as if I’m playing No Man’s Sky, it’s certainly not with the desire to “squad up” and start waging war on other players I come across. To me, that’s sort of contrary to what NMS is, despite the fact that no multiplayer was such a big sticking point for people for so long. I also personally don’t really care about a third person camera, as the character models in this game don’t look great, and I’d rather not see them most of the time, in truth.
Similarly, while I think NMS could have benefitted from a little more structure than what we saw, gather quests and an increased focus on combat also doesn’t really amplify the aspects of the game I personally care about. If I want to farm materials for weapon upgrades and shoot at robot aliens, I’ll play Destiny, and no matter how much combat improves in No Man’s Sky, it’s never going to be a true shooter, and really, it shouldn’t be. That was never the point of the game.
I guess it all depends what you want out of No Man’s Sky. At this point, I think I’m mostly content to just sail around trying to find beautiful planets and landscapes, secure myself the coolest ships and freighters, and not really worry about much else. I guess I could throw another 100 hours into the game trying to do a bunch of missions and follow story quests, but after two years, I’m just not sure I have that in me, so a lot of what’s been added to the game in NEXT isn’t stuff I especially care about.
I do have to give it more than a day though, and I plan to. But I don’t know how I feel about NEXT overall so far, between its technical issues and the addition of aspects like multiplayer I never really needed to see in the first place. And yet, there’s a lot more here to discover, so I’m going to keep digging for a while.