No Man’s Sky. Now there’s a game that needs no introduction, and that’s not entirely a compliment. Despite some very broad expectations, the game hardly enjoyed what one would describe as an acclaimed and fluid launch back in 2016. Though, I don’t want to tread too much in the past because with its muddy history to the side, No Man’s Sky is finally a game to be taken seriously. In fact, No Man’s Sky is an entirely different beast compared to what it was two years back. The point in all of this? Don’t be guided by its somewhat daunting past because if anything, after strong post-launch support, alongside its arrival on Xbox One, this game not only meets its initial expectations, it thoroughly exceeds them.
So, before we deep dive, let’s remove any confusion and clear things up. No Man’s Sky on Xbox One includes the core 2016 experience, as well as each and every free update since; Foundation, Pathfinder, Atlas and NEXT. Collectively, these updates have introduced a shed load of mechanics and gameplay innovations that have elevated No Man’s Sky to new and ambitious heights. That makes this version to most complete to date, alongside (and on par with) its platform counterparts. This means additions such as unlimited base building, visual overhauls, extra game modes, character customization, more vehicles, a thirty-hour story, added biomes, and most of all – a deep and engaging multiplayer experience throughout.
I should also point out that for Xbox One, the game supports exclusive Mixer MixPlay features and on Xbox One X, is Enhanced with 4K Ultra HD and HDR support. When all is said and done, Hello Games’ founder Sean Murray and his team have worked tirelessly around the clock to capitalize on the game’s potential, which I can safely say they’ve pulled off. Although an entirely different experience, I’ve never been able to get into Elite Dangerous due to its complexities and its clear thirst for invested time. No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, did a remarkable job at feeding me into the basics of play, with a difficulty curve that sits wonderfully alongside its learning curve. It’s a chilled game, but has heaps of depth.
Starting out, No Man’s Sky chucks you straight into the thick of it. Players take on the role of a stranded space explorer that finds themselves situated on a strange alien planet. The first port of call is to get to the bottom of what’s happened, gather some essential supplies, fix your ship and then haul ass into a universe that’s jam-packed with possibilities. Players are initially armed with a laser mining tool, a gadget that can scan lifeforms and terrain as well as farm them for resources. No Man’s Sky’s most alluring aspect is that almost everything within is randomly generated; lifeforms, plants, planet-terrain and much, much more. This alone puts replay value through the roof and opens countless doors for curious explorers.
On my starting planet, I was fortunate enough to find myself situated on a planet that was quite forgiving and relaxed. In fact, the only thing that I had to worry about was the icy nights, which would slowly chip away at my health due to my suit’s inability to completely protect me from it. Exploring the vast and expansive planet was exciting and surprisingly stunning. Creatures went about their own business, plants gently moved in the breeze, old structures beckoned at my curiosity and wreckages of all forms screamed for attention and repair. This isn’t even scratching the surface of what No Man’s Sky has to offer. Upgrades, across a wide range of the game’s features, plays a large role in the overall experience.
What I appreciated the most is that No Man’s Sky, despite how complex the game is, will always offer you a helping hand. Tips and guidance will constantly appear at the bottom of the screen, regardless as to what you’re doing or what you’re in need of. Failing that, the game offers an in-depth charting system that keeps track of your progress throughout, as well as dishing up step-by-step guidance for anything that you’ve already achieved. Forgot how to craft unstable gel? Need help working out what materials you need to refuel your hyperdrive again? No Man’s Sky’s deep guidance features are there should you need them, laying out easy to understand steps and tips from the get-go. Accessibility is a big thing here.
Before too long I had finally repaired my ship and was ready to take to space and dive even deeper into the experience at hand. Despite being interesting, the story doesn’t interfere with the gameplay’s pace all that much. In fact, a few hours into the game, you’re asked if you want to work towards continuing the story or just freely play the game as you wish. I chose to push the story along because several hours in, it had me gripped with the many answers that the game had me constantly seeking out. I felt compelled to dig deeper to get to the bottom of the overarching mystery, yet oftentimes, I would find myself drawn towards doing something else entirely. There’s just so much stuff to get up to in this game.
With my ship fixed, I soon found myself looking into the vastness of space. I could see a space-station, more planets, moons, strange signals and more, all of which was as welcoming and intriguing as the next. Out of pure curiosity, I slammed down to the nearest planet to see how different it looked in comparison to my starter planet. Here, a fierce radiation storm prevented me from exploring too much. It was clear that I needed to better my gear before returning. Back in space, I headed to another nearby planet only to find that toxic gas periodically became an issue. This meant that I couldn’t stray too far from my ship, but I was afforded slightly more freedom than what I was given on the previous planet.
This ambitious design is what elevates No Man’s Sky above its peers. Thanks to its random generation, you never truly know what you’re getting yourselves in for. Will this planet be environmentally hostile? Will the planet-protecting droids shoot me on sight? Will I find rare resources, gear, machinery, structures or ships? Perhaps something new to scan to make some money from? This level of uncertainty is what made No Man’s Sky utterly difficult to put down and again, this is still barely even scratching the surface. Before heading to the space station I took a trip back to my starter planet to built a base for swifter accessibility. Though, the game’s grindy nature swiftly became as apparent as a wet shit in a space-suit.
I found that at this point I was once again unable to take-off and furthermore, my life-support was depleting. In order to remedy this I had to farm for some resources to replenish my suit and ship. It’s not a taxing process, but it does happen pretty frequently to begin with. Me, I quite enjoy a grind so this was easy to overlook. Though, with that said, you would do well to understand that the grind is unavoidable. The game’s multiplayer functionality alleviates this to some degree as you and up to three friends can join up via drop-in/drop-out play. The game is fun when playing alone, but playing with friends is always nice and No Man’s Sky accommodates for that fluidly and freely, with no barriers.
Several, several hours into the game, I had charted and discovered heaps of planets, moons, alien technologies, lore, outposts, and more. The sum of all of my gathered data not only benefited my explorer through learning new languages and earning currency, but was also charted in the menus through a deep system of easy to navigate accolades. No Man’s Sky rewards its players for being daring and for being curious, which only results in a player-shaped adventure that’s consistently rewarding and never seems to end. Players can even farm whilst in space or participate in some space-combat or space-piracy. Yes, the latter there can be achieved through attacking cargo fleets to rob them of their goods and wares.
The kicker here, however, is that there’s a GTA-like risk system that will gradually send fighters to your location should you continue to attack. Players will also lose standing with the factions that are allied to said cargo ships. On the flip-side, you can indeed dock on some of these ships and purchase the freighters to build your own fleet, but the cost is set quite high, meaning you’ll need to put in a considerable amount of time before this is achieved. Similarly, when you make your way to a space-station, you can offer to buy the ships of any NPC that docks there too, should you not want to go through the effort of finding a wrecked ship (to then fix-up) on any of the planets that you’ll you come across.
Space-stations’ trade outlets allow you to sell and buy products, with a currency and rarity system to boot per-system. There’s also the ability to take on assignments and missions to earn additional goodies and rewards. I should point out that trade outlets can also be found on specific planets, but sadly, I couldn’t locate one on my starter planet – a fine place to craft a large and complex base, right? Wrong! Once I unlocked the ability to warp, I slowly moved from system to system looking for another place to lay down my roots and found a much more suitable planet with several additions that the former planet didn’t offer. I stumbled across so much action between then and where I am now; from unique alien ships that offered an assault rifle-like multi-tool and more, to pesky bandits that wanted my hard-earned shit.
That’s not to say No Man’s Sky is perfect and free from issues. On the contrary. I’ve witnessed problems with the game’s textures, such as pop-in and pop-out, as well as delayed rendering and some awkward looking water effects when burning through the atmosphere of a planet. There’s also some framerate instability, which is at its most frequent when travelling at high-speed through space. Outside of that there’s not much to grumble about. No Man’s Sky runs well for the most part and the aforementioned issues are indeed infrequent, rather than constant. This is with the week one patch installed. Though with that in mind, one good patch will no doubt remedy these problems in no time at all.
Even with its issues present, No Man’s Sky, for me at least, is always one of three things; intriguing, exciting and tense. The game does well at always relaying at least one of those emotions at any given time. I fully expect this to be a polarizing experience, though I can wholeheartedly say that I plan on sinking tens and tens of hours into this, and then some. The differing modes (normal, survival, permadeath and creative) will cater for those that want to enjoy this game in a specific way, lending the game even more diversity as a result. It helps that No Man’s Sky is often well detailed and near-gorgeous across all of that diversity, whether you’re in space or on one of the differing planets within, it looks great.
The audio cues are equally as commendable, very rarely ever sounding generic or boring. Irrespective as to how you play, the gameplay loop doesn’t buckle. No Man’s Sky is constantly captivating from start to end. Each system warp bringing in new fauna, creatures and challenges to soak up. The constant push to bettering your explorer to survive in the harshest of terrains, as well as upgrading your gear, bases and ships, is the game’s biggest pull. Though, its countless additions and tasks fill the gaps between thick and fast. Hello Games’ dedication to this game simply needs to be appreciated. Their hard work on No Man’s Sky over the last two years has paid off, with more content presumably yet to come.
Don’t be guided by the game’s daunting history. No Man’s Sky is now a near-outstanding experience that sits in a league of its own. Despite some issues with the game’s textures, delayed rendering and some unstable framerates, No Man’s Sky is a diverse, deep and ambitious player-shaped adventure that’s constantly intriguing. Hello Games’ dedication and commitment simply needs to be appreciated.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.