Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! This will be my third time reviewing the same game, which is a first for me. Of course, No Man’s Sky really isn’t in the same place as where we first set out from in 2016, in fact you could say we are lightyears away. The journey of this title (and the intrepid developers who created it) tells one of the most compelling stories of modern gaming. Like a Shakespearean play, there are twists, skulduggery and a tale of redemption like no other. However, if we are going to review this game properly, we must first go back to the dark days of launch and beyond. This re-review is set into two parts, the first covering the important history of No Man’s and the second which will review the game we have before us today. I hope you enjoy reading my work as much as I enjoy writing it for you.
CHAPTER 1: A Horrible History of No Man’s Sky
When setting out my intentions for the re-review of No Man’s Sky, I have had long term fans of the game challenge me, asking why I would ‘dredge up the past’ when the game is clearly now in a far better place. When we talk about anything, whether it be a historical battle, a persons life history or even a controversial game; I think it is important to tell the whole story. Not only does this provide much-needed context, but it also adds perspective so that gamers can appreciate the successes as well as the failures.
The first time I saw No Man’s Sky running, like so many I had my imagination stoked to the maximum with the keys to the unlimited universe being handed over by Hello Games. It was a universe created no by craft but math, a procedural algorithm doing the heavy lifting which allows this almost unimaginable scale to be possible. Gamers who grew up watching Startrek and the like had always wanted to just fire up the warp core and blast into the unknown yoke of the abyss. These first few months after being revealed, No Man’s Sky captured the attention of the gaming world (and beyond) with many thinking their dream game had finally been made a reality. It seemed like most of the gaming media was also throwing well-trained scepticism to the wind and jumping aboard the hype train. I remember anyone asking the dreaded question ‘yes, but what do you actually do in this game’ getting quickly dismantled by a rapidly growing army of super fans: some people really needed to believe. Little did we know that at the time, Sean Murray had been blowing smoke up peoples arses and this powder keg of lies was about to go off.
Even before the official launch, No Man’s Sky was mired by controversy due to a streamer picking up a physical copy of the game for over a thousand dollars. This cheeky fellow claimed few things which ultimately boiled down to this: the game was very buggy, had many missing features and reaching the end of the games story was not the epic journey we’d been led to believe. Given that the small team had already been through the mill with a flooded office and Sky claiming they couldn’t use the word Sky; I was really rooting for them to come out on top. However, very soon after launch it was clear the game had real problems, on a technical front but also people were starting to see huge differences between the trailers and the game they were now playing. In the first gameplay demo the planet was lush with interesting life forms and in one scene a giant creature came charging through the tree line (which moved) and scared away the smaller critters. These complex behaviours were nowhere to be found, along with the giant sandworms and faction-based space battles. Everything felt like static assets that had been strewn across a gigantic smorgasbord, an endless sea of resources to chip away at.
There is no way around it, Sean Murray told some absolute humdingers in numerous pre-release interviews. The very first E3 stage reveal he claimed to have chosen the planet at random, but we now know this was a lie because the demo was heavily scripted. He also made claims that the position of planets in a solar system would affect how that planet looked and what indigenous life forms you could find. Claims about ship variety and how complex ship systems would be were complete fabrication in the base game. Landing on comets, destroying space stations; the list goes on but by far the biggest whopper was in regards to multiplayer. Many people asked questions about other players and if you could see them in the same game space. Sean's stock answer was yes but the chances were so small that it was basically zero. Page one when it comes to the internet; never issue a challenge like this because not long after launch two plucky adventures did, in fact, find the same planet and stood in the exact same place. Twitter and Twitch exploded when it was shown that contrary to Seans claims, you could not even see another player, let alone ‘be competitive’ or grief them.
I do not believe that Sean Murray set out to mislead people, which might sound a little odd considering the staggering amount of lies he told. When getting ready to step back into No Man’s Sky I went back and watched a lot of older videos covering Seans prevarication. The interesting thing is that almost every false claim has now been made a reality in the game. I do not think that a few days after launch, Sean gathered the team together and said ‘hey we better start making good on all that crazy shit I just said on the Steven Colbert Show’. No, I believe that when Sean was sat in these numerous interviews he was in essence, answering the questions as if his entire plan for No Man’s Sky was already a reality and these concepts were something he would certainly get to someday. Make no mistake, these were lies and Sean should be held accountable for that. If your boss asks you if that report is done, you can’t say yes because it will for be done two years down the line for sure. As zero hour rolled around and the game was officially out, the features Sean had said would be in the game should have been in the game: this is just basic and anyone claiming otherwise is deluded.
In the wake of the monumental disaster that was the No Man’s Sky launch, Sean and his team dropped off the grid completely. In terms of stoking the flames of anger this was probably the worst thing they could have done, but given real threats were being made to the lives of the team you can hardly blame them. Just to be clear, I think anyone who threatens another human being with violence over a computer game should themselves be prosecuted and required to seek a mental health assessment. There is far too little accountability on the internet these days which can lead to some very bad outcomes as the tragic suicide of a developer recently shows. Very soon after launch the gaming press (the ones jointly responsible for hyping the game beyond belief) moved on and it was all but assumed we would never be hearing from Hello Games ever again. But then something very odd happened and it is here that this little story takes a surprising turn. A few months of absolute silence passed and like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, speculation was growing as to what the team were working on. Of course, we now know that Sean and his team had been planning ahead and soon the Foundation update was released; this was to be the first of many.
CHAPTER 2: The game
To Infinity and Beyond
After all the criticism No Man’s Sky received for missing features, there was one aspect of the game that was undeniably real and that was the sense of scale. It is this impossibly vast frontier of uncharted solar systems that are all some fans needed to fall head over heels with No Man’s Sky and from the very start, there was a dedicated fan base. They even bought a billboard near the Hello Games office to show encouragement to the team, I really think this was awesome. What was probably the most mesmerising experience in the vanilla game was how you could so effortlessly ascend into the heavens, bank left and gaze down at the planet you had just been gadding across. This sense of exhilaration would only be intensified when you now engaged your pulse engines and streaked across the stars to another planet in this system. The final giddying step was to descend into this new atmosphere, set your ship down and gaze up into the sky at the distant planet that you had just left. Apart from the jumps between solar systems, this entire process is seamless and the team at Hello Games really do deserve the highest praise for making this possible.
As wonderful as all this was in the base game, it did very quickly become obvious for most gamers that while there was an endless sea of rocks to land on, the experience would start to feel repetitive after just a few planets. In essence, a sandbox with no sand. In every content update since launch day, Hello Games have been adding new toys to play with, the first of which being the freighters. These gigantic space-faring vessels can be found in fleets around the various systems in the game and as you progress the game's story you will soon be given the chance to own one. In most games, this would be as deep as the rabbit hole went, but in No Man’s Sky you can actually (seamlessly) fly inside them, build inside them and use them as home base. As the game progresses you will also acquire freighters which become part of your larger fleet. Once you have a command module these can actually be sent out on missions in real-time, which is very cool and adds a much-needed level of interaction to the game.
Shake and Bake
In the Foundation update base building came to No Man’s Sky. At the time I remember thinking, in a game about exploring different planets, throwing up a base didn’t make any sense. However, after playing for many hours now I can attest that building in No Man’s Sky is in itself one of the games most satisfying activities. With each update, the amount of options open to would-be homesteaders has grown to almost ridiculous proportions, even with the ability to construct underwater bases in the Abyss update. In many games like Wildstar and Fallout 4, there are some very creative individuals out there who use what is on offer to make some truly incredible structures and we have seen this with No Man’s Sky. In the Beyond update, there is also a need to consider power now, which for me adds a much-needed connection with the environment around you. I will also say that building structures is actually a well-designed process overall, with ‘lock-on’ points helping put together buildings fast and also how well these structures sit in the destructible terrain. The actual UI has also seen many improvements over the years but there is still a clunkiness which could be improved and timed button pressed just need to be removed.
The ability to build and use portals is a feature that, in my opinion, meshes the whole game together perfectly. It just wouldn’t make any sense to spend three days building the perfect waterside getaway, only to hop on your ship and never return. Portals allow you to zip between any of your bases, freighters and space stations that you need to visit. In a way, this almost feels a little too powerful and like flying mounts in World of Warcraft, can make the worlds below seem less impressive. However, given the choice, I’d rather they were there than not, although I would have made using them a bigger deal with maybe a cool-down or resource cost.
One of the coolest new features added in the updates has been the Exocraft, which can be built with relative ease and teleported to your location within the system they inhabit. The three land vehicles all have various roles and storage variations. The Colossus, for example, is a massive juggernaut and while slow, acts a huge storage vessel for those long resource gathering expeditions. On the other hand, the Nomad acts as a quick recon vehicle which is ideal for blasting across the rough terrain. My favourite by far is the submersible vehicle the Nautilon, that allows you to explore the deepest oceans on a planet while keeping your feet dry and meat-eating creatures at bay.
Procedural Belt Sander
So you have your S-Class star freighter, filed with S-Class starships and more cheddar than a French wedding party. You’ve built the perfect galactic getaway on the most idyllic planet imaginable and you’re sat on the balcony sipping freshly squeezed alien milk; what then? This question has occurred to me many times while playing No Man’s Sky, in all the versions we have seen; why am I playing this game? Where does this path take me and am I really having fun along the way? Of course, this is a massively subjective question because for some gamers, simply travelling from planet to planet is enough or having such a robust set of building tools to play with will keep them occupied for months. However, for me, the truth of the matter is that most of the time I am playing No Man’s Sky I’m not having fun. The hour to hour gameplay still revolves around lots of gathering resources, managing my inventory space and playing a game of interstellar ping pong to get that next item of my almost endless checklist of stuff. Yes, I can now ride aliens but there is no benefit for me to do so when I have a perfectly good space buggy parked outside my base.
Of course, if I’m being fair, I don’t always need a game to be fun every second of the way and indeed gathering/survival games of this ilk are often grindy by nature. There is also a sense of achievement for what you build over time with does come with its own slowing burning satisfaction, which can easily be a substitute for the instant gratification of more action-based titles. However, with all the new systems to plough through, things to build and indeed friends to build them with I still can’t help feeling like this universe feels barren and empty. I guess what I really want is to see the planets put up some kind of fight, maybe a herd of indigenous carnivores sense my food stocks and smash into the automated defence turrets at my base. Or a continental sized volcano erupts which devourers my base or a giant asteroid smashes a planet into fragments. Maybe this or many other more interesting events will be possible in the future because no matter how the game looks now, Hello Games have proven that they are capable delivering tremendous amounts of content in a relatively short space of time.
The one infamous feature that was proven to not be present in the base game is now finally a reality. It was the Next update that introduced a full multiplayer experience where you could actually see other players running around. While having other players bimbling around doesn’t improve all games, in a title like No Man’s Sky it is such a fantastic addition to the experience. The idea that you can actually happen across other players in the vast universe makes exploring all the more tantalising. In this sense, I actually wish the game's size was significantly smaller which would make bumping into other players (and finding planets they have worked on) a far greater possibility.
How much fun it is working with other players can really depend on what you want out of it. There is the self-made fun you can have in most games, exploring, base building etc. There are now also far more multiplayer-focused activities courtesy of the Nexus, a huge multiplayer hub which can be summoned into orbit at any time. Once you have landed you will find all the usual services available but there are also specific group missions to take on. At the time of writing these are unfortunately a little limited in scope, with fly here do X and come back being the bread and butter of the experience. Technically I have had no problems at all joining other groups and helping out, the VOIP works perfectly well and I have met some really friendly folk. (There are a lot of Americans playing this game!)
Is it PC?
The base game for No Man’s Sky has received numerous substantial facelifts since first being set loose on the public. Some have added new graphical options, better textures and lighting effects. There have also been (in my opinion more significant) alterations to how diverse a planet it when it is generated (when a player enters that system). More varied mountains, deeper oceans and a far greater degree of scope for interesting land formations. I won’t pretend to know how the whole system works but I do know it is insanely clever and for the most part does a great job of churning out new planets.
One of the most exciting additions in the Beyond update is the addition of Virtual Reality which for many fans of the game is a dream come true (at least on paper). While I do not have a VR headset myself (I’m waiting for a decent wireless solution before I jump in) I do have a friend with a brand new Index. At launch, PS4 owners were reporting a relatively good experience with the PSVR which while only had low detail visuals still managed to produce that sense of immersion. I have to say, considering the limited power under the hood of the PS4 the fact they got this running so well is very impressive. Unfortunately, it is a different story on PC with most VR users reporting poor performance and a wide range of bugs. As anyone who has tried VR will attest, even with the most mundane setting, in VR there is an incredible feeling of presence and immersion. Just the very act of playing No Man’s Sky in VR is in itself can be utterly engrossing, but the experience often comes crashing down when dealing with the janky controls and awful optimisation. There are some very clever ideas on show here, like handles to open the cockpit etc, but right now VR on the PC version of No Mans Sky needs a lot of work.
I would consider myself to be a fairly honourable person and where I come from when you make a mistake you have to own it. The one thing I still wanted from Hello Games more than any amazing new feature is a simple acknowledgement that they lied. I know for some this seems like an unreasonable stance given the sheer scale of what has been accomplished since those falsehoods were told, but for me, that admission is the keystone for true redemption. Hearing Sean talk in recent interviews he either still don’t see these first deceptions as such or has convinced himself otherwise, instead prevaricating around that ‘crazy time’ and then moving swiftly on.
Regardless of my feeling on the history of the game, there is no denying facts. No Man’s Sky has delivered on almost every promise in those early days and in many cases surpassed them by a significant margin. How planets look is this games main changeable factor and on this front, we have seen a huge improvement in both what you can find and how you can put your mark in the endless sea of stars. If you were truly turned off by the base game of No Man’s Sky there is a good chance you will still find the game ultimately lacklustre. However, when you consider how many new features, improvements and ‘toys’ Hello Games have added (for free no less) I would say they have at least earned a second look. I truly hope Sean and his team continue to iterate on this amazing project and maybe in the distant future I will once more be dusting off my old review.
Thank you for reading my review of No Man’s Sky on PC. I repurchased this game after originally refunding it on Steam. I almost always use my own screenshots for games I review but here I decided to post some of the wonderful places people had discovered while playing the game. If you wish to follow more of my work pleae follow me @riggedforepic and come back soon for more PC gaming reviews.