No Man’s Sky has to be one of the most interesting games of this generation–perhaps ever. Before release, Sony bombarded us with marketing and hype-building for what they thought was their next great exclusive. For their part, developers, Hello Games, jumped onto the hype train and pretty much cranked up its momentum until it resembled something akin to the film Speed. By the time the game was nearing release, the hype train (or bus) was unstoppable, and every gaming media outlet was preparing for the release of what was the most anticipated game of this generation.
Unfortunately for Sony, Hello Games, and most importantly, the players, the game didn’t exactly miss the mark so much as it landed in a different *ahem* universe. Quickly, Twitter and Reddit blew up about a game that promised so much and was delivering so little. So many of the systems that were said to be in the game, famously like multiplayer, were nowhere to be seen, and that was enough ammunition for the hype that surrounded the game to be turned full circle into a raging torrent of disdain and anger.
My experience with No Man’s Sky was slightly different. Even though I was one of the ones who was extremely excited about the release of this game, I hadn’t really kept up with the more in-depth details that had been hyped. I was just intrigued by a procedurally generated universe that I could explore. The fact I go to do that both in space and on the ground was what attracted me to No Man’s Sky in the first place. I could live out my Star Wars fantasies, or at least some of them, from the comfort of my sofa. It seemed the perfect game.
Upon first playing the game, it didn’t disappoint. No matter which planet I travelled to, I spent hours discovering, cataloguing, naming, exploring, or just looking, in awe of what, at times, could be a beautiful game. Each planet had the same basic structure, or to be more specific, structures, like trading posts and abandoned buildings, but there was an anticipation about visiting each. Would a trading post allow me to sell the Heridium I had spent 20 minutes harvesting, and how much for? Could I discover some new technology to aid me, in an abandoned building? Or, better yet, the location of a crashed ship that might be an upgrade on my own. The possibilities for explorers were endless. Yet, as I would come to discover, repetitive.
As I got closer to my goal–finding the centre of the Universe–the planets became more inhospitable, and I needed more elements just to survive, but to all intents and purposes, the planets were the same. With my explorer’s appetite satiated I was struggling to find a reason to continue; simply surviving was not enough. The centre of the Universe was so far away, and getting there didn’t excite me; frankly, I was bored. So, like many, I left No Man’s Sky’s Universe for pastures new, wondering if I would ever return.
I always felt like I wanted to return to No Man’s Sky, but I couldn’t find a logical reason to. Yet behind the scenes, rather than running away from the hate, Hello Games, admirably, continued to work, to update, and to refine.
With the foundation update, Hello Games introduced base building. While, on the surface, that seemed like the reason I was looking for to return, it was too close to release, I was burned out, and nothing they did could cool that.
Even with the release of the Pathfinder update, and the exocrafts that it introduced, while a cool update that was slowly adding to the experience and removing the monotony, I still couldn’t find a reason to return. In hindsight, it was probably me, but with so many great games coming thick and fast through the back end of 2016 and early 2017, can you blame me?
Like great food though, your appetite is never fully satisfied, and I felt a hankering to return this summer–I just needed a push.
The learning of a new update was the push that was needed. However, waiting hasn’t always been my strong point (is it anyone’s?), so I jumped in early. Deciding to start a new game, I got about 2 hours in before putting the controller down. Starting the game again was like seeing an ex-girlfriend for the first time and forgetting why you broke up: everything seems lovely. Unfortunately, as you spend more time in their presence, you quickly remember why you did break up in the first place. I found that with No Man’s Sky. I got bored quickly, and the thought of having to find a planet to build a base on just to get further into the game was unbearable. So, for what I thought would be the last time, I put the disk in its box, placed the box on my shelf, and that was that.
When the newest update, Atlas Rising, was finally released, a day or so after I had given up on the game, for some reason, I felt I owed it to myself to give it one last go. The new look, UI update and the addition of more story-oriented gameplay, forced my hand.
On my return this time, something had changed. Suddenly, I had something to do. Upon booting up the game, I had to do all the usual rigmarole of getting myself going, but after that, a random mission started. I was asked to go here, collect that, or build this (all optional of course) but rather than gathering elements to make my way further to the centre of the Universe or to discover Atlas, I had other things to do. Regardless of whether they were interesting–which they were–, I had a tangible objective: learning about the Universe through its story and its lore.
As I ventured past the 2-hour mark, gameplay elements that weren’t available to me before, opened up. Things like base building and getting an exocraft were not easy. They took time, sent me to different worlds and forced me to explore to get the material necessary to continue. But they were worth the effort. If I wanted to add a new corridor to my base, I had to explore for huge amounts of Iron. If I wanted to build the Nomad Exocraft, at the request of my car engineer, I had to explore for the requisite elements. This task after task approach extended to other parts of the base also, like farming or science, and each interconnected with one another. To complete the quest for the farmer, I had to do the quest for the scientist first. Before I could take stock, I was spending hours combing different planets for planet-specific elements to continue my progress. All this led to another tangible objective: building my perfect home.
Obviously, base-building was not introduced in the new update. Something that was, though, were side quests. When I became bored of building a home or just wanted a change of pace, I could go to the space station and be given a new, specific mission to do by the species of that system. Yes, they may only amount to collecting elements or documenting wildlife or attacking freighters or sentinels, but coupled with a warp drive, that gave me a reason to venture to new systems and planets, which, in turn, lead me closer to the centre of the Universe or closer to Atlas. Finding your journal filled with missions was a new and excellent update for a game all about exploration. They all gave you a reason to plough forward; it was all connected. Finally, the Universe felt lived-in and connected in a way it didn’t before. The fact you were rewarded for your efforts was an economic reason to complete these side quests–everyone loves rare loot!
The big thing that had been missing for me to continue playing No Man’s Sky had been introduced: a reason to move forward, to continue. Generating wealth to buy new ships, gadgets, base materials or even a freighter was spurring me on. As were the base-building, side-missions and story-missions.
When No Man’s Sky first came out, I said that it was like a blank canvas and if Hello Games put more paint on that canvas it would become a sprawling, beautiful picture. With these new updates and the promise of more, No Man’s Sky is creating this beautiful picture. Will it ever be a masterpiece? Unlikely, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for me, No Man’s Sky is finally becoming the game it promised to be.