No Man’s Sky is, at last, the game we were hoping for
As I glide towards another new world – one that looks a lot like Earth at first glance with its bright blue oceans and beautiful green grass as far as the eye can see, I’m unsure what the next step of my adventure may bring. Entering the atmosphere offers the first sign that this isn’t quite like home. That green wasn’t grass at all, but actually huge expanse of alien water. The blue was actually just the ground – and all around my ship as I descend are floating rocks, hovering above the planet’s surface suspended in the air by who knows what.
I float across the planet’s surface – firing off a scan and keeping my eyes open for anything that might be of interest. It doesn’t take long – stretched across a rocky plain is a crashed freighter, but that’s not something that I’m keen to investigate just now. There is however also a massive mountain and in the cliff face as I approach it is a dark cave – that’s more like it. As luck would have it there’s a plateau within reach so I set my ship down and make my way into the cavern. Unlike the barren, yet colourful, surface of the planet this cave is coated on all sides by some kind of plant – a handy source of carbon, so I gather some up and turn on my torch to see what else might be inside.
At the back of the cave is an egg – just the one. I’ve seen a few on my travels that contain Albumen Pearls which reach a fair value on the open market so I decide to take a closer look. This one is a little different – and I’ve heard rumours of Aliens-style hoards attacking when their nest and eggs are disturbed – do I take the risk and open the egg, or do I quietly leave the cave and make a run for it? Before I get a chance to make my choice my exosuit suddenly pipes up a warning that the radiation is high and my suit’s protection is running low. Using some of the carbon I just recovered to recharge it I decide to go back and get some more. As I use my mining laser to make a quick job of my carbon harvesting I fail to realise that one of the planet’s sentinels has appeared and takes great offence at my desecration of the world’s plant life.
It’s still early on and the sum total of my defences is my mining laser which isn’t that effective at dispatching aggressive floating robots; I manage to eventually destroy it and decide it’s time get out of there before reinforcements turn up. Jumping into my ship I attempt to launch; only to discover that my launch thruster fuel has run out and I don’t have enough materials on me to create some more.
And that is the story of how I found myself stranded hidden in a cave half way up a mountain, with an alien egg of unknown provenance behind me and two angry looking planetary defence sentinels searching for the person who has been taking a laser to some of the few plants that managed grow on a barren, but stunning, world.
No Man’s Sky is pure sci-fi of the best kind. It’s endless universe provides a backdrop that your imagination will find impossible to fill – and that’s before we even get into the meat of the story that unfolds in front of us in the updated version of the game.
Somehow managing to get out of my quandary with judicious use of a terrain manipulator to forge myself a tunnel down to the base of the mountain and into an outcrop of Di-hydrogen crystals and enough rock to extract the ferrite I needed to accompany it to make the much needed fuel, I finally return to my ship and head off to see where my adventure takes me next. And that adventure is going to be a whole lot different to yours.
Later I find myself building a base in a cavern, I’ve carved myself, under the surface of another world – this one is teeming with all kind of weird and wonderful life – from floating jellyfish skimming over the surface to strange two-legged reptiles that tower as high as the tallest trees. And then later still I wander the halls of a space station thousands of light years away talking to the residents who ask me to do a few things for them.
Players of the game when it first launched on the Playstation 4 were underwhelmed – while the core of the game was there – the massive galaxy filled with wonderful worlds was an impressive feat; especially given that every single planet and life form was procedurally generated – there was just not enough game to fill the expansive shell that the engine provided. The expected multiplayer was entirely absent – and the scale of the universe meant that happening upon other real people was unlikely anyway, many felt the game just didn’t quite match the hype that the game was generating both by the developers and by Sony. In fact, shortly after launch, Sony seemed to place the game’s flaws entirely at Hello Games’ door despite being instrumental in generating a lot of the column inches and expectation themselves.
And that’s a shame – even in its original form No Man’s Sky didn’t deserve much of the criticism it got and the attacks on Hello Games by disgruntled gamers were extreme – even two years later when the vitriol of many seems to be at an all time high. Hello Games, and the studio’s founder, Sean Murray hid themselves away until the storm passed; but they didn’t abandon the game – in fact, a couple of major updates for Playstation owners; both of which were free, added huge amounts the game – from base building to a whole new story that brought with it much more depth.
And then, this year we had the surprise announcement that the game was coming to Xbox One alongside another major update which brought multiplayer, a complete graphical and sonic overhaul and more in-depth crafting. No Man’s Sky Next was born and it’s pretty much the game that we always wanted it to be. The new update is available on all platforms, and the Xbox One release tested here includes all of the updates released to date.
The game looks utterly mesmerising – and when you consider the variety on offer as you explore every world you come across is astounding. Not only does the update bring with it better textures, the environmental effects are a step up making planetary storms almost tangible as you find yourself trapped in one. The audio helps here too with the wind swirling around you as you run for cover bringing a sense of urgency.
Many of the core concepts of the base game remain as they have done since the start – as you meet new alien races you need to learn their language in order to communicate effectively with them – this can be done by talking to the creatures you meet or through knowledge gained at ancient alien structures on the planets you explore.
The crafting remains, but is far more detailed now – with the added functionality of a portable refiner, you can take base elements and use them to create the ones you actually need – carbon can become compressed carbon, you can turn rust into ferrite for construction, or copper can be turned into chromatic metal which is often used to repair damaged items you might discover on your travels.
Base building has had a revamp – while previously your base expansion was limited, that has been removed now and it’s possible to build a base as wide and as tall (or as far in to the ground if that takes your fancy) as you wish. All you need is to construct a base computer where you want to start your new home and away you go. You don’t even need to build it on a planet – want your base to be on a freighter in orbit? Feel free. Want it to be deep below the waves – you can do that too. Or in my case, in a cave I extracted myself with the terrain manipulator. It’s up to you.
There will still be some who decry the game’s depth as a negative – it is very much a game with a HUGE canvas but one which doesn’t dig far below that canvas in order to provide enjoyment, but it offers so much more than before. Experiencing the game with your friends is an exciting prospect too, turning a lonely existence into a social experience – you can either play through the story together or just jump into and out of each others games to explore all of the creations you’ve collectively come up with.
Combat is pretty basic – both on foot and in space – but it’s not really a game about shooting and much more about experiencing. There is a new third-person camera, which is the default option when the game starts, and it offers a whole new perspective making the environments feel much bigger – however the camera itself is a little too floaty for our liking and switching to the first person mode makes targeting a little more straightforward.
The Xbox One release instantly looks better than the previous editions on the Playstation 4, but on the base console it does offer a lower resolution of 900p compared to the 1080p that the base PS4 provides. Compared side by side and the updated PS4 release does look marginally better – but not to a noticeable degree – especially when playing the game.
However, the Xbox One X pushes things beyond any of the releases we’ve seen on console before and is on a par with the top end PC. You have the choice to use the Xbox One X power to either make the game LOOK better or to get better performance. With the emphasis on quality, the game suffers less pop-in and looks more detailed with better textures BUT there are moments where the frame rate does noticeably drop. When performance is selected you get an experience that is visually closer to the base console but with a solid and higher frame rate throughout. There is the option to cap the frame rate at 30fps on both Xbox One X settings if a consistent refresh rate is a priority for you – when uncapped and in performance mode the game usually runs closer to 60fps.
No Man’s Sky Next is a brilliant update and it turns an average game into one of the current console generation’s best. Opening up the game to Xbox One users is also a fantastic move on the part of Hello Games and we can’t wait to see what they do next with the game and story. We have a feeling this is nowhere near the end of the story, but we’re very glad that the initial reaction to the game in 2016 hasn’t stopped the studio continue to work towards creating the game they always wanted it to be.
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