Rediscovering No Man's Sky

By Alex Walker on at

The list of changes is so long, but perhaps the best indication of how far No Man's Sky has come is what happens in the first hour.

I fired up No Man's Sky last weekend in advance of the Beyond update, wanting to see how far things had come. I'd invested about 70 hours into the original version of the game across two platforms — I played it initially on a stock PS4, but frustrations with the performance and pop-in led me to grab the game on PC. I was playing side-by-side with Tegan at the time anyway, and it's not like we were playing multiplayer anyway.

Dealing with the comments and just being in the day-to-day thick of the media cycle, I remember having a bit of a disconnect from a lot of the rage at the time. No Man's Sky was a chill game for me, not quite grindy enough to be classified as a chore but also not developed enough that I could say I was playing with purpose. I was really just strip mining the galaxy, bouncing around from one spot to the next. Most of the fun was in sharing gameplay with Tegan, even though we weren't sharing the same universe.

That's not to say there wasn't some grind. It's why I eventually stopped playing, because I wanted to progress a little more quickly without hitting the brick wall of inventory limits/landing on a planet only to lose the resource lottery/not having enough credits to quickly advance from one ship to the next.

Even something as simple as the portable refiner, a creation that didn't exist in the original No Man's Sky, is a revelation in that first hour. I remember helping setup the stream in the office for Mark so he could play through the first 90 minutes of the game, just before it launched in 2016.

It was a slow, plodding affair. It took 40 minutes just to get off the starting planet, and we weren't saddled with loads of environmental hazards, sentinels, or a lack of carbon/oxygen. Some of the traversal was our fault — it was launch day, so nobody knew about the melee attack/jumppack trick yet — but for the most part, that's what the experience was.

Now? You can get off the first starting planet in about 10 minutes, and you can do it in about five if you're not fucking around.

The third-person view wasn't added to No Man's Sky until the NEXT update. It's still a little bit buggy, in so far that the camera sometimes freaks out when you're against a wall or another object, but the extra view has this strange effect that ... makes me feel a little less small.

I guess it's the reverse effect from what happened in PUBG. In that game, the third-person view gave you so much visibility that it actively slowed down gameplay; people deliberately hid in corners, moved around less, and were more cautious generally.

No Man's Sky isn't a twitch shooter, obviously. But not being in first-person — and maybe it's purely a visual perspective thing — helped the world feel a little less small. It's a factor most at play when you're still repairing your ship, low on inventory slots and resources generally, but it's one that has an immediate impact.

And this is before Beyond dropped.

Apart from the gargantuan increase to your inventory — from 250 to 10,000 — there's so much about the game that is so much more clearly outlined. And a lot of the roadblocks in the early game have been almost completely eliminated. The mining beam can be used for longer, and has a greater starting base charge, so players don't get as stuck having to find carbon or compressed carbon to recharge it all the time.

The tooltips are much better described — you have a very clear sense of how to move forward, and the game helps walk you through the initial building construction and what items you'll immediately need. Having not played the game for three years — and Hello Games probably had one eye on players who haven't played NMS at all — the system was precisely what I needed. It also had no problems changing all the tooltips from keyboard/mouse to controller and back, which is always a nice touch.

And that building camera, oh my.

It's not a perfect building system, but it's precisely the kind of thing I wish Fallout 76 had. You can place everything down in first (or third) person, like you always could, but the Beyond update adds the ability to switch to a third-person camera.

It's impossible to state how much utility that gives you once your building gets to, well, the normal size of most buildings. Any multi-storey structure, particularly one you're building with friends, is infinitely easier to put together. I'd still like a couple of separate buttons to control the camera height when building, but it's a hell of a start.

Someone asked me the other day if they should play No Man's Sky, not thinking about the Beyond update or the changes that had already been made. They'd skipped it at launch, partially because of what their media diet was like, but also because they're busy and that's just how life works sometime.

I told them they should, if they wanted a chill experience. Sure, there's the survival mode, but that's not really what the spirit of No Man's Sky is. It's the ability to wander around the world.

But I was wrong. Now is the time to play No Man's Sky. And that's not even getting into the multiplayer.

This story first appeared on Kotaku Australia.