In 2016 No Mans Sky promised players the stars. Infinite planets, systems, animals, and more awaited would-be-galactic travelers who picked up the original release. Those promises fell on their face, however, as player experiences turned out to be more along the lines of grindy, painstaking treks across this environment or another to find a resource to keep your suit from becoming irradiated. Plagued by those mind-numbing grinds, easily taxed inventory systems, and an underwhelming sense of purpose, No Mans Sky was commonly viewed as a colossal failure to most.
Hello Games has turned the page however with their newest update Next, which further expands on the developer’s effort to fulfill the promises many felt were broken in 2016.
The biggest and shiniest feature within the Next update is the implementation of actual multiplayer. Up to three friends or strangers can join your travels at any point, completing missions, gathering space rocks and pewpewing pirates. Resources and rewards are not shared among space-buddies, which can result in awkward first come, first serve situations, but overall gameplay is much more enjoyable with a friend or three. We are, after all, social creatures.
My only real complaint with multiplayer so far is its technical capabilities. My poor old original model PS4 has always had framerate drops when playing a game as visually impressive (and it is gorgeous) as No Mans Sky, but multiplayer exacerbated the bugs on a different level, specifically with navigating to other players. I imagine however patches and fixes for these are not too far off.
Next takes quite a few steps in the right direction to improve quality of life and the logistics of gameplay. Eased inventory constraints, resource consolidation/ total changes and even a new third-person camera angle all lend themselves to the games updated playability, but the primary caveat remains the same: this is a game about exploration and you’re going to grind for resources. A lot.
Much of a players time will be spent shooting lasers at rocks for resources, ever working towards that next upgrade or ship. While that sounds fine to some, I often found myself wishing for more reward at the end, such as a way to automate the gathering of that resource in the future. A new ship or multi-tool upgrade could only excite me for so long.
The inventory system still feels slow and cumbersome. Even if new shortcuts make recharging equipment and storing multiple versions of the same item much easier, it still felt as if there was never enough room for anything, an ironic feeling for such a vast game.
I can be a bit of an obsessive gatherer so when my thermal protection kept dropping on my first planet, my initial reaction was to stock up on Sodium and Oxygen so I could then give my undivided attention to progressing the game. This eventually proved to be a flawed plan as I later had to cast away hard-earned materials to make room for what I needed to craft and repair my ship parts.
Those wanting to ignore the matters of resource management and survival can dive into Creative Mode for experimentation and a more relaxed space jaunt, but story narrative is notably absent.
Another big add in the Next update is the ability to acquire and command a fleet of up to 50 frigates from a command center built in your freighter. Frigates can be sent on missions across the galaxy and return with valuable resources or cold hard credits. The extra help provided by the frigate missions reduces the tedium and overall intimidation factor of the economy by providing a helping hand as you work toward the next pricey ship upgrade. While not pure automation, the assistance is greatly appreciated.
Overall, Next is a welcome palette cleanser for the bitter taste the 2016 release left in the mouths of many. Complaints about inventory or grindy resource gathering aside, the game is making good on its promises of yesteryear and delivering a unique experience not seen by any other gaming franchise today.
The game itself is not perfect, but hey, should space travel be easy? Sporting one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, the game is still a thrill to play and will keep the truly curious coming back for more to see what new secrets the universe can hide.
No Mans Sky Next feels like a new experience and that is what players should look for as they return to the game. This update is Sean Murray’s new promise to the players: “We’re not giving up, we’re listening, and we are going to do better”
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