Review: No Man’s Sky NEXT update

At the weekend, I finally got to sit down with the No Man’s Sky NEXT update and find out what all the fuss is about. And boy, has there been a lot of fuss! When No Man’s Sky first launched in 2016, the developers received death threats(!) over the purported “missing features” such as multiplayer and faction types, and there were complaints that the game was too “grindy” and a little thin on intergalactic machinations. However, in the last two years the dedicated team over at Hello Games has been delivering regular (and free) updates that have procedurally improved the No Man’s Sky experience. The biggest of these recently landed in the form of the mammoth NEXT update, which takes up no less than 10GB of space on the PS4. Yikes. So is it worth the download time…?

You finally get to see your character!

This is a lot cooler than it sounds. I’m surprised and impressed at just how much of a difference it makes being able to play the game in third person. Of course it’s not mandatory, and there’s an option to toggle between first and third person modes depending on the mood du jour, but in my opinion this enhancement is the cherry on top of your emeril cake. The astronaut character is beautifully rendered and lovingly animated, but quite why this enhancement affected me so much is unclear. Perhaps there’s something about being able to see your space traveller on screen that makes the title seem so much more cinematic…?

You also have the option of customising your character’s outfits (and indeed their species) during a visit to one of the orbiting space stations, and at the moment there doesn’t appear to be any limit as to how many times you can renew your appearance. The range of choices is also unexpectedly large, which is fabulous; there’s bound to be something that appeals to everybody. Myself? I was quite taken with the default yellow space suit, so I don’t think I’ll be regenerating anytime soon. But I love the fact that I have a choice. That’s a definite thumbs-up.

It’s so much bigger

You probably didn’t think that Hello Games’ procedurally-generated universe of 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets could get much vaster, but somehow the developers have managed to make it so. Well – let me clarify. I don’t think there are necessarily more planets, but they are certainly more detailed and diverse. In the previous iteration of the game, there was a tendency for worlds to look a little stark and barren – usually in the same tint of brown – with mandatory resources protruding proudly from the planet’s surface, usually to a default scattering pattern. And whilst this is still true to an extent, there is a lot more variety and subtlety. I’m not sure if there were many snow-covered worlds in 2016’s No Man’s Sky, but in 2018 there’s frozen precipitation aplenty.

Also, the aforementioned space stations have been given an overhaul and are now much grander in scale. They are now occupied by multiple species, travellers and merchants. There are also teleporters which can be connected to nearby bases, as well as mission points and trading outposts. In short, there’s considerably more to do, and there’s a pronounced sense of being a part of a thriving, inhabited universe, adding to the realism and believability of your intergalactic travels.

It’s so much more complicated

When I reloaded No Man’s Sky for the first time in about a year, I was completely lost. I looked at my inventory and realised that a large number of my technologies and resources had become obsolete, and I knew that – if I was to continue – I would have to figure everything out through a process of cerebral ‘reverse engineering.’ In the end, I thought it was much better to start from scratch.

I’m so glad I did, and in fact this would be my recommendation to anyone returning to the game after a period away. The New Game option takes you through all of the new features with a gentle, step-by-step approach, re-introducing you to familiar components such as the mining beam and jet-pack, whilst upskilling you in all-things-new, such as the terrain manipulator. There are also new story elements at this point in the game, and the way No Man’s Sky draws the fresh player into its universe is completely different. So yes – for all of these reasons I would definitely vote for a fresh game file.

The downside? Fasten your seat belt, Captain – No Man’s Sky is a real head-scratcher. Perhaps the developers were conscious of the criticism that the game was occasionally bereft of fun things to do? Now, certainly, there is little time to be bored, with a resource-gathering and crafting system that would put even a Harvard graduate through their cosmic paces.

For example, to craft a warp cell (the component needed to fuel your hyperdrive and take you to a different star system) you need antimatter. To get antimatter, you need chromatic metal and condensed carbon. To get chromatic metal and condensed carbon, you need to collect actual carbon and copper and rinse them through your portable refiner. You then need to combine these with the antimatter housing, which can only be acquired with a blueprint and some oxygen and ferrite dust. Phew! Now imagine trying to remember similarly-complicated recipes for a wealth of other essentials, all-the-while trying to survive the inevitably hostile environment you find yourself in, as well as keeping your launch thrusters fuelled, your mining beam at full capacity, and without upsetting any Sentinels (vicious robots that like to blast you if you misbehave.) Thus, it wouldn’t be fair to call No Man’s Sky “boring,” but it is overwhelming. Unless of course you choose to play in Creative mode which bypasses all of the crafting stuff. But then, I wouldn’t feel like I was properly “playing” in Creative mode…

Game-breaking glitch

Yes, I encountered one of these in my first session. I was selling items from my inventory at one of the space stations and I made the mistake of trading in some di-hydrogen, thinking it would be easy enough to buy some back if needed. It wasn’t. Di-hydrogen was not available as a purchase option. Moreover, nobody on the space station was prepared to sell me any, and although I discovered a minuscule amount in a potted palm, it was derisory. This was a problem because di-hydrogen is essential for powering your launch thrusters. As such, I became stranded on the space station with no means of escape. In theory I could have purchased a new spacecraft, but they all come with a price tag of several million, and at this early stage of the game I had nowhere near that amount of wonga in my space wallet.

So yes, I’m fairly certain this was a glitch. Unless Hello Games is staffed by sadists, hell bent on bringing my cosmic quests to an abrupt end. I’m sure it isn’t, by the way; this can’t have been a deliberate piece of game design, surely? Either way, it left me in a very bad mood, so I must downgrade No Man’s Sky for this, as reckless as I might have been in my liberal attitude to di-hydrogen.

UPDATE: 03/08/18
After returning to the game last night, I see that this glitch is no longer an issue. Full launch thrusters are not required for leaving a space station, which is good. So, this could be an intermittent problem, or it could have been patched (we’ve had at least two patches since NEXT launched) or, I dunno, maybe I didn’t try hard enough to take off? Although I’m pretty sure I did and that I got an on-screen message saying “Your launch thruster is empty, sucker” or similar. Anyway, good news, but I’ll be keeping my final score at 7.5 owing to the pain that the space station experience inflicted.

Al Survive’s score: 7.5/10

I haven’t mentioned all of the changes and improvements in this review, but Hello Games has injected a lot of love and fizzy space juice into this bold and controversial title, and I have a lot of respect for it. There’s also unlimited base-building, cave-digging and a range of motorised vehicles to master. I’m not sure how long it will take for the No Man’s Sky universe to become dull and uneventful again (if ever) but for now I’m loving the team’s colourful and innovative enhancements, and I’m itching to charge up my laser and get back to mining tritium.

Click here to purchase No Man’s Sky on the PS4 and help support this site.

Click here to purchase on the Xbox One.

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