The two-year-old No Manâs Sky is an extraordinary game. Its procedurally generated galaxy has marked it out for inclusion in the forthcoming V&A exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, and developer Hello Games says people have spent more than 200m hours in its near-infinite universe, where every planet and life form is unique. But No Manâs Skyâs has a lingering reputation as a game that failed to live up to expectations when it was launched.
Hello Games has methodically introduced free features to what was initially a shallow game. The Foundation update added new modes (Creative and Survival), base building, farming, and freighters. Pathfinder added planetary vehicles and base sharing. And last Augustâs Atlas Rises added a 30-hour central storyline that gave players more direction.
The latest free update, Next, addresses some remaining complaints. The new Saturn-ringed planets â one of many entries on a popular Reddit thread of things missing from the game â have featured heavily in screenshots shared by players on social media. Despite some performance issues, the visual improvements are welcome. You can now fly close to a planetâs surface, through more distinctive valleys and trenches, and damage your ship by crashing into trees. But the most significant improvement is the addition of a full multiplayer option.
Now players can choose to join a friendâs game, appearing in the same solar system as them. It works seamlessly: the game informs you when another player joins, and tracks their location so you can find them. You can also tag a goal so other players can see where youâre headed, which is useful if one player is following a solo mission that the others canât track.
Players appear to each other as proper characters rather than the floating orbs of Atlas Rises, with customisable character models. You can also see your character with the new third-person camera. Those accustomed to the first-person view may need time to adapt to what can feel like a clumsier way to play, but the feature is optional.
Playing No Manâs Sky now is very different than when it launched. The ability to explore space with a party of up to three friends makes it feel much less lonely than before. And where it once was difficult to return to a previously visited planet, establishing bases allows you to make some small corner of the universe feel like home. The Next update makes base building far more granular, with hundreds of new parts to click together in different combinations, and allows players to build multiple bases anywhere on any planet.
Both bases and freighters are available earlier in the game, and freighters are now accompanied by frigates, which you can purchase and send on missions. These missions can yield rewards with no work, but if you are unsuccessful the frigates will be damaged and require expensive repair. As your frigates level up for use on tougher missions, this new system becomes a light-management mini-game.
There are also new missions for the player to pursue, sometimes doled out by aliens you meet on planets, but more often by those stuck behind desks in the newly renovated space stations. As youâd expect from procedurally generated content, these missions are basic and begin to feel similar after youâve tackled a few, but they do vary from âcollect 250 chromatic metalâ to âtake a photo on a desert planetâ.
Whatever style of play you prioritise, outside of the gameâs Creative mode youâll still spend most of your time gathering resources to refuel your exosuit/multi-tool/starship. The catalogue of resources â and how theyâre combined and used â has changed again. If you return to No Manâs Sky after some time away, and reload a saved version, you will find that your stockpiled resources are useless for anything but sale. Ships are unaffected, though, and bases can be restored.
Many players are opting to start afresh, working through the new tutorial and learning the new systems. But it shouldnât be surprising that people are willing to go back to square one. No Manâs Sky is not a game you play for the story, and this update â plus the promise of future free content and events â provide plenty of reasons to spend more time simply exploring space.