No Man’s Sky NEXT is an obvious improvement over the base game, but don’t expect anything too drastic.
Before getting into the merits and demerits of the actual game, there’s something else that needs to be said- Hello Games deserve every ounce of credit for sticking to their original vision of delivering the ultimate universe exploration simulator, even in the face of criticism and ridicule that has often bordered on cruel and inhuman. Their passion for this project and their dedication to fulfilling their grand ambition are, in no vague terms, absolutely inspiring. In similar circumstances, many developers would have felt disheartened, rightly so, and given up on any hopes of salvage and redemption. Others still would have simply collected their revenues and profits and walked away to different projects. Not Hello Games, though- for two years they’ve silently been working away, constructing improvements, changes, and additions to help get their game to a point where the vast audiences feel like it finally delivers on its ambitious promises.
The question, though, is- does it do that? To put it simply- the improvements No Man’s Sky NEXT makes to the base game definitely make a difference, but if two years ago the game’s concept did not appeal to you, this update isn’t going to change your mind. Having followed the update’s pre-release coverage, if you’re going into the game thinking that this is, in all but name, No Man’s Sky 2, you’re going to be disappointed. Through its bevy of changes, No Man’s Sky NEXT irons out a lot of the issues that held the base game back from achieving the greatness that so often seemed to be in its grasp, but at the same time, many of those issues that turned off a plethora of players still persist.
"The improvements No Man’s Sky NEXT makes to the base game definitely make a difference, but if two years ago the game’s concept did not appeal to you, this update isn’t going to change your mind."
The biggest of those issues is the constant and at times overbearing grind. No Man’s Sky was a game that was as much about surviving on inhospitable and completely unknown planets as it was about exploring the far reaches of uncharted space. Collecting resources to make sure your life support systems were always properly functional, or to make sure your vehicles were being regularly refuelled, dominated a vast majority of the experience. That much does not change with NEXT. Even though the game does eventually get to a point where the process becomes a bit more automated, that point is far enough away that many players may not even feel motivated enough to get to it. Even once you get to it, the game’s very nature simply requires you to, for long stretches, essentially shoot lasers at surfaces to gather materials. Combine that with inventory management, which is still not quite there in spite of improvements, and cumbersome combat with overly aggressive sentinels and, some times, hostile lifeforms, and the collection of resources becomes even more of a chore.
The variety in all the different planets you visit also doesn’t do much to break that monotony. That isn’t to say the environments and everything they consist of lack variety- that’s actually one of the many areas where NEXT makes significant improvements. But it doesn’t take you too long to figure out that that variety is, for the most part, just on the surface. Sure, the biomes and landscapes are much more varied now than they were two years ago, while plant life and animal life on forests also sees a lot more variation, with many of the designs for animals being genuinely interesting. But even though the game might dress up its hazards as blizzards, or duststorms, or radiation storms, ultimately you still have to recharge your suit’s hazard protection the same way. The animals might all look wildly different and wondrously bizarre, but more often than not they’re just stage dressing. To be fair to NEXT, it does try to mix things up every now and again by giving you missions, which are often a lot of fun, if a bit simplistic, but the fact remains that the grind that we’re speaking of is, in many ways, at the very core of the entire experience, and as such, simply unavoidable.
And yet there’s also the fact that for many, the true joy of No Man’s Sky lies in simply discovering these new and strange things, rather than looking for any mechanical depth in them, and in such areas, the game succeeds as profoundly as it did before, and then some. Every single time you enter the atmosphere of a new and unknown planet, taking in the sheer beauty of your strange new surroundings hits you like a ton of bricks. Simply scanning all the different life forms around you and reading up about them can, at times, be a deeply enjoyable activity in and of itself. Scrounging up resources to refuel your starship can be cumbersome, but when you do it and shoot up into space and subsequently land on an entirely different planet and behold its majestic peculiarity, the journey as well as the destination can easily make you feel like they were worth all the preceding trouble.
"Scrounging up resources to refuel your starship can be cumbersome, but when you do it and shoot up into space and subsequently land on an entirely different planet and behold its majestic peculiarity, the journey as well as the destination can easily make you feel like they were worth all the preceding trouble."
It is for that reason that No Man’s Sky is at its best when it’s played in its Creative Mode. This is something that has actually been around since Foundation, which was the first update the game ever received, but with all the upgrades NEXT brings with it, the mode truly comes into its own. Resource gathering and all the other activities that make the game a chore for vast stretches are not a factor here at all. In Creative Mode, No Man’s Sky is all about exploration, upgradation, and growth. Here, you can flex your creative muscles with the game’s base building as well, which is vastly improved over its original rendition. Simply exploring the galaxies and landing on new planets also becomes infinitely more enjoyable, as it frees itself from the often overbearing shackles of the game’s survival aspects. It’s true that in doing so the game loses much of its challenge, but between its two wildly different facets of exhaustingly-demanding and overly-leisurely, the latter is by far the more attractive choice. Should Hello Games try and find a middle ground between these two spectrums, though? Certainly, they should.
Multiplayer is, of course, one of the most major additions Hello Games have made to their game with NEXT. Building bases, exploring the universe, and getting into random combat (with each other, even), is, of course, as much fun as you would expect it to be. There is the fact that even multiplayer is also obviously hampered by the game’s general grind, so any fun you and your friends might be having together regularly gets halted so you can replenish all your necessary resources. But taking part in the game’s best activities – base building and exploration – with three of your friends is very enjoyable, as per expectations. That isn’t to say multiplayer is now a huge part of the experience- chances are you will still spend the bulk of your time playing alone, given the game’s very nature. It is, however, a nice bonus to have. Speaking of base building, the freedom of being able to build wherever you want (even inside frigates), however many bases you want, as well as just having a dizzying amount of pieces to choose from while building, makes it perhaps one of the entire game’s most enjoyable activities, which becomes even more enjoyable when you’re playing in Creative Mode, where having to unlock new units of creation and building (through more grinding) isn’t a constant source of tension.
No Man’s Sky NEXT also brings with it a host of visual upgrades. Most noticeable of these is the addition of a third person perspective, which becomes the default way of playing the game (though you can always switch back to first person if you wish). Having a wider field of view is definitely to the game’s benefit, since there’s simply that much more of its stunning vistas and jaw-dropping sights to take in, and the fact that your character model – which can be changed and customized to a decent degree, including being able to play as aliens as well – is detailed and well designed and has some pretty good animations means that third person view never feels unnatural or ungainly the way it would in, say, a Bethesda title, or any other game that was primarily first person to begin with. Improved lighting and draw distances are also major factors here, both of which work in conjunction with just all around sharper textures to make the game’s already-beautiful art pop that much more. Unfortunately, though, on the technical side of things, NEXT does falter a bit, even on an Xbox One X, which is what I played on. Almost every time you enter the atmosphere of a new planet, the game stutters heavily with serious frame rate drops, while there are also some instances of pop-in and clipping. Additionally, up close, many of the game’s textures appear muddy (while the clouds look just muddy all the time, period), but from a distance, No Man’s Sky is more beautiful than it has ever been, and I think it’s fair to say that the game’s visuals have always found more strength in their art than they have in their tech.
"No Man’s Sky is at its best when it’s played in its Creative Mode. Resource gathering and all the other activities that make the game a chore for vast stretches are not a factor here at all. In Creative Mode, No Man’s Sky is all about exploration, upgradation, and growth."
Really, it comes back down to what I said all the way back at the beginning of this review- while this is a substantially improved experience, it is still No Man’s Sky. And while this is, more or less, No Man’s Sky as we were always promised it would be, the core conceit, structure, and gameplay loop haven’t changed. There’s just more to them than before. So if you didn’t like it then, you won’t like it now. Problems such as repetition and an excessive reliance on grinding still exist. If, on the other hand, two years ago No Man’s Sky sounded like the greatest thing ever to you, and only the vehemently bad press kept you away from it at launch, I say go for it now. With NEXT, the caterpillar has completed its transformation and become a flawed yet beautiful butterfly.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.
A wonderful and nearly constant sense of discovery; Third person perspective is a significant addition; Loads of visual variety; Beautiful, eye-popping art; When the game lets you do it, exploration is an absolute joy; Base building is a lot of fun; Multiplayer is a nice bonus; Creative Mode is excellent.
Repetitive and overbearing grind; Clunky and tedious combat; Variety in planets doesn't go very deep; Serious frame rate drops on several occasions; Some visual bugs.
While this is a substantially improved experience, it is still No Man’s Sky. And while this is, more or less, No Man’s Sky as we were always promised it would be, the core conceit, structure, and gameplay loop haven’t changed. There’s just more to them than before.