Back in 2013, Hello Games announced they would be going out of their comfort zone with an incredibly ambitious project. The trailer for the said project, which claimed that every planet was procedural, unique and unexplored, opens with the player underwater taking in flora and fauna within. The player then makes their way from the greenish blue ocean to the shore where they are met with a lush crimson forest with what would presumably be other space travelers flying just overhead. The player then enters the cockpit of their small flying vessel and takes off seamlessly out of the planet’s atmosphere and into space. This was the promise of No Man’s Sky.
Just from that beginning sequence, I was sold. Heck, I’m watching that old trailer as I am writing this and it still warms my soul. It was my dream game after all. To riff off of that dumb Twitter thread garbage that has been going around as of late, if I had to pick five games that define me and my tastes, it would be Galaga, Star Fox, Mass Effect, Doom, and Fable II. Two of those games don’t have much in common with No Man’s Sky, but the first three do. To me, it seemed like a culmination of those three games; I get to fly around an open galaxy, shoot other ships, and explore undiscovered planets seamlessly. This was a dream come true.
From that point, the hype for No Man’s Sky only intensified. This was not only a potential game of the year candidate but possibly the game of the generation. After a bunch of trailers and a delay – a delay many were very very angry about – Hello Games’ supposed magnum opus finally released. Well, it was less of a magnum opus and more of just… well, I think this video best describes the differences:
I wouldn’t say that my experience with the launch version of No Man’s Sky was disappointing; actually, I enjoyed my time with it for what it was. However, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t what I was hoping for. It wasn’t that living galaxy filled with the “unique” planets the reveal trailer alluded to. It was empty with procedurally generated planets that had menial deviations from each other. It was more of a desolated space wasteland than a lively universe.
It still entertained me for hours for those first few weeks. But those hours turned to minutes; those minutes then switched to seconds until finally, I just stopped playing. It wasn’t the game I thought would take over my life. Sure, some updates did have significant changes but the magic was gone, and there were other games I was more excited for.
After two years of being out of the public eye, Hello Games announced No Man’s Sky would finally be coming to Xbox One alongside a new update known as No Man’s Sky: Next that implements some significant changes to the game I knew years prior.
With No Man’s Sky debut on the Xbox One, of course, it was going to take advantage of the Xbox One X’s capabilities, namely 4K video output. Its clean art style, which I’ve always been keen on since launch, looks excellent in 4K. Along with its soundtrack by experimental band 65daysofstatic, the presentation of No Man’s Sky has only improved with the Next update.
Remember those three ships I mentioned passing over that crimson forest in the reveal trailer? Well, it turns out those were just a façade; there were no fellow space travelers, just a trick to make you think there were. No Man’s Sky: Next finally fixes that with its new multiplayer mode. It’s all fine and dandy that I could take a few friends with me on awesome space adventures, but that doesn’t really solve the empty universe problem.
What does solve that problem is randomly encountering a human player while finding resources for my base. It has only happened once while playing but they were actually there. It was puzzling at first; honestly, I questioned whether the ominous figure was real or not. Then they waved. I waved back. Then he ran in the opposite direction and left the planet. It was such an odd interaction, but it was one that has stuck with me. This gave life to a universe I thought was once empty.
Since I was able to actually see that player, that meant that No Man’s Sky now had models for the player character. When you begin playing the new update, you’ll begin in third person with your character in view. It’s a bit jarring at first, but I got acquainted with the new point of view fairly quickly. However, I did not like interacting with the world in third person. The accuracy of the reticle seemed to diminish when my character was on screen. When I switched it to first-person, I could actually point to something and interact which is something I can’t say about the third person mode.
It’s unfortunate that the third person mode isn’t great, but this game should be played in first person regardless of the other point of view’s quality. I want to be immersed in this world. I want to explore every planet – which is vastly more diverse than the procedural planets I visited in 2016 – as if I were there, not as someone else.
The first person mode also takes advantage of the game’s excellent photo mode. It is possibly my favorite out of any game I’ve played. There are some incredibly beautiful shots thanks to that aforementioned clean art style. It really does flaunt the beauty of this game. In fact, all the pictures featured in this article are by yours truly, and I’ve got to say, they are pretty fantastic.
The No Man’s Sky: Next update turned a critical dud into a stud. It actually feels like the game that was presented at VGX 2013. In many ways, it is still the same game from 2016; you are still scanning rocks and creatures, and flying aimlessly around a supposed endless universe. However, with the many improvements previous updates have implemented, as well as the addition of multiplayer really gives this universe some life, when it initially felt lifeless. I have yet to find the giant sandworms from that reveal trailer, but I guess I can always read Dune to fulfill that fantasy.
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