Date Posted: 03/04/2023
Originally released in 2016 and published by Hello Games, No Man’s Sky had something of a troubled launch with numerous features that had been implied or seen in trailers conspicuously not being in the game. I watched both Angry Joe and the Zero Punctuation reviews of the released version with both heavily criticising the lack of features, and more importantly the lack of things to actually do. The game is based around a procedurally generated galaxy; unfortunately that galaxy had nothing much happening in it. I hold Angry Joe’s opinion in high regard so decided to steer clear of it, and it faded from my memory. However, I started hearing rumours that it had been continually upgraded, updated and new content had been patched in, so after a subsequent Zero Punctuation review I decided to check it out.
I am a fan of Subnautica with the original game probably being my favourite survival crafter. One of the reasons for this is because it actually has an endgame, you are working towards building an escape craft to get off the planet, all the crafting and resource gathering is built towards that goal. I decided to give the game’s Hardcore mode a try in which if you die that is it. Now I took that to mean no respawns, in the normal version if you die, you return to your base with an empty inventory. On my first Hardcore attempt I didn’t escape a wreck before I drowned and I died. Not to worry I thought, I will just reload my previous save and continue…except the game wipes your save if you die. That’s it, game over. I was a little miffed because one mistake had resulted in sixteen odd hours of work down the toilet. I started again, and this time made it around twenty hours in before I again made a stupid mistake, died and save was lost. Yes, I know I could probably have backed up my save on a flash drive, but I couldn’t really be arsed to do that. I considered restarting when I realised that the reason for my careless mistakes was really just so I could start over. At the time of my death I had basically unlocked everything necessary to build my escape rocket so the game was in its final stages. If I had succeeded in Hardcore mode then Subnautica would offer no further challenge so I would have no further reason to play it which I don’t think I wanted. I had watched a few guides on how to succeed in Stranded Deep but didn’t want to try that again, and so decided to give No Man’s Sky a chance.
So similarly to other survival crafting games there is not much of a story but I will give you the gist of my experience. So, the game opens with you waking up on a planet next to a damaged ship with no memory, and no resources. You are instructed to repair the ship, which you do, and then head off into space where you are directed to a nearby space station. From there you embark on an epic adventure that will take you beyond the furthest stars…well, that is what the game would probably describe itself as being. In reality you have basically one over arching goal in which you face the prospect that everything happening is a artificially created reality (well duh we are playing a video game) and you are given the choice to restart everything and create a new galaxy (so you are a bit like Neo in the original Matrix Trilogy) or just pretend everything is real and continue exploring the galaxy you are in. Slight spoiler alert, after you create a new galaxy you don’t lose access to the previous one and can pop in and out of that as easily as you pop to the shops. So the game’s delusions of being some kind of epic space opera fall rather flat.
At time of writing have clocked up a little over one hundred and twenty-odd hours of play time so you may be asking yourself why I have played that long if the story is a bit on the shit side, well, allow me to tell you.
I will admit that I initially really did not know exactly what I was doing. I was following a side mission looking for some alien called Artemis, and discovered a crashed ship. My starting ship was a C-Class and the crashed one was a B-Class. Now logically as B is higher rated than C, I took the crashed ship, renamed it the CRS Columbo and started the painstaking process of repairing it. Some of the damaged components could be repaired with resources that could be discovered on different planets and other required technological components that needed to be purchased for using one of the two forms of currency, namely Units. I travelled to many a distant star system searching for the resources I needed. Some were only available on planets orbiting Blue Stars, others only on planets orbiting Yellow Stars, and so on. I slowly and pain stakingly upgraded my ship to go to further systems with more resources. Eventually I was able to fully repair my ship.
I think it was also during this galaxy-wide resource hunt that I discovered the Base building element to the game. How this works is you deploy a Base Computer which allows you to claim an area on a planet then start building basic structures. I think timber walls, floors, a door and a roof were already unlocked with personal portals and a bioreactor being your only power options. Constructing portals basically allows transport between your bases and any space stations in any systems you have visited. During my resource hunt I had discovered a lot of Upgrades which I had installed on my ship, my spacesuit, or my multi-tool plus a bunch of crap which I didn’t really know what to do with. So on a seemingly pleasant world I began to build a base with storage containers to hold some of the stuff that I’d gathered.
Each system has a starbase and each starbase looks the same. Externally they look like diamonds, spheres, squares, or whatever. So there are none that look like Deep Space Nine or Babylon-5. Nor do they reflect the dominant species of the system. On a side note there are basically three races, two of which are torn from Star Trek: a warrior race called the Vy’Keen which are a rip-off of the Klingons, the Gek which are the Ferengi and the third are the Korvax which are artificial intelligence that can download their consciousnesses into different bodies (I think). Getting back to the starbases you’d think that one built by the Vy’Keen would look different to one built by the Gek, but it doesn’t, they are all the same so if you warp to one there is no easy way to identify where the hell you are in relation to where you were. This is also the nature of the procedural generated nature of the game. In Subnautica certain things were found in certain biomes, and those biomes were fixed. Yes finding them was a pain in the arse because there was no map but once you got to the right biome you could usually find what you were looking for. In NMS there is no way to know if you are going to find what you are looking for when you warp to a new system or if is just a waste of time.
What you have to understand going into the game is that everything takes ages to do. Upgrading a starship’s inventory can be done with vast amounts of Units but I haven’t tried to do this yet because I don’t know if $75 million Units will unlock a single slot or many and if it is one I don’t want to waste all those Units to find out. I have around one hundred and thirty million Units so as you can imagine $75 million is a fairly hefty chunk of change to use on finding out how many slots that amount unlocks. The other option is with augmentations. But augmentations cannot be purchased, instead they must be found from completing Guild missions, scrapping crashed ships, or from frigate missions. I have been unable to find a reliable way of getting augmentations which is why I have stuck with the Columbo because it is the ship I have been unlocking new slots for this whole time and cannot be asked to start over with a new ship.
The slow boil affects everything in the game. You can become Overseer of a settlement (a settlement not many, just the one) and can build landing pads, community buildings, and stuff like that so your settlement generates more Units for you. Thing is that I can throw a base together in a few minutes but if you are building something for a settlement you are usually looking around two hours of time to put up the walls, another two for the roof, and probably another two whilst it is decorated or something. So six hours to build a single structure. Yes you can go off and do other things but you are forever popping back to start the next bit of the construction. Plus there are many other things that take time. Refining materials is a big part of the game and it might take twenty minutes for the refiner to craft something you want. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly you are endlessly waiting for certain items to fall into your lap (like the augmentations) and secondly, you end up playing longer than you want because you are looking at a timer thinking to yourself “I’ll just wait till this finishes then start the next bit of construction” so you play for that extra 20 minutes, then realise another time is about to run out, so you play for a bit longer…on and on…until you are clutching the controller and giving yourself a firm talking to about saving and quitting for the night.
During my first tens of hours I’d focussed most of my time on fixing the Columbo and had been quite content doing that. I had unlocked other items from my Base’s Research Station which included a solar panel and battery unit which could be charged so electronics would work at night. I have been irritated by the fact that batteries apparently don’t exist in the Subnautica universe because having solar panels that shut a base down completely at night did seem a bit stupid. Certain planets had certain resources so I started putting bases on those planets so I could fast travel to a particular location if I needed a particular resource. By this time I was pretty sure that I was starting to see everything that the game had to offer.
This is when I discovered that No Man’s Sky is great at not really telling you stuff…
I don’t actively like playing online with humans, and in recent months have been able to play GTA Online without using the MTU hack because Rockstar unlocked the ability to do all the game’s activities in Invite Only lobbies. So when I play that game I go into an Invite Only lobby and can spend my time just doing whatever I want without being bothered by anyone else. No Man’s Sky features a multi-player hub called the Space Anomaly in which players can gather together to go on joint quests or whatever but can’t attack or grief each other. I had paid no attention to this hub station, basically only going if a mission forced me to, and when it did, flying in, doing what I needed to do, and flying out again. However, it turns out that this hub station has a massive array of blueprints for your ship, your bases, your multi-tool (something you use to dig up resources and fight enemies) and your exocraft. These blueprints can be purchased for Salvage Data which can be found from buried technology modules (which I knew about) or by completing various Guild Quests (which at the time I didn’t).
The difference between Upgrades and Blueprints is that an upgrade can be applied to one thing whereas if you have the Blueprint then you can build that item as many times as you want.
I also discovered at yet a later time that some of the blueprints can only be unlocked whilst following certain story objectives, which makes purchasing them pointless because you’d have eventually unlocked them for free. As a result I stopped buying Blueprints as I did not want to waste my hard found Salvage Data on something that I would eventually get by playing the game. It has only been now that I am on to my second galaxy that I have returned to the Anomaly to purchase everything I did not get before because I am fairly confident that the story has no more unlocks up its sleeve.
At this point I am going to give a free tutorial guide to anyone who is planning on playing this game, and these are all things that I wish I knew sooner:
Exosuit and Starship Slots – When you start out you have very few inventory slots in your space (or exo) suit for equipping upgrades or installing new technologies. Plus your Inventory slots are also limited. On each Space station there will be an exosuit upgrade bay in which you pay x-amount of Units to unlock a new slot (if you have any suit augmentations you can then add those too). Now if I remember correctly the game defaults to upgrades of the Inventory. Paying for upgrades in the early game can be expensive. However, you will stumble across encrypted navigation data basically everywhere you go and these can be exchanged with a cartographer (also at every space station) for the locations of Drop Pods that contain suit upgrades. You buy a chart, fly to a planet, activate it, fly to the Pod, repair three components (the ingredients for which can be found on literally every planet) and the game unlocks a new slot. Unfortunately when you repair a Pod the game again defaults to the Inventory. What is not made clear is that you can choose which you want to upgrade, by just selecting a new slot. There also does not seem to be a limit to how many slots that you can unlock. I assumed that I have maxed out everything so ignored any other pod I stumbled across without realising that the suit has far more available slots than it looks like it does.
Build Farms - One of the items you can unlock is a resource finder for your suit’s visor. What this does is find hotspots of resources, gasses or electricity. I tried this a couple of times but there was never anything anywhere near any of my existing bases so I didn’t bother with it. The thing is that you need to search for the locations then put down a base location. Resources can be found in deposits on various planets with many of them being planet spercific. Uranium is found on radioactive planets, phosphorous on lava worlds, and so on. Dig up those deposits and you’ll get yourself maybe a couple of hundred units of whatever resource you were looking for. However, if you find a hotspot you can build a mineral extractor (which you get the blueprint for from the Anomaly) and multiple Storage silos (also unlocked from the anomaly) which will work on their own gathering potentially thousands of units. The more extractors you build the faster the extraction process and the more silos you construct the more they can hold. Paraffinium is a vital tool for fixing discovered crashed starships and it was something I was also struggling to find. Now I have a Paraffinium Mine and more of the stuff than I know what to do with. The resources are gathered in real time so will be silently working away even if you are not playing the game so set up a mine, go off and go to work, or do whatever it is you do when not playing games, come back and you will have a nice collection of a hitherto hard to find resource. Also label your bases so you know what is where, which makes coming back to a specific location soooo much easier.
Guild Missions – As I said above each space station is for all intents and purposes identical. They will have locations where ships can be upgraded or crashed ones you have found can be sold. Classes can be upgraded. At time of writing I have a fleet of S-Class ships with only two needing to be upgraded. But in truth I have no idea if Class even matters. The Columbo was a B-Class when I found it but now it is an S-Class. It is my best ship because I have basically spent the last hundred odd hours upgrading it, and giving it the best technologies. My other ships I have basically for the sake of it and occasionally take one of them for a spin but ultimately return to the Columbo because it has the best shields, weapons, inventory space, and so on. Anyway I digress, on each station you find an Envoy (I think he’s called), basically the guy sitting on the far left, with a guild guy in the middle and a cartographer on the right. Approach the Envoy and you can do missions for three guilds. The Explorers, the Mercenaries and the Merchants. Completing the missions will unlock nanites (which in turn are used to upgrade ships, or unlock new blueprints for your ships, exosuit or multi-tool), storage augmentations for your ship, suit or multi-tool, units as well as various other resources. As far as I can tell the rewards are random with useful ones like the storage augmentations being much rarer than Units. What makes these missions a double edge sword are the fact that they are pretty repetitive with there only being about ten missions: kill animals, feed animals, deliver item, raid structure, hunt target, find missing person, dig up ruin, destroy sentinels, photograph a building, and blow up a resource depot. As a result it doesn’t take long for them to become something of a grind to work through. Some missions are system specific and others (like culling animals) can be done anywhere on any planet. You can go to different envoys on different stations to unlock a whole shopping list of quests to complete, and whilst they are repetitive, what is really useful is the fact that quite often you get the same missions. One mission might task you with culling eight animals, and another with killing eleven. So you don’t need to kill a total of nineteen animals, you kill eleven and both quests are done. They can also be handed in at any envoy in any station so my advice is do a bunch, hand them all in, get a bunch more and rinse, lather and repeat.
Storage Containers are linked – Containers have specific numbers which seemed a bit pointless initially until I learned that they are actually all linked together. This comes in particularly useful when you get a freighter (basically a mobile base) with a matter transporter because once you put storage rooms into it then you can summon it into orbit on whatever planet you are on to build whatever you want from the resources you have gathered onboard.
Stargates – They are called portals in the game but they are stargates and even do the unstable vortex thing that the stargate from the titular film and various spin-off TV shows do. They have different glyphs that need to be unlocked that can only be done during the Atlas Path so blitz the Atlas missions as quickly as possible (resent the simulation, or don’t, fate of the galaxy blah, blah) to unlock all the glyphs. Once you have done that then find a stargate and build a base next to it. Activate the glyphs and look up where to find decent resource planets or locations where you can find crashed S-Class ships. Now this is where the procedural generation is odd because there are some fixed locations where you can find ships or resources that other players have come across and marked. Which leads me to the next and final thing I wish I’d known…
Other Players’ Bases – As with any game there are going to be people who have poured endless hours into playing through it. I’ve clocked up a hundred and twenty-odd hours but I’m willing to bet there are players that would call that an introduction. My bases usually serve a purpose with most of them now being Farms or Mines. The thing is that you can use the stargates to find other players bases which have been set up to mine various resources, and once you get to them you can just help yourself to whatever they have gathered. One particular planet is a gold mine for Curious Deposits which are these sphere like things which produce running mould, and running mould can be converted into nanites. I discovered that making Units was pretty straight-forward. Find a crashed ship using either a signal beacon or point-of-interest chart, claim the ship, warp to a space station in a system with a booming economy and sell it for a few million Units. Simples. Nanites on the other hand were far harder to find, until I discovered this planet, I established a small base in the middle of dozens of other players bases and simply walked into those, fired my mining beam into the deposits to harvest the mould, hopped into my ship, few to the next one and kept doing that. The best base I found had a short range transporter which I discovered if you used to teleport away then turned back round and teleported back, all of the deposits would have respawned. Converting 9,999 running mould into 1,999 Nanites takes about 20 minutes, and I have 5 refiners in my main base the Christabo Facility, so produce around 10,000 in 20 minutes. It is a very efficient way to get enough currency for the blueprints and is made possible thanks to bases created by other members of the NMS community. I have come across a few random clusters of Curious Deposits on other planets but did not realise that I could construct a base round them and keep harvesting them. However, if I encounter them again then I am definitely going to do that so I don’t have to keep flying from base to base on the Wonka Balls Planet (yep the person who found it named it that) to gather the running mould.
There is more to talk about but I think that I will leave it there because otherwise I will just go on and on. I could talk about the fact that certain technologies can be created after purchasing or unlocking blueprints but others can’t and there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why. I could mention that I have no idea if a ship, freighter or multi-tool’s class actually matters because I didn’t notice any different in the Columbo when it was a B-Class to when it was an S-Class. I could question why every time I board my freighter I get a the same log entry explaining about how freighters work flashing up on my screen. I might well ask why the frigates I send on missions regularly suffer catastrophic damage and must be recalled for repairs that the crew are unable to fix when the problem is usually no more complicated than a lose screw that takes me half a nano-second to fix.
When all is said and done though, I am continuing to play the game. I have a feeling that NMS will occupy my attention until I have either unlocked all the trophies, or created bases that mine all the resources that I’d ever need, or all of my ships, suit, and equipment are S-Class. I remember playing Jurassic Park Evolution almost obsessively as I sought all the trophies but once that final one pinged, I quit the game and have not returned to it again. NMS might suffer the same fate. But considering I have once again grown thoroughly bored of GTA Online and there are not many games that are still holding my interest after a hundred plus hours I can’t see myself abandoning NMS just yet.
I have spent many a day sitting playing this game for hour after hour, but it is also good to put on for a half hour here or there if you have some time to kill. There are some enemies which can be both annoying and a pain to deal with but if there is no challenge then a game gets boring. I think that is why NMS works because it paces things out. If I could just buy all the upgrades for my ship or freighter then I’d get bored. The fact that it takes time and effort makes it more rewarding. Play it for a few hours or a few minutes and it will hold your interest either way. If you are fan of survival crafting games, and found Subnautica to be a fun game, then I think that No Man’s Sky will be your cup of tea as well. I am happy to give the game a Thumbs Up because like I said I wouldn’t have invested so much time in it if it wasn’t doing most things right.
7/10 – No Man’s Sky doesn’t end, the ending isn’t an ending because the game carries on afterwards. Usually I don’t like games that don’t end because you are basically just pissing about when the story has concluded. Thing is, here that works. There is more to explore and discover. Plus just flying around in your ship is quite therapeutic with the occasional space battle with pirates keeping you on your toes.