I was incredibly excited for No Man’s Sky. I feel as though that’s a phrase that might resonate with some of you – after all, No Man’s Sky didn’t win the ‘Most Anticipated Game of 2016’ award at The Game Awards for nothing. However, the tale that is the explosive rise and then similarly rapid fall of developer Hello Games is well-documented now. No Man’s Sky was a crushing disappointment – unfortunately there’s no easy way to say it and the rage of gamers towards the Guildford-based developer was loud and unrelenting.
Not only that, but it quickly became apparent we’d been sold a lie. Many of the features that were shown off in trailers were simply not present – the planets were barren wastes of muted colours, as opposed to lush, diverse ecosystems. Creatures were deformed freaks, rather than majestic animals that could actually look real. No Man’s Sky quickly became a lesson to be learned from – a sordid tale of what happens when you build too much excitement for something so unattainable. The game promised more ambition than perhaps had ever been seen before and what impressive technology there was became lost beneath a sea of fury.
However, what hasn’t been quite so well-publicized are the vast and almost tireless efforts of Hello Games to try and improve and fix the game after its release. Even now, huge patches are still being dropped, adding massive updates like base-building and a more diverse array of vehicles, both land and air. Certainly, this is all content that should have been in the game to begin with. Yet, I felt compelled to try the game again. Now, a year on from release, I returned to that ever-controversial universe to see if there was any wonder left to be found in this now much-maligned universe.
I fired up the game and was met with a number of things – first, my original save file, untouched for almost an entire year. Then, I saw a few new additions, immediate and apparent. There are now numerous different modes in which to play the game, including a permadeath mode and a creative mode, allowing for a more relaxed game free of restrictions and limits. Impressed, I decided to forego my old save for now and venture into the new permadeath mode. Dropped onto a snowy planet with extreme temperatures a ten minute walk away from my ship, I died. Not a great start.
Permadeath adds a new element to the game, but it isn’t what No Man’s Sky needs. I gleaned that much rather quickly. I decided to return to my old save, to try and check out the touted new features. However, I was met with a glum realisation all too fast – the worst parts of No Man’s Sky haven’t been fixed.
There have been a number of quality of life changes added to the game, alongside the aforementioned big updates, such as base-building. These plentiful, and free, updates are all very welcome and add continual layers to the game – but that’s all they do. They continue to stack on top of what remains, at its core, a very basic, a very stretched and tired game. Planets are still little more than wastes and traversal remains a nuisance at best and downright boring at worst. Not only that, but the vast universe is still incredibly lifeless – at one point I traversed a rocky hilltop to find a weird animal plodding along on two hind legs, its stubby arms outstretched in angular positions like a cry for help.
Little has changed that truly matters.
That’s not to discredit Hello Games’ efforts to improve the game, as improve it they certainly have. However, returning to the game, I found most of those changes to be merely superfluous. The core of the game hasn’t changed and that means that I find myself still struggling to want to persevere. I struggle to cross another hill when I know there will be a thousand more like it on the very same planet, or harvest the same minerals again and again. No Man’s Sky has a fresh coat of paint, but that doesn’t hide the cracks.
A new update is dropping once again this week – the Atlas Update, which looks to improve and expand upon No Man’s Sky’s lacklustre story. It’s changes like these, that permeate the game’s very core, that I think will make the most difference. Actually providing some kind of drive, some kind of context to the game will give players a reason to go on that journey. Scouring such infinite vastness is appealling for only a short time – eventually, you realise that the places you’ve been to are gone forever, and those you’ve yet to see you most likely never will. It’s a troubling fact at the centre of No Man’s Sky’s problems – when you’re this small, what you do has no impact. To bring a real story to the mix should help alleviate these issues.
The furore that surrounded No Man’s Sky has died down and the game has managed to amass a cult following of sorts. It’s deserved – for what it’s worth, I enjoyed a bit of my time with the game when it first released. As far as I’m concerned, blasting off into space from the ground without any loading remains a sublime moment and space itself is a stunning display of neon colours just dying to make use of the new photo mode (this is one game that absolutely can get great use out of it).
Unfortunately though, going back to the game a year from release hasn’t changed my opinion on it. The new changes are nice, yes, but it isn’t enough to transform No Man’s Sky into the game it should be. In the unlikely event that Hello Games ever made a sequel, I’d still be interested in it. For now though, it’s time to say goodbye to this wide, lonely universe.
Gaming at a Glance are shorter, impressions pieces. If you liked this read, follow the blog and share the word! Thanks!