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No Man’s Sky Beyond Impressions: Starstruck

To be honest, I didn’t expect things to turn this way. Nor that I will ever get to write an Impressions article on No Man’s Sky of all games. See, that’s not my first time playing the game. I got it two years ago when one of its first significant updates, Atlas Rises, was released. I read articles, watched videos on how better the game had become, how close it had gotten to its original vision. You know, quite the praise, given all the cosmic frozen poo that was raining over the game like a (well deserved) Wrath of God when it was initially released.

So I got NMS: Atlas Rises and tried it out. At first I was quite frankly impressed. Jumping from planet to planet, discovering new creatures and plant life, it was an experience I had never seen before, applied on a truly cosmic scale. I must say, the first few hours in No Man’s Sky were one of my best gaming experience in my whole life! Unfortunately amusement gave way to boredom rather quickly as I come to realise that these first hours of gameplay will be exactly the same as the rest. The feeling of wonder gave way to the feeling of knowing exactly how things will turn out once I entered a new star system. So I pushed the game aside and carried on.

So long, Cool but boring world!

One year later, Next came out. Again, lots of praise, the graphics were updated and the game looked really good. New, revamped crafting, base building, true multiplayer. Woah, slow down, game! One more time, I jumped in, hopes kinda high. This time I didn’t get very far at all. See, it was one of the new things, the crafting that turned me off, as it was deep, but too deep, actually, to the point it was a chore more than anything else.

So we finally arrive in present time. The “biggest update to date”, Beyond, drops. This time, I was far more cautious, not so keen to jump into the game. But hey, its summer, nothing too exciting is really happening in the gaming world, so I decided to give it a shot. It was then, after a whole weekend, when I did almost nothing but to play Beyond, at 10:00 PM Sunday evening, when I forced myself to get up… then I realized the game had finally gotten me. After three years, a number of updates, the game is there! It is beautiful, engaging, rich in content and, to be perfectly honest, well deserves my(and probably your) time. Last sentence comes with a bit of an asterisk, but we will get to that later.

Ah, a heart-shaped cloud! Love you too, game!

The main appeal of No Man’s Sky has always been it’s procedural generation mechanic. Every atom, every planet, every falafel… you know the tagline. It, as with many procedural games, however,  has also always been its main drawback. See procedural generation is fun and all, until you understand the logic behind it and learn its patterns. Then everything starts to look kinda same-y. NMS suffered from that and it suffered hard. As mentioned in the prologue, it took only a handful of planet explorations before they started to all feel the same. To be frank, the problem is in Beyond as well. It never takes more than a few minutes on a planet to get a feel of what your stay on it would be like, even if you spent a thousand more hours on it. This is largely due to limitations on what you can actually do on said planets as well as the mechanics in them as well. However, due to the far nicer graphics from Next and, what seems, vastly improved procedural generation logic, I never actually got bored of exploring the worlds of Beyond. Even 30 hours in my current playthrough I still find myself genuinely bewildered at the sight of some creatures and landscapes the game throws at me. Sure, you will come to learn what to expect from a Tropical type of world, for example, but an expanded combination of different color pallets and creature designs mean that although similar, things will never be truly the same between planets. When you add to the mix more exotic planets, which are harder to stumble upon, this can keep tickling your curiosity gland for quite a large period of time.

Observe, a procedurally generated rock, that resembles a cute animal

Still, there are quite a few improvements that can be made in regards of the planets. Again, they are not as interactive which is a huge shame(though it is technologically justified). Although very beautiful, they do not have as diverse of terrain or biome generation. It would have been great if there were, say, different scenarios you could encounter of the planets, or even simpler things like different mechanics for the weather(now toxic, frost or heat only deplete a different meter) or diverse biomes on the same planets. 

Thankfully, there are lots of other things beyond exploring(get it, “beyond”?) that are in play, which can and will pull you ahead and keep your interest high. On planets themselves, you can mine for resources, build bases or explore the planets for special artifacts and buildings. Mining and crafting have been very streamlined, which only improves the game, in my opinion. Now its super easy and fast to craft basic items such as fuel, for example, meaning you will spend less time rummaging through menus. Base building is also very easy and you can create quite the structures on land or in water, if this is your jam. Interacting with creatures has been expanded and you can now ride and milk them, thus living out the dream of being a space redneck

Not milking this one, that's for sure

The things above are, like, half of what you can do in NMS. You can be a space trader. Or hunt for pirates. You can own a fleet of ships and send them on different expeditions. Or raid other fleets for valuable resources. 

If you get tired of this, you can get into the storyline. It is presented only through text(there is no voiceover in the game), but I enjoyed the writing a fair bit and wanted to learn more. It reminded me of the old Choose your own adventure books of my youth with its sometimes vague style and unclear but interesting choice options it presented to you every now and then. 

See, this is what I believe makes No Man’s Sky so gripping. None of the mechanics of the game are polished to perfection. All the procedural tech on Earth is still not a match for a hand-crafted world. There are better space combat games. There are better trading games. Even the base building can be outmatched by some titles. But throw all of this together and you get a game unlike any other on the market. It is a sandbox game in its purest form. Nothing is pushing you much in any one direction. More than two dozen hours in, I have something that only barely resembles a homebase. I never got into trading. I enjoy being an explorer, going to new worlds, meeting new aliens and trying to understand their language and culture. But if I wanted to, I could easily become that renowned space Rockefeller. Or I could milk aliens till the real universe ends. 

In To-Do's list: 1. Rebuild the Empire. 2. Destroy the Jedi. 3. Avoid sand!

Similar to the Bethesda games of their glory days, No Man’s Sky throws you into its vast world and lets you do whatever your heart desires without truly punishing you if you ignore a certain path. Bear this in mind, however, as this can be a turnoff if you are not into that sort of games. If you like your game to have more focus, be more tight, Beyond isn’t for you. You will not unlock a special item if you gather one million Ferite Dust. There are no huge bosses that wait for you at the end of a black hole. Most of the things you get are essentially toys, they serve a specific purpose and that is all. If you are OK with that(e.g. you enjoy thinkering in sandbox games), Beyond provides. And what it provides are countless hours of adventure, fun and beauty. The stars shine bright for this one!