Let’s talk about No Man’s Sky. As you may remember, the game had a less than perfect launch, shipping as a procedurally generated space simulator missing a lot of its promised features. The promises made by Hello Games for rich planets, complex lifeforms, and endless possibilities were all absent.
Five years and 15 massive updates later, not only have all the missing features been added, but No Man’s Sky has evolved into a rich and enthralling universe. I firmly believe it is currently the best space exploration experience you can get from a game, and 2021 is as good a time as ever to give it a shot. Here’s why.
A whole new world
Within a week of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition‘s release, No Man’s Sky got a second Expedition update, titled Beachhead. Expeditions are Hello Games’ answer to DLC and battlepasses, and like all other content for the game, they are free. Each Expedition lasts two weeks, and includes a story path to complete objectives, earn rewards, and explore the galaxy.
If you’re anything like me and have spent obscene amounts of time conquering planets and building intricate bases, don’t worry. No Man’s Sky has had its share of exploits in the past, and Expeditions counter that by launching you as a new character with a handful of upgrades to speed things along. On top of that, all of the rewards you earn in Expeditions, primarily cosmetic, can be claimed on any previous save file. Expeditions effectively breathe new life into the game, and with each new one No Man’s Sky’s universe continues to expand.
Content in comparison
From launch to the most recent patch of No Man’s Sky, the game and the rules that it lives by to create procedurally generated universes have diversified immensely. The major updates so far are Beyond, Next, and Origins, individually introducing an expanded story experience, multiplayer stability, and some heavily needed changes to planet and fauna diversity.
These content drops put No Man’s Sky ahead of the curve in comparison to other space experiences like Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen and Space Engineers, which in my opinion have been somewhat lackluster. Star Citizen has been in development for nearly the same amount of time as No Man’s Sky, but offers little to no story and focuses on ships and isolated galaxies. Space games have always made grand promises of an endgame that redefines the genre, but few have hit the mark.
Most space explorers will tell you it’s not about the story that the developer gives you, but rather the one you make on your own. But to make anything your own, you need to be able to interact with it or at least understand it, and making games that are approachable and quick to pick up hadn’t really been a major priority for space game developers before No Man’s Sky came around.
Overcomplicated controls and mechanics, hefty system requirements, and unpolished gameplay can make the average space game hard to break into. Then there are secondary barriers, like price point and pre-existing knowledge. Star Citizen has high prices for just about everything. Ships can range from $50 to $800 USD, and the global marketplace is influenced by real-world money, adding yet another puzzle to solve to experience the game. Space Engineers mimics Minecraft but in space, and it requires a decent amount of knowledge on physics and engineering.
No Man’s Sky doesn’t put barriers in front of its players for the sake of appearing authentic or hardcore. You don’t need to fiddle with bad UI, you don’t need to hit the books, and you don’t need to buy a new computer or get a second job. It’s a game you have fun in, and the fun starts from the moment you pick it up.
The best of all worlds
Titles like Mass Effect are story-driven experiences that focus on narrative versus exploration, and it works for them. Other games go in the complete opposite direction, offering sandbox experiences where players are not bound to any sort of path or fixed gameplay loop, and instead must create the game around themselves through experimentation. In EVE Online you can engage in piracy, espionage, fraud, and mind-numbing bureaucracy all in the same session, and that’s what its players like about it.
There is a space game for every enthusiast out there, whether you are looking for a deep and complicated space flight simulator, or just want to mosey about the stars for a couple of hours. No Man’s Sky, however, is the perfect middle ground when approaching the genre.
By no means is No Man’s Sky a perfect game. To this day, it still has a plethora of bugs and glitches that range from minor inconveniences to game-breaking crashes. It has mechanical flaws, like the extensive exploits that players use to duplicate materials and flood the galactic market. And yet, leaving real-world money out of the equation and providing content drops for free has in my opinion made No Man’s Sky the most accessible and complete space exploration game on the market.