Having played No Man’s Sky since launch day, I’m what you’d call a veteran of sorts. I’ve warped more times than I’ve had hot meals, weathered countless inhospitable planets, and farmed the most exotic alien plants there are to find.
When NEXT arrived yesterday in a maelstrom of resurging hype and renewed interest, I jumped in excited to see what Hello Games had been up to for close to a year. With hundreds of hours on my main save, I thought it judicious to experience NEXT from the beginning of the game as so many first timers are. I gingerly navigated the main menu. Spent a couple of minutes admiring the now iconic loading screen where countless unexplored stars whirl past, knowing I would probably never explore the overwhelming majority of them. Then, No Man’s Sky NEXT achieved something very few games do.
I spawned on a verdant ocean planet. Azure seas stretched as far as I could see save for a few scattered islands sprouting lush red grass, which waved lackadaisical with every gentle burst of an errant breeze. A strange orange hue hung in the air amid the coy cries of a group of horned mutated mammal-like creatures grazing quietly a few meters away. They moved in unison, as would a herd. I raised my PS4’s right stick, and a ringed planet entered into view, majestic in its dominance of the firmament. The sun was slowly setting in the distance, and I was immersed, knowing I would likely invest many an hour into NEXT. It felt like a new game.
NEXT reignited the same sense of wonder and excitement felt when first firing up No Man’s Sky way back in August 2016. Uncertain of what to expect and unfathomably excited to explore, I was genuinely stirred by the epic soundtrack as I ventured forth across a planet no human being had ever seen before. NEXT was like a deja-vu on steroids.
Visually, the game is miles better than it has ever been. The dynamic clouds, the 1970s sci-fi novel-inspired tint draped across every solar system, the terrain textures and the small changes to structures, ships, and NPCs; the amalgamation of these is a thing of beauty.
Brand new elements and crafting mechanics inject a much-needed sense of renewal for long time players as do the harsher survival requirements of the early game. These changes feel strange at first, almost counter-intuitive to the hard-earned muscle memory of countless hours of play. Getting stuff done is significantly harder in NEXT. Simply fueling your ship becomes a challenge in itself, which at first felt frustrating, but ultimately meant I spent more time on each planet, exploring and discovering the features that made them unique.
Visiting a bustling space station packed with NPCs with an actual purpose is also a moment of absolute awe for someone accustomed to the claustrophobic and lifeless interior of past builds. The inside used to feel incongruous with the grandiosity of a monolithic space station, yet now it all makes better sense. The scale seems appropriate.
Smaller changes are where a veteran player gets their fill. Quality of life changes like the ability to tag inhabited structures with a scanner may seem inconsequential to a novice but are a veritable boon for the weathered traveler. As do nanites that no longer take up valuable inventory slots, upgradeable tech, rejigged buying/selling at space stations, or the previously mind-boggling ability to build anywhere.
Animations such as sliding down embankments and the smooth third person movements are expected from novices, but impress veterans by how polished they are. With only a handful of hours under the belt, I’m confident the update is packed with similar gems just waiting to be uncovered.
As for the main feature, bar a few connection issues here and there, multiplayer is a resounding success. There’s something profoundly bonding about sitting eyeing an alien landscape with a buddy. Hello Games have captured a shared sense of purpose, and it permeates the co-op experience. Every action is for the betterment of the group. Battling together all the hardships No Man’s Sky can throw a player’s way feels like a momentous shared achievement.
NEXT has its share of bugs (try scanning a flying creature, and you’ll see what I mean, it’s nigh on impossible), but so do many fresh updates. Sean Murray confirmed a hotfix patch is already available on PC and is awaiting certification on consoles.
NEXT is about scale. Hello Games have honed in on the details, spent time tuning the finer things, extracting the ungainliness, and adding depth to a game that could sometimes be too vast to explore fully, yet too shallow to accept we couldn’t experience it all. No Man’s Sky is often a game about letting go of the developer’s guiding hand in search of personal meaning. NEXT gives us far more to play with as we embark on our unique journey through an infinite universe.