Returning To The Universe

Got to hand it to Hello Games.  Despite No Man's Sky being a major thorn in their side of public ridicule, they kept patching and improving it.  It's quite a bit better than it was at release.

Is it perfect?  Well, there's still the annoying texture pop-in, and it's pretty much a grind of getting more minerals to power your equipment and build a lot of blueprints.  Space travel feels pretty weak, too, especially if you put it next to something like Elite: Dangerous or even Descent: Freespace; space travel in No Man's Sky is very rudimentary.  But this is about the worst I can say about it.

What No Man's Sky excels at is being a chill walking simulator of a practically infinite universe.  As such, most of the time you just walk around a procedural generated planet, scanning rocks, flora, and fauna.
It also plays well on ultra-wide resolutions, which is a plus.
Your backpack's resource needs are never off your back, so nearly everything you can scan is also able to be broken down with your mining beam (although the fauna tends to take it personally).  You're almost perpetually harvesting those things for resources.  Boom: the thing disappears, the resources get sucked up, and you're filling the depths of space with a string of minor endorphin hits.

Had enough of this planet?  Then jump into the cockpit of your ship, seamlessly rocket up into space, travel to another planet, or even another solar system.  Sure, everything's made up of parts you've seen on other planets, but so what? You're here to relax and have fun, and now you can.  The procedural universe is your oyster, so to speak.

There were essentially two big problems that left me thumbing down the initial release, and recent improvements have somewhat addressed those problems:

Is it deep enough?

The trouble with having such a huge backdrop that you expect players to play for so long is that the game mechanic suffers in a "mile wide but an inch deep" kind of problem.  Any complexity introduced adds some more depth to the game, hopefully graduating the player to a mildly immersive wade instead of an annoying ankle soak.
While these trailer videos do offer the best insight as to what improvements are to be found, they are also somewhat spoilerish.
For example, they've added several different kinds of inventories to your ship, backpack, and multitool.   This adds a bit of sophistication and freedom to the main means of progression.  However, it is clear that they wanted to keep things casual-accessible, so the progression in this space game is hardly rocket science.

There is now the ability to designate a "home planet" anywhere you visit, albeit only one at a time, and build a custom and useful base there, piece-by-piece.   You can go back and forth from your home planet via a convenient portal found in any starbase in the universe.  

Other major feature enhancements include huge freighter base ships that you can purchase, these let you keep multiple spacecraft.  There are ground vehicles now, as well as other frills earned by expanding your base.  There are mission givers at starbases, simple tasks with good and varied rewards.  There's also quite a number of important minutia added.

These kinds of additions really help!  Although, given the huge scope of the game, the depth is bound to run thin if you play it long enough.  It can still definitely get monotonous, and is rather a time sink.

Is it difficult enough?

When I played back near release, it eventually hit me that there was literally no opposition to worry about, as environmental hazards were trivial and the sentinels were easily banished.

Fortunately, they've added two higher difficulty levels to the default "normal" difficulty (and one easier "creative mode" difficulty which is essentially no difficulty at all).
The "survival" difficulty makes environments a little more hostile, and combat a bit more difficult, and death carry the sting of losing your inventory.  In practice, I've found which inventory you lose depends on what you were controlling on defeat: your exosuit's backpack when on foot, your ship's cargo when piloting the ship.

The other higher difficulty, "hardcore," is just survival difficulty with permadeath... I haven't played that, but I can see why that would certainly keep you on the edge of your seat!

So far, I have discovered that sentinels can still be banished by blasting them fast enough, which somewhat neuters the whole "wanted meter" mechanic.  Maybe that's for the best, as sentinels get harder to defeat the more there are.  Overall, playing in survival feels more difficult, and this translates to a sense of palpable gameplay improvement.

Some man's satisfaction.

I hope Hello Games keeps improving No Man's Sky.  What we have now is a thumbs up.  What I'd like to give it is a thumb WAY up.  To do that, they're going to have to continue to thicken up the depth and maybe fix that render engine to really take advantage of what a PC can do.
Oh, and if they added VR support with touch controllers, that would blow everyone's mind.  Add teleportation movement to being on-foot, let us hold our multitools and zap stuff.  That would be great.  Just putting that out there.


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