No Man's Sky: NEXT

"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." ~ Douglas Nigel Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

Thanks to Alfred PR for the code for this one!

Question: How can you review No Man's Sky: NEXT, even after over 85 hours of game play?

Answer: I don't really think you can do it justice even after all this time.

Version reviewed: Xbox One (X)

The NEXT step

In terms of No Man's Sky: NEXT, or NMSN as I'll be referring to it for the rest of the review, space is around 18 Quintillion planets big. That's a lot; a mind-numbing number of worlds that are using maths to generate them in a procedural universe. Maths is the cornerstone of Sean Murray and the 15 strong (or so) team that make up the developer known as Hello Games.

NMSN is an ambitious re-launch of a game that was not the game at launch that many folks hyped it up to be, and rather than get into the past, I think we'd rather look forward to the future and what's been accomplished so far up until now, so before we do that, here's a brief run-down of things that have changed post launch.

A lot!

NMS launched in 2016, there have been three very large updates and numerous patches to the game on the PS4. The updates have always added substantial features to the game, and if you go to the No Man's Sky website: https://www.nomanssky.com/ here, you can see for yourselves just what went into Foundation, Pathfinder, and Atlas Rises.

Then followed No Man's Sky: NEXT which represents the next evolutionary step for the game, and a huge project for Sean's tiny team. NEXT is patch 1.5 and provides a glimpse as to where NMS is going, and also a landing platform for the game's launch on a console that we kind of hoped to see the game land on: the Xbox One and the big brother of that system, the Xbox One X.

NMSN is huge for Hello Games in that regard, and Microsoft. The game has massive potential, a potential that both Sean and Hello Games feel hasn't been reached yet and as a reviewer/gamer, I'm right there with them in that regard after seeing Sean's recent interview with IGN. NMSN remains one of the trickiest games out there to review, and even after sinking about 90 hours into NMSN I'm still not confident that I can do a review of the game justice.

Game Modes

NMSN has several ways to enjoy the game, and the rules differ for each mode.

Normal: A chill exploration experience that's probably recommended for very new players, the stakes aren't all that high and you'll possibly die a couple of times before you get the hang of something I call: the Long Walk.

Survival: Introduced to me by DM-21 Gaming, this mode is the best way to play the game if you want a good amount of challenge and you don't want NMSN to feel like a 'cake walk'.

Permadeath: Like Survival, only if you die, that's it... game over.

Creative: You have no limits in the game, you can buy anything, explore anywhere and there are no building costs - good for making screens and generally messing about.

There's also cooperative play for up to 4 players, with the rest seen as glowing traveller orbs as in Atlas Rises. We'll talk about that cooperative multiplayer and other Network features later on in the review.

The Premise (Story time)

There's a story going on here, about existence, simulation, and all that. It's not a story that sits well with some folks, and I can't say it's all that well written. It's oddly jarring to see it in No Man's Sky to be honest and the delivery of the textual parts of Atlas Rises always slams me out of the immersion of the game due to its reliance on 'choose your own adventure' narrative elements.

I've written CYOA books, I know the style when I see it, and I can in some parts understand why they use that style of writing in No Man's Sky.

Some folks will find it cool as hell though, and if you're one of them, awesome.

The First Steps

So, you wake up on a highly dangerous procedurally generated planet with no memory of who you were, how you got there, or what you were doing prior to being thrust into a resource gathering fight for your life - which catches some folks out if they've never played the game before. Take it easy, break down what you need to survive first. Look for red plants (oxygen) and orange plants (sodium).

You'll need these to recharge your life support (red), and thermal protection system (orange) before you do much of anything. Whilst you're doing this, you're going to want to mine rocks for ferrite dust and follow the simple tutorial missions that the game throws at you to get the basics repaired before you head off to explore this very dangerous world you've been thrown onto.

If a storm hits, find shelter in nearby caves or you're dead. Storms will chew through your thermal protection like a warm knife through butter. Once you find your ship though, and repair it, you're off to the stars and adventure.

Space Adventures

The best way I can describe NMSN is that it's an arcade-style space adventure, with lite-survival elements - a game that was never meant to be a 'hardcore' survival game in space, something that you can dip your feet into before you try the more challenging ones on the market (Not many of them about space yet). It's a game made for a subset of fans that want to be galactic explorers and are thrilled by even the tiniest changes in a planet's ecosystem or physical design.

If you've always wanted to 'Boldly Go', then NMSN is pretty much the game for you. It offers a near limitless universe of possible places to explore and things to see. There's always something new on the horizon, but be warned, procedural generation isn't going to always create something that'll blow your mind. The systems in play here are complex, and they'd take a thesis level document to describe in detail. That's not somewhere I'm going to go, you'll be glad to read, but it's something to bear in mind. Maths creates interesting things in NMSN, but it can also create a slew of things that are similar in many ways.

Procedural generation is still in its infancy, even with something as staggering as NMSN. So you might see variations on alien life, or ships, or planets, and they might not be as amazing as they were a few days ago.

That said, it's still impressive stuff, and NMSN is the only game on the market doing this at such as scale - and Hello Games are the only team doing this as well.

What do you do?

I've been playing with, and watching, DM-21 Gaming for the last few weeks and a lot of folks come into that stream when BW's been playing NMS (and later Next), asking the fundamental question: What do you do in this game?

It's a good question, and the answer is as simple or complex as you want it to be.

You do what you want.

NMSN throws a bewildering number of things at you over a very short amount of time, it doesn't really ease you into any aspect of the game, and if you're not careful you can feel thoroughly overwhelmed if you're a brand-new player to the title. Once you're off that first murder-planet and into the vastness of space, you're given very little in the way of pointers beyond the Awakenings storyline that throws you in at the deep end and offers you access to most of the cool gear you'll need to keep exploring in the changing universe of No Man's Sky: NEXT.

You can explore, you can make money by trading, and you can be a space pirate and prey on various ships that ply the space lanes. You can create outposts, tiny bases, shacks, complex buildings and more. You can follow the story; you can ignore the story and take shots of varied alien life on toxic, radioactive, frost-bound, desert, and numerous other worlds.

In short, as I said back up there, you can do what you want.

Heck if you want to make a comic using NMSN's engine, you can, there's even a screenshot filter that lets you turn everything into a comic book style.

See: here...

The Star Chronicles of Bob!

There's even more to do once you get on a planet, you can mine it for resources, you can explore the overground, underground, underwater, and fly over every mile of it. Just expect that to take a long-long time, because Hello Games have made planets in this game huge. You'll find structures, abandoned buildings, crashed ships, freighters, and more hiding away on mostly every planet in the game.

You can upload these discoveries to a database and earn Nanites (the game's second form of currency used to get upgrade modules and blueprints). You can scan minerals, flora, and fauna and earn Units (money) to spend on new stuff, new ships, and new gear.

You can spend time exploring the space stations, talking to various races, changing your appearance at the new appearance modifier stations.

Want to upgrade your Exo-suit to the max, you can do that; just expect to spend a lot of Units to do it. General and Cargo slots max out at 48. Tech slots at 14. They get progressively more expensive as you buy them and the Cargo slots can cost 1 million Units per slot.

You can also spend your days making a cool base and staffing it with a group of side-quest giving NPCs that reward you with new tech and new things for you to experiment and use. If you build the circular room foundation that is, something the game doesn't' tell you, so we have to...

Build that and you'll unlock the base-building sub-quest that introduces you farming, and more.

You can own a freighter (which you'll get for free) and build a fleet of frigates from the ones floating about in space. Then you can send these ships off onto their own adventures from the command room on your capital ship. It's similar to how Black Flag did it and it's not a deep system, yet it's one that will bring in rewards if you invest time and Units into it.

To recap: you can do pretty much anything you want in No Man's Sky: NEXT and this is all in single player (if you turn off Network features in the menu).

Network Features

If you turn on Network Features you'll open your game to friends and random interlopers. No Man's Sky was a lonely game, and it still can be if you want to play solo. Play with friends and randoms, and you've got a wholly different experience that is quite cool.

However, don't think that NMSN has MMO-style or MMO-level multiplayer - this isn't multiplayer as you might think it is. It's drop-in/out cooperative play that has been designed for a bunch of friends to chill and have space adventures together.

Not a 16 player, everyone can see everyone else, and build a utopia experience that a lot of us were hoping for.

You and 3 friends will see each other, see each other's structures and be able to create things together - or just fly around being space pirates/space buddies. Everyone else will join as the Atlas Rises Traveller orbs for now, until Hello Games are confident and happy that they can get just 4 players stable and working right.

At the moment, things are highly unstable in terms of cooperative gameplay when you host a game for friends. It seems OK-ish when there are 2 players in your server, you and a buddy, but if you go to 3 or 4 then the fun starts.

We've been plagued by: random disconnects, de-synchs, laggy and downright unresponsive network play and more. We've had soft lock crashes, hard lock crashes that required a restart of the game and numerous problems that kicked us from different sessions.

Hello Games still hasn't fully fixed these yet, as of patch 1.54 we've still had issues with warping together on our freighter bridges. Sometimes it works, other times the player is kicked from the ship into space and left to watch their friend warp off into the distance and a new star system.

The good news is that HG is patching this game a lot, and eventually they'll iron out the problems. However, to be realistic - Eventually is not now and many of you are bothered about the here and now, not what's to come in a few weeks or months patch wise.

When the game's working fine though, it's a fun and enjoyable experience where you can team up, explore, do what you want with friends and be the space buddies on your Battlestar Galactica adventure, or Star Trek, that you wanted to be.

I was able to join a friend's game, fly to their planet, take my advanced character and drop them some resources - I even built them a quick shack so they could shelter in there when a storm hit. I've read accounts of random players dropping in to save newbies who are lost in the first few hours of the game.

There's potential here that's a long way off, but I can see, rather like the trail of a warp engine, a glimmer of that in the game that's NMS: NEXT.

Another issue that I'd like to see addressed down the line, base creation, at the moment you need to be with a friend to see their base. I tested this on Creative, we built a base together, me and Kai Takeshi from the game group known as ChaoS Xtreme Gaming, formally Madhouse - when Kai isn't online, I can go to where our base should be, but no base shows up.

It would be nice if we could have it so we can see other people's bases when they're offline.

That's how it sort of appeared to be pre-NEXT with base sharing, a feature that seems to have vanished from the game's menu after a recent patch.

If you can't see a base whilst the owner is offline, it sort of defeats the idea of cooperative base creation and community hubs like the planned DM-21 Armada and more.

Changes and Evolution Continues

There's a lot more I could say on NMSN, a lot that's happened, changes since the launch of NEXT and patches that have fixed issues - created more - and shifted the focus away from making money early game with farming. These changes won't suit everyone, especially the farming, since the time that certain plants take to grow now can be expressed in 18 hours and so on rather than a few hours and 35 minutes for some.

Liquid Explosive for example can make up to around 8 million Units if you have the right setup, this happens once per day since the grow time is now extended by a significant amount.

This game isn't static, it's in flux and once Hello Games can sort out the glaring issues that it has: bugs and all, they'll add features and evolve the game once more beyond what NEXT promises.

Combat

Space combat and ground combat have received an overhaul, but the ground combat still feels sludgy and lack-lustre. I feel there's room for improvement in this area, and in space combat, which is decent but still lacks the punch of some of the other space games.

Just Another Bug Hunt

No, I'm not talking Biological Horrors: Just don't touch the eggs, OK?

I'm talking bugs, big ones, glaring ones, ones that ruin the game for a lot of people and devour saves. I lost 85 hours of progress at the moment to a big one that chewed up my save file and spat it out. I seem to have an issue with landing pads, if I build them, and use them, my game hard locks. This is brand new post 1.54 since I didn't have that problem before that patch.

Games are evolution, and evolution comes at a cost, the cost in this case was an 85 hour save that I can't use (at the moment) until the game's patch comes out that hopefully sorts my issue. If not, then I'll have my other save where I've been lucky to get some monetary donations from good friends who have end-game items they're willing to give so you can sell them on.

My point is though, that shouldn't be the case. They shouldn't have to come in, throw down some goods, and get me back on my feet.

Base building is glitchy, terrain fills into previously excavated bases and doors vanish on some of the more complex builds. Some parts don't interact with others; the modular base building parts don't snap to the new stand-alone parts and don't interact with them barring landing pads and a few other select pieces.

There are frequent crashes and various bugs that encourage cheating, such as the ever-present triple refiner glitch that lets players dupe items. Including high-economy items that sell for 15 to 18 million a time, in that case, what is the point to farming and so on?

You only have to look at the NMS website to see the patches that HG are rolling out, good on them too for doing it and I really hope they continue this level of support.

My caveat with this game: expect bugs and expect issues if you buy it.

The Aesthetic Appeal and Movement of NMSN

NMS: NEXT improves the graphics of NMS considerably, there are new textures, new ringed planets, and new levels of detail across the board, and visually it's a very appealing game. It's great for making beautiful screen shots that can be quite breath-taking. There's first person view, and a new third person view that shows off the rather solid animations that are quite impressive. There's a lot of detail here.

The Sound of NMSN

Sound design is decent enough, but there's still room for improvement, there's a lot of similar sounds in NMSN. Especially when it comes to the creatures, they tend to sound the same, and ambient sounds that fill planets with life are missing. Where are the chirping birds or odd creature warbles of minor fauna for example?

There's a way to go until it brings up the immersion factor using sound design.

Music

I like the music to the game, it's different in design to how it was previously and that's a pretty cool change for me. I loved the old music, but the new tracks that play now and then do support the visuals and on-screen action. Some of the alien planets are brought to life with the aid of this music and it works.

Voice Work

There's not really any voice work to speak of in terms of dialogue, it's all text based, some of its dry and the only voice work is that of the various alien noises that the creatures make and your exo-suits ever-present female metallic whisper in your ear as you start to run out of life support and thermal protection.

The Final Frontier

No Man's Sky: NEXT is a complex game, which in many ways feels like a tech-demo still in development for long-time fans. For new fans, players on Xbox who are coming to the game for the first time, there's a lot more here to see and enjoy. In fact I'd be happy to say that this is why the game's getting the 'score' that I'm giving it. There are a lot of factors to take into account, a lot of things that are wrong with NMSN and a lot of things that are great for new players.

NMSN is a game for a new generation of NMS fans, more than it is for the old guard who supported the game right from the get-go. After talking to some of them, they're all of one mind, it feels like NEXT is for new players ...

Yet I still feel a gleam of hope that the game will eventually turn out for those fans, turn out to be the game they want it to be.

It's not there yet, there's a lot to fix, a lot to work out, a lot to change and even more work ahead for Sean and his small team.

I'll be interested to see where it goes, what happens, and still enjoy playing the game. I'd like to enjoy it with friends, but at the moment, with those Network bugs, it's just not as fun as I'd want it to be.

There's a lot more I could say, but... that's for another time.

Ad Astra Hello Games, keep on flying, keep on dreaming, keep on travelling, and keep on evolving No Man's Sky!