No Man’s Sky in 2020

It’s been nearly four years now and I’m still enamoured with No Man’s Sky. You’d think I’d be bored really but nope, I’m not bored of it in the slightest.

I’m sure it helps that like a lot of games these days, it’s an evolving experience. Originally a curious mix of (the also excellent) Out There and a stranger, much much older approach to the open world game, it was a game out of time and out of step with trends. A larger debt owed to the original Elite, to Mercenary, to Tau Ceti and the likes than to the Ubisoft template employed by so many games.

Whilst No Man’s Sky never really transitioned to that template it has, over time, become a more gentle experience. No longer a universe filled with glorious nothing, it’s now inhabited by other people, a shared universe in a literal sense. There’s a hub where strangers and friends can meet, visit each other’s building works, share treasures and goods amongst fellow travellers as they’re passing through.

You can still happily ignore all that for the most part because the universe is enormous, because there’s enough room for huge amounts of people to continue to discover the undiscovered. Without accessing the hub you can go days, weeks, months without encountering anyone else. Or just flat out turn the multiplayer component off and never see another soul ever.

It’s a largely generous game with the exception of the tightly regulated availability of the Quicksilver currency, used for grabbing cosmetic extras. Elsewhere pain points are fewer, the recent missions to acquire a living spacecraft making for a notable agonising exception.

Sure, that’s all (bad stuff aside!) helped me want to stick with the game. I’m glad I got to play and enjoy the curio that the game launched as but I’m far more content to noodle within its spaces today. It’s generally just kinda nicer, you know?

And oh, it looks so much better too. Each major update has brought upheavals to the art style. It’s not *always* quite as coherent as it should be but it has become more and more something really quite remarkable over the years. Colours, props, the way the worlds are generated have been vastly improved over time. In 2020, it looks much more beautiful than it ever promised to be.

Again, again, I’m not entirely without complaints. The washed out colours of the creatures the player encounters on their travels has been a bugbear since the earliest versions. At least now they’re largely not just an awful shade of yellow more often than not but they’re still not great. The same often applies to the props too. I find myself perpetually longing for the flora and fauna to be more vibrant. (And we don’t speak about the atrocious rain texture either because dear me).

But mainly, it’s beautiful. Beautiful enough that I’ve racked up thousands of screenshots and still find taking pictures a joy. Beautiful enough that it can still leave me in awe, when I’ve surely peeked into every nook and cranny the game has.

That’s really something, thousands of hours spent inside its universe and almost four years since launch. It’s still impressing me.

The most enjoyable thing for me though (and I do appreciate this would also be the stuff that confounds some) is that many additions to the game exist with no grand purpose inside the main game. All terrain vehicles, futuristic motorbikes, submarines, living spaceships and most recently, mechs have little great utility beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and yes, yes, it would. If you want to accumulate a freighter, a bunch of spacecraft you can pilot, frigates you can send off to explore the stars you can. There’s even a bytebeat device that you can program to play tunes because why not.

That’s the thing I love in a lot of games and especially adore in No Man’s Sky. Popping things in there because why not? Because it seemed like a good idea, because it might be fun, because it might just look fine, because it might give someone (player or developer) a giggle for five seconds. All valid. All exciting prospects to me.

And I guess when it comes to the crunch, that’s the reason I’m still there, still tootling away in the vast universe that Hello have conjured into being. After 4 years, No Man’s Sky doesn’t feel any less of a dream game for me. Over time, it’s become more so. And so much of that more so can be traced to some folk sitting there in a room and going “I could put a mech in…?” and then putting a mech in because they can. And, of course, for the game being the eternal 70’s sci fi book cover generator I fell in love with to begin with.

Always that, yeah.