The tale of No Man's Sky is fascinating. This enormously ambitious game comes from a tiny Guildford studio, previously known for Joe Danger. Excitement swirled out of control, regrettable things were said during interviews, and people were losing their minds. When the game launched two years ago, it all came crumbling down. Expectations were largely unmet, and a despicable barrage of abuse forced Hello Games into hiding to quietly work on updating and improving what was, in all fairness, a perfectly fine space exploration experience.
You mine resources, upgrade your equipment, make your fortune, and travel the galaxy of procedurally generated worlds. No Man's Sky has never been without flaws, but the sheer scale of the project hasn't lost its impact, and neither has its wonderful retrofuturistic sci-fi style. However, for many, it was a hollow game that lacked a hook, a reason to keep going. Hello Games has broadened its creation multiple times with a vast amount of new content; the Foundation update brought base building, Path Finder added ground vehicles, photo mode, and way more besides, and Atlas Rises introduced a huge narrative element.
With the NEXT update, the game now finally has a feature players have been clamouring for: true multiplayer. Up to four players can team up, and it lifts the experience. If you're playing with friends, exploring strange planets, building a base, and flying through space together can be a lot of fun. The ability to share resources and embark on missions makes it a co-operative affair, and while it's harder to co-ordinate with strangers, a handful of gestures means you can still make an attempt at communication. You can, if you wish, turn off multiplayer altogether, meaning nobody can enter your game, and you can continue in peace.
You can also now play in third person, on foot and in flight, and with that comes a raft of customisation options. You can choose your race and select your outfit from various helmets and suit parts, with presumably more to come in future updates. It's a small addition, but a necessary one now that travelers can finally play together. It also adds a nice new wrinkle to the game's presentation, which has seen some big changes. There is now much more variety on planets, with vastly improved topography, bodies of water, flora, and fauna. Ringed planets are at last included, even making space more visually appealing, and ships are now much more detailed. More NPCs populate space stations and freighters, making the galaxy feel more alive. We've always liked how No Man's Sky looks, but it's far improved from launch.
Unfortunately, the NEXT update has brought with it some performance hiccups. Flying at high speed in space, and flying to or from a planet, can cause some momentary freezes and audio stuttering. Hello Games has already set to work on a patch, which should hopefully improve matters, but for now it's a little choppy. Resources on planets now feel a lot more balanced, but equally, the crafting mechanics feel rather convoluted, especially if you've not played the game for some time. The start of the game has been totally overhauled and does introduce things nicely, but if you jump into the deep end after having not played for a while, you might find that materials and crafting recipes are surprisingly different.
This is all in service of a better, more involved game, however. The oddly compelling core loop is there, but there's more stuff to do, and more ways to do it, than ever before. You can now build bases wherever you want, command frigates from your freighter to go out on missions, and enjoy stunning sci-fi vistas with your pals. People who didn't gel with the original game may still find the moment to moment gameplay lacking, but the truth is that NEXT, along with the other updates, has changed No Man's Sky dramatically, and now's the best time to hop back in and give it another shot.