No Man's Sky is not the same game it was when it launched in 2016. The PlayStation 4 generation has seen the emergence of evolving software, and Hello Games' ultra-ambitious space survival adventure is a shining example of that. After enormous excitement, what we had on day one failed to live up to expectations. While the sense of wonder was there and the potential was clear, the game rang a little hollow for most. Over four years later, countless improvements and additions mean it's now something worthy of your time.
With the launch of the PS5 version, No Man's Sky has another substantial update, and it hits home how far it's come. Playing in 2020, the core experience feels much the same; you're still surviving procedurally generated planets by mining resources, upgrading equipment, and flying from one star system to the next. However, there's much more built around that for you to delve into. Since the 2016 launch, Hello Games has added character customisation, multiplayer, freighter ships, base building, optional missions, ground-based vehicles, mech suits, far more on-planet sights and events, and more varied flora and fauna. Yes, you're still travelling through an enormous galaxy, and reaching the centre is still the main story's end goal — but there's now so much more to do besides.
Almost like Minecraft, this is a game in which you get out what you put in. Wandering around on barren worlds waiting for something to happen, you're bound to get bored, but with simple goals, you're never short of things to do. The introductory stages of the game are now more direct, and do a better job of getting you acquainted with the basics. However, you're also shown things like base construction and the Anomaly — a multiplayer hub — within the first couple of hours. You're given freedom to do what you like, but at the same time, the game encourages you to explore all your options with various quest lines and objectives. If you want to see as many planets as possible and reach the galaxy's core, great; if you want to build a huge base and farm everything you'll ever need, that's viable too.
However you decide to play, the game has a complex economy with lots of resources to find. Playing the regular mode, it's definitely a slow burn as you gradually upgrade your suit, multitool, and ship. Much of your time in No Man's Sky is spent scanning planets, mining colourful crystals, and crafting better stuff. This is typical survival gameplay fare, but it can be a little tedious. Although refinements have been made to the menus over the years, working through them is still fiddly. There's a lot of information to take in.
Again, though, once you're past the early game and can reliably maintain yourself, there's plenty to be getting on with. Space stations allow you to buy and sell goods, trade with NPCs, and take on extra missions. You can go to the Anomaly and take on missions with other players. Of course, you can forge ahead with the main storyline. Everything is integrated pretty well, and there's no wrong way to play.
Alternative modes allow you to either up the challenge or eliminate it altogether. Harder difficulties include a permadeath mode, in which your save is wiped if you die. On the flip side is Creative, which gives you infinite resources to basically do whatever you like: build crazy structures, blitz across the galaxy, faff about carelessly with friends. We prefer the more balanced challenge of the regular mode, but if you want to just fly through the stars without a care, the option is there.
Granted, sometimes you do just want to take in the view. If nothing else, the game succeeds in its visuals. Inspired by old sci-fi novels, No Man's Sky is hyper-colourful and grand in scale. You won't have to play long to find an amazing view, either on the ground or in space — the locations you find are cool, and the game does a good job of showing them off.
On PS5, the game looks even better, with more detailed environments and colours that really pop in 4K HDR. It also benefits from smooth 60 frames-per-second performance, vastly reduced load times, and good use of the DualSense's adaptive triggers. Unfortunately the PS5 version cannot be played with PSVR, so you'll have to settle for the last-gen version if you want to have that experience.
A port to better hardware can only carry the game so far, though, and it still has one or two issues. Due to the procedural nature of the game, sometimes it can be difficult to find exactly what you want or need, and combat remains lacklustre. And while there is an awful lot to do, it can at times feel like there's nothing going on. You do have to find the fun yourself here, which is fine, but things can move along at a glacial pace. All that said, the game has come a very long way, and now is a great time to either jump back in for another look, or check it out for the first time.
No Man's Sky has made enormous leaps forward, and its arrival on PS5 is an opportune time to revisit this ambitious survival game. Whether you upgrade your existing game to the new version or grab it for the very first time, you'll be getting the best experience, with dozens of hours of content and a literal universe waiting to be explored. Some remaining gameplay issues mean it isn't perfect, but it has plenty to offer those who persevere.