The version 2.0 update for No Man’s Sky brings with it new multiplayer and VR options but how much do they really change the game?
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for developer Hello Games. The launch of No Man’s Sky has gone down in video game history as one of the most disappointing ever and they (along with Sony) deserve plenty of criticism for encouraging people to imagine the game was something other than it was. But at the same time their response to the problem has been exemplary, with endless free updates and no attempt to deflect the blame onto anyone else.
And yet despite all the additions and improvements the game is still primarily known for what it wasn’t at launch, rather than what it is now, and it seems increasingly unlikely that will ever change. Although if it does it will be because people are instead talking about how fun its multiplayer and VR features are – as they’re the primary addition for this latest milestone update.
The Beyond update is promoted as the version 2.0 release of the game, although thanks to some post-launch bug-fixing (there were a lot of crash bugs in the first few days) it’s already up to 2.06. But as with last year’s Next update, no matter how many new features and improvements the update layers on – and there are a lot – there’s almost no change to the underlying gameplay loop, and that is still going to be an issue for both new players and old.
One of the big mistakes with No Man’s Sky’s initial marketing was not making it clear what kind of game it was before launch. There were no hands-on previews and everything was left very vague as to what you actually do in the game. The flippant answer to that question is ‘not much’ and it’s true that in terms of traditional gameplay No Man’s Sky often seems shallow and repetitive. And yet the experience can still be thoroughly compelling despite its many and obvious flaws.
The simplest description for No Man’s Sky is a space trader, in the style of the original Elite, with elements of survival games such as Rust or Don’t Starve. You start after crash-landing your spaceship, with no clue as to who you are and how you got there. The various updates have added a more structured story element, including sub-quests and many more aliens to talk to, although they still feel like animatronic extras in a universe that is otherwise devoid of intelligent life.
Depending how you feel about your fellow humans that has now changed though, thanks to much more robust multiplayer options. To be fair to them, Hello Games never promised a very complex multiplayer experience, but now there’s a new area called the Nexus that works much like the social spaces in Destiny, allowing you to meet other players and organise multiplayer missions or just pop by to visit a friend’s home base.
The Nexus can host up to 16 players but only eight can play together in the same universe, although that increases to up to 32 on PC. The chances of meeting anyone at random are still remote but any improvement is welcome and certainly for friends wanting to play together the option is perfect.
To get anywhere in No Man’s Sky you need resources: to create the fuel needed to travel between stars and to power your ship’s other systems, as well as that of your spacesuit and multitool (a combination gun, resource gatherer, and scanner). You’re also free to sell gathered resources for cash at trading posts and space stations, for a hopefully healthy profit. Unlike most other survival games your hunger is not an issue, but if your suit’s ability to compensate for extreme temperatures or toxic atmospheres aren’t maintained the effect is the same.
Unless you purposefully encourage it, combat is fairly rare and when on-foot it’s based almost solely around the mysterious sentinel robots that patrol each planet, and which get upset if you cause too much damage with mining or other general destruction. The gunplay remains very flat and not at all exciting, but the space combat is more interesting. Your weapons always feel a little wimpy but the controls are good and dogfighting is tense and enjoyable given that you’re almost always outnumbered.
As well as the multiplayer and VR additions there’s also a range of other miscellaneous extras that Beyond brings with it, including new tameable creatures that can be used either as mounts or livestock (dairy or meat). The options for building your base have also multiplied, and now include automated factories and the ability to program features into the game yourself, with Hello Games’ having already managed to create a working version of Rocket League.
We’re sure the programming will lead to even more unlikely creations in the months to come, even if it’ll only be used by a very small percentage of players. But what also has a limited audience, albeit it for a different reason, is the VR mode. Fans have been hoping for the option for years and now it’s here it’s every bit as immersive as you’d hope. Exploring distant plants on foot or peering around the cockpit of your spaceship is the stuff of science fiction wet dreams, even with several notable issues.
The first is that viewing the game in VR makes the graphics look very blurry, at least on PlayStation 4. This seems to be purposeful, to keep the frame rate up, but it’s very noticeable for anything in the middle or far distance. Such are the limitations of the PlayStation VR though, and there’s similar problems with using the aging Move controllers. Apart from the awkward menu system they’re generally preferable planetside but they become all but useless when flying your ship.
By comparison, the DualShock isn’t ideal for anything but it’s a more well-rounded option and we found the default teleporting movement system to work very well. On a hardware level it’s easy to find fault with the VR options but the fact that the game suits VR so well overrides those concerns, at least for us. We’ve never enjoyed No Man’s Sky as much as this before, even while we sit there wishing it did so many things differently.
The problem with No Man’s Sky is that it still doesn’t have a coherent answer for that most basic of questions: what do you do? On a gameplay level there’s very little here but if you impose your own goals onto it then it can be a fascinating and engrossing experience. It’s certainly not what we were hoping for our expecting at launch, and it probably never will be, but it has evolved into something we can recommend with increasingly fewer caveats.
No Man’s Sky Beyond
In Short: Like everything to do with No Man’s Sky, the VR and multiplayer additions aren’t without their problems, but this is still a clear step forward for the constantly evolving sci-fi epic.
Pros: Enormous game world is even more fun to explore in VR or with friends. Competent space combat. Excellent art design, interesting new customisation options, and fantastic ambience.
Cons: No change to the core gameplay, such as it is, and the aliens, both intelligent and otherwise, are still little more than background details. VR options are limited by current hardware.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £34.99 (currently £15.99 on the PlayStation Store)
Publisher: Hello Games
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: 14th August 2019
Age Rating: 7
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