The Longest Journey
HIGH The years of constant dev have paid off.
LOW Bugs and glitches blocking progress are too common.
WTF The Starbirth quest is almost literal torture.
Given current tech that affords developers the ability to fix, patch, and rebalance a title after launch, I often say the best time to play anything is at least six months (or even a year) after release — player feedback, bug cleanup and extra content can do wonders for some titles. With this in mind, I’m hard-pressed to think of something that’s benefited more from this than No Man’s Sky. I’ve started and quit it multiple times since its debut in 2016, but the last four years of time and attention have polished it into something more interesting and welcoming than it’s ever been.
In its current state, the player begins No Man’s Sky as an astronaut of sorts who wakes up without knowledge of who they are or where they’re from. They must quickly repair a nearby ship and gather resources for survival. From there the experience is as open and freeform as a player wants it to be, but a key difference from past iterations is that the tutorials are simpler and the resource systems notably more streamlined.
Underpinning everything is the idea that No Man’s Sky is about collection and crafting –exploration just happens along the way. No matter what the player chooses to do, they’ll find they must harvest everything around them on every planet – in short order they’ll have containers of oxygen, carbon, sodium, hydrogen and a dozen other materials and elements that serve a variety of purposes including life support and item creation. While this has always been the case, I was struck by how less onerous it is — it’s now simple and quick to get most tasks done.
No Man’s Sky also unfolds its various systems at a slow, crystal-clear pace– things like base-building, building a fleet, farming, and so on. After putting 8 or 10 hours in, I was still learning new things, but this is not a complaint — I appreciate that nothing was rushed, and thanks to this measured pace, I had a strong grasp on content that would have been overwhelming otherwise. Of course, anyone who doesn’t want to go through the tutorials (disguised as missions) can ignore them and fly around the universe at their own discretion. But, for players like me who crave objective-based play, this new orderly entry into No Man’s Sky was welcome and did a great job of onboarding.
Once a player is versed in the systems and done with the structured content (about 40-50 hours’ worth) No Man’s Sky offers much to self-motivated players. Those who enjoy setting their own goals can build a huge headquarters overlooking alien vistas on any planet, amass a fleet of starships to perform lucrative missions, collect a garage full of snazzy craft for personal use, engage in infinitely-generated quests for friendly aliens, work collaboratively on multiplayer missions, and more. In a loose sense, it’s a bit like Minecraft in space and many things are possible.
Regardless of whether someone is more interested in the structured or the free-form side, No Man’s Sky offers truly stunning visuals at every turn. The spacecraft sport clean designs and some attractive asymmetry, structures exist as large, blocky shapes suggesting enigmatic mysteries, and the photo mode turns nearly any moment of play into a jaw-dropping masterpiece suitable for framing – or at least as a fab desktop wallpaper. I became a photo-snapping addict, and my PS4 hard drive is full of planetary rings, plasma trails, spaceborne fossils and more.
While No Man’s Sky has come a long way since its original incarnation, there are still some things to be wary of. Apart from storytelling that left me wanting despite a great late-game reveal, the code is still rife with bugs – some are just visual hiccups or odd quirks, while others are severe enough to halt quest progress and require combing through online message boards for help. For example, I wasn’t able to complete an endgame quest because a necessary location marker wouldn’t appear, and multiplayer integration made key items in “Starbirth” impossible to see until I turned it off. Those were the worst examples, but there were many other instances where something glitching out shattered my immersion and had had me running to Google for workarounds.
While I’m sure developer Hello Games is still tweaking things and perhaps even creating more content for No Man’s Sky, the current state of affairs is a strong one. This galactic opus still offers an infinite amount of content for those who want to lose themselves among the stars, but now also contains a concrete throughline that will satisfy a wider array of players. It can be irritating at times, but it’s also full of stunning moments and the satisfaction of building a virtual life among the stars.
Four years after launch, it’s finally a journey worth taking.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Hello Games and published by Sony. It is currently available on PS4, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 60 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed in the sense that all structured quests were finished and one of the ‘endgame’ quests were completed. The entire game was played with the online multiplayer enabled.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a space-exploration game in which players assume the role of a planetary explorer on a quest to reach the center of the universe. From a first- or third-person perspective, players travel between systems to explore alien worlds for resources, to upgrade equipment, and to discover unique life forms. As players pilot spacecraft to different planets, they can engage in space combat against enemy ships and space pirates; combat is accompanied by laser fire and large explosions. While on the planet surface, players can use a variety of gun-like weapons and melee attacks to defeat alien creatures, human-like figures, and robots. Ground battles can be frenetic with frequent laser blasts, explosions, and screen-shaking effects.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no voiceovers, and all info is relayed via text onscreen. Text cannot be altered or resized. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.