I spent hours playing No Man's Sky over the weekend. I wasn't charting new worlds or building up my base. I was trying to figure out why the waypoint for my base computer quest was in an entirely different star system.
With the help of a bunch of Google and our own guide to fixing the base computer archives bug, I finally figured out what I needed to do. But not before I questioned life, existence, and why I was spending so much time on a grindy, glitchy game that one snarky player on Twitter called a "fancy wallpaper generator." To be sure, it's now a much better game than it was back in 2016, but many of its biggest frustrations remain.
So after spending a solid 20 hours with the Next update, I feel a bit like ranting. I list many of my basic gripes below, and that's without touching on how annoying it is to get harassed by Sentinels on high security planets, or the frustration of hunting for specific resources. Our guides editor, Tom Orry, bounced off No Man's Sky because he spawned on a radioactive planet to start the game. That's procedural generation for you.
I've stuck with No Man's Sky to this point because I've enthralled by the basic concept: Flying around the galaxy, exploring strange new worlds, unraveling the mysteries of advanced intelligence, and making the stars my home. But god damn if this game hasn't driven me crazy at times. Here's what's jumped out at me.
1. Everything to Do With the Base Computer
It started when I tried to figure out why I didn't have access to a landing pad for my base. No Man's Sky is often murky about the nature of its mechanics, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the base building. I've been working on my base for the better part of ten hours and I'm still kind of hazy on how exactly I'm supposed to progress through the different blueprints.
Anyway, I eventually realized that I needed to progress through a quest called "Access Base Computer Archives." The only problem was that the waypoint was in an entirely different star system. When I went to that system, it transferred into my freighter. What the hell?
After some Googling, I realized that I had made the mistake of trying to complete the quest without having it selected in my log. The next several hours found me effectively playing the role of QA as I tried every solution I could. Most of the fixes involved calling my freighter into orbit, but every attempt my waypoint stuck in another system.
Finally, I figured it out. I flew to the system with my fighter; landed on a planet; unclicked the quest; built a new base computer; reactivated the quest, and the marker finally reset. All it took me was an entire afternoon of tinkering, some valuable resources, and fuel. Now I get to figure out why it's insisting on giving me Life Support B modules until seemingly the end of time.
2. My Constant Need for More Thruster Fuel
One of the reasons I'm so fixated on getting a landing pad is because taking off from the ground costs 25 thruster fuel (I've yet for find an add-on for my ship that reduces the cost). That means I get four launches before I have to craft more fuel. I've memorized the formula at this point: 1 Metal Plating (50 Ferrite Dust) and 25 Di-hydrogen. Both resources are plentiful, but because they have to be used for so many other items, I frequently find myself having to dash off to hurriedly mine some rocks before I can continue on to my errand.
It's more of an irritation than anything else, but it's symptomatic of a problem throughout No Man's Sky's design: Everything takes at least one more step than it needs. Yes, it's more realistic, but it's also more busywork. What does constantly gassing up my ship really add to the overall experience of No Man's Sky?
This ties into the constant inventory juggling. I get it: No Man's Sky is trying to simulate the limitations of space flight. But even with a freighter, a starship, an exocraft, two storage units, and deep pockets, I'm still constantly shifting things around. There's a point where attempts at realism cross the line into becoming a straight-up chore. No Man's Sky crosses that line. It crosses that line so much.
3. Having to Fix my Poor, Fragile Frigates
Speaking of everything having one step too many, there are No Man's Sky's frigates. Introduced in tandem with the (very cool) personal freighters, frigates can be recruited from orbit around most planets. Aside from looking cool flying in formation with your flagship, they can be sent on missions, whereupon they return laden with money and items.
Missions can earn you several hundred thousand credits a pop, making it very worth it, but if your frigate fleet fails, you have to manually repair your ships. This involves physically landing on the frigate, wandering around until you find an affected terminal, and using some resources to repair it. The requirements are random, so there's a decent chance that you'll land on your ship; get to the terminal; realize that you don't have what you need; realize that there are minutes of your life ticking away that you can never get back, and make a mental note to return whenever you have the item in question.
Of course, there's a chance that the requirements will change when you return, and that you still won't have whatever you need. And if you try to fix the terminals piecemeal, there's a further chance that your work will be randomly undone when you return. The only solution is to have tons of Gold, Platinum, Silver, Oxygen, and Ferrite Dust on your person at all times. Plan accordingly.
4. The Dumb Exocraft
Driving controls are well-established at this point. The trigger button should be used to accelerate your vehicle, the left thumbstick should be used to steer, and the right thumbstick should be used to control the camera. In no universe should the left thumbstick be used to accelerate and the right thumbstick be used to turn, but what's what No Man's Sky does. It feels like a deliberate and somewhat baffling callback to Mass Effect's infamous old Mako, which was difficult to fiddly drive at the best of times.
The Exocraft is meant to be an alternative to waiting thruster fuel on exploring your home planet (see Item 2). Over time you can upgrade it to include a booster, a laser drill, and a weapon, making it a proper little tank. But owing to how annoying it is to actually drive, how worthless the mounted weapon is against the omnipresent Sentinels, and how surprisingly slow it is, I often prefer to simply fly to wherever I need to go.
The final straw was the adventure that led to the image you see above. In the course of driving to an objective, I accidentally tumbled into an cave, which led me to spend a solid 20 minutes searching for an exit. Eventually I wound up underwater, my only escape being to boost myself up a slight ramp and launch myself up the wall. It was a fun, dumb, video game physics moment, but perhaps not worth it in the long run. My Exocraft has remained parked at my base ever since.
5. The Constant Gnawing Fear That I've Somehow Broken My Game
I mentioned that my frigates are a useful source of income, but aside from the irritation of having to repair them, I've been reluctant to send them out because I'm afraid I might end up breaking my save. There are seemingly a million ways to irreparably break No Man's Sky, and I feel like I'm constantly tip- toeing around all of them, wondering if there's going to come a moment where I just have to delete my base and start over.
Last night, I held my breath as I turned in a quest to my base's scientist, praying that I would get a Circuit Board blueprint so I could continue my quest line. I had read that the Circuit Board would sometimes fail to appear, making it impossible to complete the main base quest. Thankfully, I got everything I needed, but with my base computer spitting up the same model over and over again, it seems as if I'm not quite out of the woods yet.
No Man's Sky is a sprawling, intricate mass of co-existing systems complicated by its reliance on procedural generation. By its very nature, No Man's Sky is practically guaranteed to be buggy, and its inherent glitchiness is only made more acute by the attempt to layer complex quests on top of it. I understand that it's not going to be perfect, but that doesn't make it any less irritating when a damaged frigate spawns inside of a planet, or any less nerve-wracking when a quest fails to appear. Add in the often murky mechanics and No Man's Sky's chill flow is rapidly overtaken by the constant fear that something has gone wrong.
Which takes me back to the question of why I'm still playing it. Ultimately, I'm still playing it because there isn't a lot like it, and because I'm confident it will continue to improve with additional updates. I'm enthralled by its basic hook: hopping in a spaceship and exploring the galaxy. Just last night I stared out in wonder over a beautiful, frozen arctic landscape. It can be worth the boredom and the irritation, but such moments are fleeting.
Mostly, No Man's Sky is driving me kind of crazy—enough that I'm wondering why I'm putting so much time and effort into it. And for as much work as Hello Games is putting into improving it, I doubt that's going to change anytime soon.