After wandering across close to 40 star systems in No Man's Sky, I finally found a planet to call my own the other day. It was a tropical planet with lakes, oceans, and little dinosaur-like herbivores. It was humid and prone to superheated rainstorms, but at least it wasn't a toxic death ball loaded with high-security drones. I set up my new base on a ridge overlooking a pleasant lake.
That's about as close as I can come to summarizing where No Man's Sky is at two years after its original release. The Next patch has brought with it multiplayer, freighters, and character customization. Most are lauding it as the game that it should have been along. But for me it's all about finally having a home in Hello Games' vast galaxy.
Multiplayer is clearly the biggest story here, as it's been something that fans have been requesting pretty much from Day 1 (and have been pissed that it wasn't included in the first place). Even without "true" multiplayer, players have still found ways to interact with each other in unique ways over the past couple years, such as styling themselves as tyrannical overlords who overwrote other players' bases. Social media has been filled with people meeting up, building bases, and just generally having fun.
And that's great. I'm a proponent of being able to play in any way you want, and clearly multiplayer was a popular request. But after spending a few days trying to get Caty in a game with me, I've largely given up on the idea of co-op. If the last few days have shown me anything, it's that I'm actually a bit of a space hermit.
My new home planet is in a distant arm of uncharted space. My base, as far as I can tell, is on a totally abandoned world. My only companions are my pet dinosaurs, a pair of overseers who run my command consoles, and a local drone that periodically scans me, but otherwise never tries to start trouble (thank god). In space, I have my freighter—the MR-V Nahel Argama—and two frigates that I periodically send on missions.
My time has been spent shuttling from planet to planet completing missions, gathering resources, and building up my base. My list of errands has rapidly multiplied, which has led to several sleepless nights carving up minerals, crafting, and shuttling back and forth to my freighter. It's quiet, but my little neck of the galaxy nevertheless feels alive and interesting even without the presence of other human players.
The solitary mood my game evokes feels in keeping with how No Man's Sky was at launch. As originally conceived, No Man's Sky was a sort of lonely pilgrimage across space—a game that cast you as a vagabond looking to find some sort of spiritual fulfillment. If not for the fact that the actual exploration was largely boring and pointless, I might have liked it. I was certainly kinder to it than most in my original No Man's Sky review.
But players didn't want an introspective journey across the stars. They wanted, as far as I can tell, a first-person EVE Online. They wanted a thriving online universe with epic multiplayer space battles, galactic trade, and co-op. They thought they were getting a massively multiplayer game with endless possibilities.
The game they got wound up disappointing pretty much everyone. Fans found, to their horror, that No Man's Sky didn't really have multiplayer at all, despite what they took to be assurances to the contrary from director Sean Murray (fans took a lot of Murray's quotes and spun them into what they wanted to hear). Instead, it was a solitary grind-a-thon that largely petered out after 15 hours.
Like most people, I bounced off it pretty quickly after launch. Having upgraded my ship and made it to the Atlas, I found that I didn't have much else to do. Why even bother upgrading my ship if I was just going to shuttle from one randomly-generated planet to another? I was fascinated by elements like the seamless transition from space to the atmosphere, but it wasn't enough to keep me playing.
At the end of my review I expressed hope that No Man's Sky would one day reach its vast potential, and to its credit, Hello Games kept at it. Multiple updates fleshed out the basic gameplay with rovers, bases, and the first traces of real multiplayer. They added structure to a game that badly needed it.
To be sure, there are still elements of No Man's Sky that annoy me. The combat still isn't all that great, and the crafting is often time-consuming. Even simple actions like fueling up my ship for takeoff feel like they require one step too many. It's not as acute now that I'm properly settled in and have a good handle on the different systems at play, but it can still be tedious at times.
Going forward, I'd like No Man's Sky to further flesh out its quests and introduce more meaningful combat without forcing me to turn to outright piracy. I've fought enough drones and space pirates to last a lifetime. I'd like for the scope of the battles to get much bigger.
But for now, I've got my planet, my freighter, and my herd of dinosaurs. I've got a whole system to explore and a planet to colonize. Even without the large-scale space battles, No Man's Sky has managed to keep me plenty busy, at one point throwing in a multi-part quest that revolved around rescuing another traveler like myself.
At some point I may seek out other players, but I doubt it. I'm that frontier settler who growls at passing cowboys, "Looks like you ain't from around here." I find the solitary work of mining and building up my base soothing. I could hang out in Discord and chat with friends while we play together, but that's never been my style. And thankfully, that seems to be just fine in No Man's Sky.
In my mind that makes No Man's Sky's even stronger. The galaxy is now alive, encompassing many different types of players and objectives. It's come a long way in the past two years; and after the successful launch of the Next update, I have no doubt that there's still more to come.