Looking back to the release of No Mans Sky last year, it’s hard not to think of Hello Games’ much talked about space exploration epic as anything other than a burning wreckage on the side of the road. in reality it’s a story we should be more familiar with – A meteoric rise in interest, insane levels of hype and some slight dishonesty on the part of Hello Games means that it was almost destined to fail and if you’ve been around the block for a while in games media you’ve probably seen this story before. Daikatana, Spore and many others were victims of the exact same fate that No Mans Sky suffered. So when the game finally landed on the alien planet of gamer culture its landing gears cracked and fell off in orbit and sent the burning hull of Hello Games screaming down to earth with a bang. People were angry. Angry about the skeletal, bare bones experience of the game, frustrated that it promised the world and didn’t deliver, and bitterly disappointed with Sean Murray of Hello Games specifically for not being honest. And while the game was certainly disappointing, the whirlwind of criticism surrounding Hello Games last year reached a fever pitch that was difficult to watch. Anyone in tune with the zillions of Reddit threads on the topic at the time was either joining in the with their own flaming torches and pitchforks or couldn’t bear to look at the carnage.
However, unlike the aforementioned Spore and Daikatana, No Mans Sky has the power of digital distribution on it’s side. Time can heal all wounds these days and it’s easier than ever to fix a flaming car fire of a game posthumously. A year has passed now and while the vitriol has subsided the wound still remains. People may not be so angry but they haven’t forgotten and even though the trailer for the new 1.3 Atlas Rises update certainly raised some eyebrows, some people were understandably wary. In its 1.3 Atlas Rises incarnation, No Mans Sky is almost entirely a different experience. It’s still as grindy as ever, and if you’re not a fan of mining numbers for hours you may want to give this planet a miss, but 1.3 brings with it an embarrassment of riches in terms of features. Just take a look at the gigantic patch notes for this release and you’ll see how much work Hello Games has put in to fixing their broken work. Redeeming much of the game’s missteps has done a lot for the quality of experience in No Mans Sky and while the poison hasn’t totally been neutralized the game now feels much closer to what Sean Murray and Hello games initially had in mind. Skyrim in space might sound like a nasty comparison, but it nails a sense of wanderlust that was previously hindered by the avalanche of nothingness that seemed to make up much of No Mans Sky’s release day content.
One of the best additions to the game from the impressively grand change log is just raw content. The original release had you hopping from planet to planet hoovering up resources and upgrading your suit but not much else. Aside from a story mode (with a horrible cop out ending) it was easy to run into walls of boredom. It didn’t just look unfinished, but people were actually able to figure out that actually, it was virtually unfinished. That’s changed now, especially as most players will be returning to No Mans Sky after ignoring some of the smaller patches between this one. Now there’s base building with individual quest lines to follow. There’s a greater variety of planets to explore and the land generated from the procedural generation now looks more beautifully alien than ever before. Huge frigates and freighter ships warp into view in space and have grand, majestic space battles with pirates. There are economic ratings between systems to aid in resource trading and a danger level of systems exist now making it possible to stumble into places where you’ll need to have eyes on the back of your ship if you want to survive. With more to do inside the procedurally generated worlds of No Mans Sky, Hello Games have managed to squash the worst offending complaint with the original release – boredom.
It does this in a really simple way – a way that you wouldn’t have thought woulf fix anything but it just simply does. Amidst all the busy work, all the mining and scanning and building, all the long hauls between trade routes you chose to undertake, all the NPC’s and base building you’ll throw yourself into, you’ll just stop to reflect on the precipice of a huge mountain and stare at the neon world stretching ahead of you, with all the weird and wonderful creatures roaming in the distance, and a trifecta of space ships screeching overhead. It’s here that the beauty that this game creates will really hit you hard. You can dig down deep into depths of mysterious neon blue caves with craggy rocks and strange plants, and find the exit on the side of a sheer cliff face, below you an impossibly bright and winding river, snaking away into an invisible horizon. By recontextualizing the downtime, No Mans Sky has eliminated its boredom by sandwiching those moments of chill with a whole lot of stuff to get on with. By providing some sense of purpose, they’ve made a much more compelling and addicting experience.
This begs the question, then: Does Hello Games deserve a reprieve for continuing to build this game into what it should have been? It’s easy to argue that it should have released in this state in the first place, but as indie studios that were in Playstations good graces, it’s not that easy. With all that guaranteed pre-order money rolling in on day one, you could have half expected them to take their bag of loot and run while Sony covered their asses. But since that hasn’t happened, it’s entirely possible that No Mans Sky can avoid becoming 2016’s Daikatana or Spore by force of pure passion alone. Was the internet wrong about Hello Games and about Sean Murray?
It’s still light years away from being what it promised, and bugs still plague what is otherwise an incredibly addicting, compelling and beautiful experience, but currently it’s looking like a kind of pastel coloured Skyrim in space. For players that were turned away on launch day, now might be the best time ever to get back into exploring the galaxy. With quite a few patches already passed, it’s almost an entirely different game in 2017 than what it was on release last year – almost certainly worth a fresh look with an open mind.