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No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky: Foundation Update Impressions

The first major update from Hello Games changes the way the game is played, but is that enough?

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The negativity surrounding No Man's Sky following its long awaited release in August has been unparalleled. Clearly the game didn't live up to the expectations that some players had, and clearly a number of things were missing from the final product that had been promised in the lead up to release.

There were many ways to look at No Man's Sky; a definite case of the glass half-full or half-empty. Some ignored the missing bits and enjoyed what was there. Others couldn't enjoy what was there for all the things that weren't. And a third group saw what was there, but weren't overly impressed. Hello Games has a long road ahead of it if it's to convince the latter two categories of player, and the recently released Foundation Update is the first step on what promises to be a long road ahead.

As you boot up No Man's Sky anew you'll now have three choices on how to play the game. The normal experience, which is largely the same as it was when it launched. The Survival mode, that basically makes surviving much harder and requires the player to constantly manage their resources and grind away. And then there's the Creative mode that basically strips the game of resource management and challenge to allow the player to explore freely and build from the get go.

It should be said that neither of the new modes truly alters the core of the game, rather it provides the player a choice of how much grinding they want to endure. We've started two survival experiences and it certainly put us to the test. The first time we were spawned on a fairly hostile frozen planet. In survival mode your hazard protection and life support runs out rather quickly so you'll need to work from a sheltered position, mine for resources, and slowly build yourself up so you can make the trek to your spaceship. In this case we spawned about 10 minutes from the ship. The planet had decent amounts of iron, but it wasn't a great piece of rock by any means, and other important early resources seemed scarce (such as Plutonium).

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Playing through those early missions and getting off the planet, something that could easily be achieved in half an hour previously, is now something that takes hours. We later rolled a new survival experience, this time spawning a bit closer to the ship, but on an equally hostile rock, this time a superheated one. Having to find refuge in caves to normalise the temperature, this rock proved a bit more generous with resources (we didn't have to go all the way to the deposit to find Herodium). Nevertheless, there was plenty of grind.

Clearly, this more challenging mode will appeal to some players. It requires a good understanding of the game, and it punishes risk taking. There is, however, no permadeath, and instead you respawn at your latest save, even if we think there are some penalties with regards to your equipment and resources, mission progress is not reset.

But this grinding is something that the update also addresses. Mainly thanks to the base building features, the ability to farm and grow resources, as well as automate resource mining from deposits. As you pick a home planet you're now able to build a strong economy, something that alters what your main objective in the game may be. Clearly as the game launched, the one objective that felt important to players was to make it to the centre of the galaxy, and you would move on as soon as you could, but now there's an alternative as you'll be motivated to cultivate and build on a planet that is suitable. This is also something that offers many interesting future scenarios, potentially allowing for alliances, a player-driven economy, and more. The addition of player-owned Freighters (something we haven't dabbled with ourselves yet) certainly lays the foundation of potential trade federations, and a deeper, more engaging economy.

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At the opposite end of the spectrum is Creative mode, where you start with a working spaceship, and everything you need to start building your home base. To be honest, it feels a bit pointless, but it can be an interesting way of exploring the new systems before you're really put to the test in the Survival mode. It's also a great way for younger players to enjoy the game, free of the need to gather resources and sidestep the perils you encounter as you play. As for building, it's easy and accessible, and hopefully over time Hello Games will add more modules and more ways to customise them, allowing for greater player expression. Indeed, more building types is something that would make the game more exciting on the whole.

One thing that is really hard to judge from a single or even multiple playthroughs is how the tweaks made to the procedural algorithms impact the game. Hello Games have made changes here, and on paper they appear sound, having fewer barren planets, more lush ones, some planets that feature more buildings than before. In fact, reading the patch notes, it would seem as if many of the small issues we've had with No Man's Sky (buildings placed under water, for instance) have been sorted. Still, the first building we entered when playing the patched game had plants clipping through the floor. Understandable in a procedurally generated game, but still something that Hello Games should work to eliminate.

The studio has also addressed a number of "quality of life" concerns. The inventory system the game launched with probably caused more cursing than any recent presidential election. While spending time in the inventory should be encouraged in a game like this, there was just too much of it before. Now you're able to stack materials in a slot, so that you can have up to five carite sheets in one slot, and you can also beam items to your ship at any point. It's still not perfect, though. You still need an empty slot to craft, which means that as you're crafting carite sheets to repair your launch engine you'll need a total of three slots to craft the seven sheets required (in Survival mode). It would have been so much easier if you could have just crafted an additional sheet straight onto the pile, as you now have to move the sheet after having crafted it in an empty slot. The main issue with the inventory has been sorted, but it's still far from perfect. The quick access menu also lets us spend less time in the inventory, which is great. Oh, and the patch notes also serve up another welcome tweak: "Removed atlas pass v1 requirement from doors in stations". Thank you.

So where is No Man's Sky now on its path towards redemption? We'd say it's further along than we thought, however, don't expect the base experience to be all that different. Hello Games has plans for further free updates, and with the Foundation in place, we're hopeful that there will be more meaningful gameplay to experience in the future, along with more varied worlds to explore, and potentially even some meta features that will allow players to interact with each other more easily.

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