Last weeks’ No Man’s Sky update brought a whole host of new stuff, including highly-anticipated vehicles. While some of the additions are awesome, others feel undercooked. It’s more of a game than it’s ever been, but I don’t totally know if that’s a good thing.
No Man’s Sky after the Path Finder update is beautiful. Colors have been punched up, and the textures improve the details of the terrain, creatures and aliens, especially detail on alien skin, and the ambient lighting both in and out of doors. Describing it sounds like a list of minutia, but if you’re just returning to the game every new world looks like a paradise. I hadn’t actually realized the colors used to look muted and that the textures were muddy until I saw the game the way it is now. With the improved lighting, all the colors really pop, but especially reds and oranges, which were previously less saturated.
Base building has also been fleshed out, with plenty to reward players, like me, who really give a shit about interior design and architecture. There’s a new economy, nanite clusters, which you can find in bases or as rewards for talking to aliens. You can use nanite clusters to buy new blueprints for your base. Some of the new blueprints include colored lights, decals and glass-walled observation domes. If my habits in The Sims are any indication, these changes were always going to be 100% my shit. As I played, I got lost in base building, as the new options create structures that have diversity in the look and feel of bases. As much as I like Brutalist architecture, I’m glad Hello Games has now given me the option to make things out of wood.
However, these differences are all aesthetic. You can add new alien technicians to your base, which do give gameplay benefits, but I find it strange you can’t sit in a chair. I built myself a bed and walked over to it, hoping to at least sit down on it. Spoiler alert: you can’t lay on beds or sit in chairs. Not all players need or want this, but for me, not being able to interact with these objects makes them feel like filler. What’s the point of making them at all if I can’t do anything with them?
The Exocraft vehicles are arguably the most exciting part of the update, but unfortunately they feel a little underbaked. These newly added cars were something that players have been waiting for since release. In order to get them you need to be able to recruit a particular kind of alien for a particular kind of position in your base, relying on the most fun mechanic of all time: randomness. After a host of resource management tedium, I found the actual Exocraft disappointing. Sure, they’re useful for getting around, but they’re also finicky. The Roamer is the free, default Exocraft, and it also sounds and controls like an RC car. I appreciate the extra inventory space, but after tooling around with the vehicles for a bit I realized I’d rather just use my ship to get around. Not only was my ship more familiar to me, it handles better. Even after roaming around a planet with the speed-oriented vehicle, the Nomad, in creative mode, I found myself thinking, well, my ship can fly.
The ships have also been overhauled, giving them discrete classes and ratings. On the one hand, I do love having an S-ranked something to work towards as I trudge along collecting resources. On the other, there’s a part of me that wishes it was all a little more mysterious. While No Man’s Sky was definitely not as full or complete a game upon launch, I loved that it could surprise me. Finding your dream ship in a space station, not knowing when you’d see that particular kind of ship again, was a thrill. Agonizing over whether it’s worth the credits, comparing the inventory size and upgrades felt like real, tangible choices. Now it feels closer to ticking off boxes on a checklist. Having some of this information obscured made shopping for a new ship in a space port more fun. Now it feels like bringing a CarFax print out to a used car salesman: it’s helpful, but boring.
For me, the best part of the update is the new Photo Mode. Part of what I loved about No Man’s Sky upon release were the moments the sun hit from just the right angle so the red grass on a newly-discovered planet glowed. Photo Mode lets you recreate these moments, or build them yourself. You can change the position of the sun, the time of day, the amount of fog and clouds, and the depth of field. You can even throw a filter on top—I’ve been partial to the Vintage filter. Now that the game looks so good it’s hard not to want to take pictures all the dang time.
There’s parts of this update that seem like stuff for the sake of stuff. I know that I am the dissenting opinion—in fact, most players seem to really like all the additions with the update. But as I gathered nanite clusters and rode around on my Exocraft, I was struck by how I mostly seemed to be collecting resources to have more stuff, for no other reason than because the game offered me no other goals. It made me remember playing No Man’s Sky at release. While the game then was janky, repetitive and empty, the lack of a concrete goal for play made meandering around planets feel refreshing. Other players have always wanted more structure to the game, and the Path Finder update brings structure by the truckload. It’s just not for me.