Quite soon after launch, No Man’s Sky was written off by all but those devout players that stuck with the game. However, the maligned title is back with a bang, thanks to a significant update from developer Hello Games that gives No Man's Sky something of a significant overhaul.
It's an update that, in the eyes of many, was desperately needed. When No Man's Sky arrived, it saw a backlash from expectant gamers that has rarely been seen in the industry. Although the game did offer an entire universe to explore, the title had a mixed critical reception that quickly descended into anger from players that wanted more than the somewhat simplistic crafting gameplay could provide.
Before long, this reaction turned into something more substantial, with No Man's Sky subject to refunds from major retailers. The cause of the anger has been the subject of much debate since, but it stems from the suggestion that pre-release No Man's Sky oversold expectations versus reality. However, rather than hiding from the criticism, Hello Games got to work.
There have been plenty of free updates for the game since launch, with Hello Games tweaking the title to try and improve the overall experience for its player base and perhaps bring truant gamers back. However, No Man's Sky Next is by far the biggest of the bunch. In fact, it's perhaps the closest the game has been to what was expected at launch.
So what has changed with No Man's Sky Next? The biggest change is that the title now has true multiplayer. It was one of the biggest criticisms of the game at launch, with users hoping to be able to come across other players in the title's mysterious universe. When that didn't happen, the space explorers in question were left disappointed that there were unable to even see each other.
Over time, this was improved bit by bit, but No Man's Sky Next delivers the biggest jump of all. Up to four players can team up to take on the universe, sharing out missions and teaming up for dogfights, and players can even choose different races to play as. It certainly breaks up what could be a monotonous experience in single player, although some elements still feel a bit like a chore - particularly when hunting down those rarer elements required to move forward and discover new planets.
Indeed, this central gameplay loop of crafting is relatively unchanged. Thankfully, Hello Games has cut down on the complexity of the gathering gameplay that takes up the core kernel of play. However, there are still things that could be improved here - after all, gamers can drop down to the Creative mode to play a mode without resource gathering, but that cuts off such important updates as the Atlas Path found in the Atlas Rises update. In short, a little bit of middle ground would have been nice.
With No Man's Sky Next, though, it amps up those diversions available in the game that help make that crafting feel less important. Something that really helps in this regard is that the variety of planets, and what is found on them, has vastly improved. Although the launch game had 18 quintillion planets available to find, players were dismayed to find that the procedurally-generated flora and fauna didn't give much variety from world to world. Thankfully, this has got dramatically better, particularly when it comes to species AI, with things feeling much more natural and crowds of creatures moving more like actual animals.
There are other minor updates that help improve the overall quality of the game, too. A choice between third and first person is a neat option, albeit one that doesn't do much outside of user preference, while the game is prettier than ever, with enhanced models and additions such as asteroid rings. Although style was never much of a problem with No Man's Sky, it's another area of enhancement that helps the game feel like much more than its initial form.
The big question regarding this update is whether it allows No Man's Sky to finally reach those levels that gamers wanted prior to release. However, becoming that game is most likely impossible. No Man's Sky was a project of shifting desires, a Rorschach test into which expectations were thrown that the title could never reach.
That said, No Man's Sky Next is probably as close as the gaming world is going to get. Those with a tolerance for crafting as a progression method will find it much more palatable this time around, while those elements of the title that did work at launch, such as its spellbinding atmosphere, have also been improved. As such, those who were at least enticed by No Man's Sky's charms initially could find something here.
However, it's worth pointing out that it's not an entirely new game, and its central gameplay has not changed significantly. Hello Games has done a solid job with these multiple updates, and those who come into No Man's Sky afresh will find a lot has changed - and perhaps that's enough to undo the notoriety that the title has picked up so far.