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We go off-world with No Man’s Sky NEXT: our first impressions of this major update

Going into No Man’s Sky with fresh eyes is a difficult task. Carrying with it more baggage than the vast majority of modern titles, Hello Games has supported No Man’s Sky more than any reasonable person could have expected. With four major updates in its two years of life – each free of charge to its already disenfranchised would-be fans – Hello Games seemed to create good will out of seemingly nothing, offering itself the window for one last chance at success.

That chance culminated in No Man’s Sky NEXT, a generic name for a decidedly exceptional event in modern gaming. Joining Final Fantasy XIV as one of the few titles to return from disgrace for another shot at the big time, Hello Games has presented its game with a suite of frequently requested features and tweaks for absolutely no cost to its fans.

The new and improved version of No Man’s Sky, compared to the original version of the game from 2016, is in many ways barely recognizable. The game now defaults to third-person mode, and has a considerably different new player experience. Instead of starting the game already at your ship and being told to repair it in order to leave the planet, you’re placed in a random location and are encouraged to go out and find your ship on your own.

The change to the beginner experience helps to hone in on the best thing that No Man’s Sky has going for it: a sense of discovery. No Man’s Sky thrives when the player is completely clueless. It asks its player to wander the world in search of whatever new and interesting thing they can discover on the horizon.

This being the game’s focal point was initially something of a bad thing. When players felt like they’d learned everything there is to know in the game, the sheen of the game’s procedural generation wore off. This is where the game’s base-building options come into play.

Added in one of the first post-launch updates and improved upon heavily in No Man’s Sky NEXT, base-building offers the game something to encourage players to continue playing past the point that they feel they’ve discovered enough. While my first day with the game has only seen me dig into the basics of base-building, it’s clear that it adds a considerable level of depth to the game.

After I managed my way through the idea of getting off-world, I found myself in the space station located conveniently near my starting planet. Unlike my first go around in No Man’s Sky in 2016, this station was comparatively bustling with life. Alien life was everywhere, from random NPC’s (Non-Playable Characters) to representatives from “Guilds” – one aspect of the game that seems like it could make up part of No Man’s Sky’s deeper gameplay experience.

So far, most of what I’ve found as far as NPC’s – and the services they provide – are concerned has been out of my reach. It’s unclear exactly what they do and when I unlock them, but it’s that uncertainty that has always been a selling point for No Man’s Sky.

Dropped into a massive world with no idea what to do, I can’t help but enjoying myself. While it won’t necessarily appeal to all players, No Man’s Sky delivers on feelings of discovery and experimentation that the gaming industry as a whole seems to have largely forgot about. For those who already own the game on PC or PS4, I feel confident in saying that these changes are absolutely worth returning for.

For the Xbox audience, receiving No Man’s Sky for the first time with the No Man’s Sky NEXT update, I’m still on the fence. With what seems like most of its features still out of my reach after only about 8 hours logged into the new and improved game, I don’t feel comfortable making a final verdict yet as to whether or not this game is worth the $50 asking price.

After I’ve sunk more time into No Man’s Sky, I’ll be returning with a full review to try and put a bow on this two-year-long work in progress. In the meantime, to the Xbox users who make up the majority of our audience: I would advise you to keep an eye on this game.

From what it seems like, the soul of No Man’s Sky is unchanged: It’s a game that drops you into the deep end and asks you to figure things out for yourself. If that seems appealing to you, then No Man’s Sky is likely worth the price of admission for its new player experience alone. Otherwise, keep an eye out for our full review next week for a comprehensive look at the game’s more robust player retention systems.

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