No Man's Sky NEXT finally got me to take the plunge

As far as gaming redemption stories go, there are few that are as incredible as that of No Man's Sky. Developers – and more specifically excited studio leads – mess up all the time when it comes to hyping up a game, but few did it to the astonishing degree that Hello Games founder Sean Murray did with No Man's Sky. Most of you likely remember just how bad the fallout from No Man's Sky's botched launch was, so for brevity's sake, let's just say that it was abysmal, with many eager gamers left feeling like they'd been duped by a design lead who overpromised at every available opportunity and severely under-delivered.

I was definitely one of those people who were excited by the promises Hello Games made before release, but I stopped just short of actually buying into the hype. I decided to wait until launch to see if all the hype was justified (which, if we're being honest, wouldn't have been possible anyway given how excited people were for this game), and once reports of an incomplete and shallow experience started hitting, I promptly forgot about No Man's Sky and was happy for the $60 I saved on what amounted to a mess of a game with plenty of controversy following it.

As a gamer, making the decision to not buy No Man's Sky was one of the easiest I'd ever made. Though my job here at SlashGear means that I've encountered the game a few times over the past two years, I never really had the desire to actually take the plunge and see if it was any better than it was at launch. Then Hello Games started advertising NEXT, and slowly that began to change.

As I read more about NEXT, I rekindled an interest I hadn't felt since before No Man's Sky released. The update sounded like it was going to be really good, and largely change the game for the better. We've been through this song and dance before, though, and I knew that if there's one thing Hello Games and Sean Murray are really good at, it's marketing. So, once again, I decided to wait until after launch to see if NEXT was any good.

The day NEXT launched, I spent some time watching some streamers on Twitch play through it. I read through new posts over on the No Man's Sky subreddit – which has often been the largest source of criticism for the game and its developer. I read articles that were mostly positive from other sites to get a handle on what had changed and whether or not No Man's Sky was closer to the game we were sold in 2016. It certainly seemed like it was, so I took advantage of the 50% off sale Steam was running and decided to finally give the game a try, after resolving to not do that exact thing two years ago. So far, I'm glad I did.

Granted, I don't know what the No Man's Sky experience was pre-NEXT, but I've seen enough gameplay and heard enough stories that I can sort of figure out just how significantly this update has changed the game. From the eyes of a total newcomer, No Man's Sky seems to be in a very good place at the moment. I've managed to put about 30 hours into the game in the time since I bought it, and I've been having a complete blast with it.

Obviously, I never played No Man's Sky in its original state (or after any of its previous updates for that matter), so comparing and contrasting is something that's pretty much impossible for me. I can, however, say that No Man's Sky in its current form has provided a wonderful experience so far, and it's one that few games have managed to match.

There's no lack of games that allow you to craft your own adventure by exploring, building a base, and gathering the resources you need to survive, but No Man's Sky does it while providing a constant sense of wonder. Exploring the galaxy around you and looking for oddities is something that's addictive, and the difference in the planets you'll visit can be quite extreme at times.

"Procedural generation" is a phrase that's often used as a buzzword in the gaming industry, but in the case of No Man's Sky at least, it's a tool that's used to great effect. Planets, in my experience, are different enough that landing on each one is an exciting experience, and once you're on the ground, the core loop of exploring, scanning wildlife, and collecting what you came for is satisfying.

I can see that gameplay loop getting stale eventually, but for now, it's one of my favorite parts of the game. It always feels like each planet has secrets to uncover as well, whether you're looking for buried technology modules to help your research along or you're trying to find abandoned outposts to make a quick buck by stealing eggs from vicious monsters. There's a reason to land on each and every planet you'll encounter, even if you only spend five minutes there before taking off and never visiting again.

Base building is also something to seems to be done well in NEXT, but I'll admit that I haven't walked very far down that path yet. Still, what I have unlocked in terms of base building makes continuing that quest line and building out my base – which is located on a planet that has broad-leafed trees, deep ravines, periodic superheated rainstorms, and red grass – my core objective at the moment.

I feel like I've just scratched the surface of all of these different systems, whether it's planetary exploration, owning and operating a fleet of frigates, base building, or galactic trade. There's a lot left to discover, and I'm looking forward to taking a deeper dive into all of it.

However, for as much as I've been enjoying NEXT, there are still some points where it struggles. Multiplayer, for as much as it was hyped before NEXT actually came out, doesn't seem to be anything special. Indeed, multiplayer feels largely like a single player mode where others come along for the ride, so much so that the people I started playing No Man's Sky with more often just start up their own single player games and occasionally join mine to see how my base is coming along.

It's disappointing, because there's the potential to do a lot more with multiplayer in No Man's Sky. As it stands, I don't feel like I need other players to succeed – I'm just as capable of surviving on my own as I am in a group. It's really nothing more than a novelty at this point, but hopefully it's a feature that Hello Games will flesh out more as time goes on.

Beyond my disappointment with No Man's Sky multiplayer, I also have to say that I have almost no interest in the main story arcs. Maybe that's something that'll change later on down the road, but for now, none of them are particularly gripping. I know a decent amount of work has gone into the story over the past few years, but in the end, No Man's Sky feels like Skyrim, where the main story is only the backdrop to the real meat of the game.

Still, there's enough here that the $30 I spent on the game feels like money well spent, and I'm looking forward to having No Man's Sky in my library for times when I just want to relax and enjoy exploring. We'll see if that changes as time goes on and I get deeper into the game, but for now, No Man's Sky is definitely worth checking out post-NEXT. That I'd be recommending No Man's Sky is something I never thought would happen, so that should speak to the amount of work Hello Games has been putting into making this title better.