The Final Frontier

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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On the list of “worst possible scenarios”, being stranded in the middle of nowhere on an unknown planet with damaged equipment and no memory of how you got there seems like it would be pretty high up, at least in the top ten. At first, it would certainly appear that way, what with your life support systems being able to protect you for so long against lethal atmospheric conditions, the potentially dangerous flora and fauna, and the ever-watchful Sentinels ready to annihilate anyone that alters the environment in ANY WAY POSSIBLE, all while you are in desperately scavenging whatever you need to survive and repair your equipment. However, it will not take long before fear is replaced with the wonder of exploring an alien planet, potentially being able to see other planets and moons in the sky waiting to be discovered. Once your ship is repaired and you make your first jump into space, that is when the realization hits: you can go ANYWHERE you want and nothing (aside from resources) can stop you. Do you choose to wander aimlessly through the galaxy, taking in all that you can experience, or will you decide to make the titanic journey to reach the galactic core? In a universe like this, all of that is up to you.

Released in August of 2016 for the PS4 and PC, No Man’s Sky is a sandbox space simulator developed by Hello Games, the creator of the Joe Danger games. The game puts heavy emphasize on survival and exploration, creating a procedurally generated universe for the player to discover. While incredibly anticipated in the few years leading up to release, the title quickly became extremely controversial due to a very messy launch plagued with bugs, lack of content, and various other issues. As time has passed with a few major fixes that added in such things like base-building, more variation, and a genuine story, general opinion of the game has become gradually more receptive.

Players assume control of a faceless explorer that wakes up stranded on an unknown planet, with the initial objective to fix their equipment in order to survive, but the Atlas Rises update has added a little more of an identity to the player character, who is identified as The Traveler. As the player explores the stars, they can meet members of three different races of aliens. The Vy’keen are a proud warrior race that possess both a heavily rigged system of honor and an absolute burning hatred of the Sentinels, waging war across the galaxy in order to wipe them out, but are sworn to help you whenever they can; the Gek are a stubby collection of amphibians that act as shrewd merchants that value commerce above most other things, though their past holds a darker legacy; and the Korvax are immortal and sentient machines that value science, exploration, and almost opposite of the Vy’keen, accept the presence of the Sentinels and worship the enigmatic entity/deity known only as the Atlas. Among these three races, the player can interact with hundreds of procedurally generated individuals, but with the Atlas Rises update, a handful of actual characters join the cast and present a storyline that gives much more meaning to the galaxy and how the player can approach things.

While it may be the prettiest galaxy to live in and explore, that does not mean it is free from danger. From planetside hazards like hostile animals and dangerous atmospheric conditions to running into a space pirate ambush between worlds are only a few of the encounters that can threaten an explorer. The biggest threat in the galaxy comes in the form of the Sentinels, a robotic horde that occupies nearly every single planet in the galaxy. While passive for the most part and content to leave the player alone, they still cast an ominous presence by constantly patrolling around and occasionally stopping to scan their surroundings. The moment they see the player alter the environment in any way (harvesting a plant, killing a peaceful animal, etc.), they will immediately try to kill the invader with varying degrees of severity, with the highest alert rank signifying that not only are all Sentinal types now after the player, but that they will even chase them into space. This is not even factoring in how hostile the Sentinels are on any given planet, ranging from their default passiveness to attacking on sight. If one chooses to pursue the main quest, it will become apparent that the Sentinels are only a part of a larger mystery that several parties are trying to uncover…

While the exploration aspect is the main focus of the game, No Man’s Sky is still a survival game at its core. Armed with their trusty Multitool, the player will need to mine, harvest, and discover different elements in order to repair and power up their equipment. While they do have a limited amount of space in their inventory, the player’s ship and even their freighter if one is bought can be utilized as extra storage for the materials they have no room for, transferring them when need be. Once it comes to the exploring however, there is a lot to uncover. When it comes to newly discovered planets, plants, and animals, not only are each automatically entered into the log book when scanned, but they can also be renamed to the player’s liking and submitted for additional credits. Even when it comes to interacting with each of the three main races, the player cannot understand any of them due to not knowing their language. This can be slowly fixed by learning individual words to the languages, gradually making the dialogue clearer and easier to know what they are speaking about. There is a surprising amount of mechanics to the game, but NMS does a good job of covering it all through early tutorials. This is not even getting to the additional features that were added later on.

Of course, one cannot talk about this game without talking about the controversy surrounding it. When first revealed, No Man’s Sky was shaping up to be a major revival for the space-sim genre and looked to have everything players would want from such an ambitious title, especially from a relatively small team of only a dozen people. When the game was released, it quickly became apparent that the final product barely contained any of the features that were shown or promised. Planets felt very similar and did not seem to have much variety to them, combat was a bit wonky, the visuals then were not as impressive as they were when previewed, and the end goal of reaching the galactic core was very much the epitome of an anticlimax. Players absolutely savaged the game and reviews made it clear that NMS, while good in some places, did not meet the hype and did not do enough to stand out amongst the sea of other survival games that were becoming very popular and widespread at the time. While reception has slowly improved over time as the game vastly improved, it is unknown if Hello Games can truly regain all of the trust they had before they released the game. From what they have done to fix the game to its current state, they might have a good chance.

The game does not have any form of DLC, likely as a result of the backlash caused by the game’s launch. Instead, a lot of its current content has come in the form of free updates that have added and improved to the base game, making it much more enjoyable than it was before. The first major fix came in the form of the Foundation Update, which introduced vastly improved visuals, base building, freighters that could be boarded and purchased, and other improvements that made No Man’s Sky closer to what was initially shown off in previews. Next came the Pathfinder Update, which added in land vehicles, online base sharing, more weapons for the player’s Multitool and starship, the ability to keep more than one starship in your freighter, and improvements to the menu, along with other neat features. The biggest addition came in the form of Atlas Rises, further improving the visuals, overhauling the UI to make it more user-friendly, and adding in new worlds, discoveries, and a coherent story that turns the entire universe of the game on its head, along with the possibility of actually meeting another player through multiplayer. Through all of these updates, No Man’s Sky has become the game it aspired to be, and should have been, in the first place.

A year ago, No Man’s Sky would have been very hard to recommend. An overall middling title with not much to offer at the full price of other newly released games, this would have been one to wait for the price to go down or completely disregard. Thankfully, it is MUCH easier to do so now, though the pricing is still a bit of an issue. While not an absolute game-changer, it is still a very pleasant and chill game to experience, with a vast array of worlds to explore at your own leisure. The three current updates have done so much to fix the title and it is both surprising and awesome to see how far it has come. I am glad that I can recommend No Man’s Sky as it is now, but it would still be best to wait for more reasonable price drops and to also temper expectations.

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With that, my time at The Prairie has come to an end. I am sad to leave one of the most enjoyable experiences of my college years behind, but I am so glad that I got to be a part of it and extremely thankful for the opportunity. I dedicate this final retrospective to Preston Thomas and Georgia Romig, my fellow co-hosts of Plus INT and my first friends in the Mass Comm department, and Butler Cain, the man who convinced me to join The Prairie in the first place. To everyone that has read these articles and to my friends that have supported me for the past couple of years, thank you all so much. With that, I am off.

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