If the promotional footage was to be believed, No Man’s Sky was going to be the best and most important game of all-time, breaking tons of new ground in the process. Unfortunately, what we eventually got was a competent flight simulator married to a beautiful world… and little else. Once the hype died down, developer Hello Games were subjected to the sort of wrath the likes of which we’ve never seen.
The good news is that they’ve been listening, and instead of shrugging their shoulders and tuning out the noise, they’ve set out on improving and expanding upon the core experience. Today, a new patch has been released (version 1.11) dubbed “Foundation,” which looks to right one very big criticism: namely, that once you got past its beauty, there wasn’t much to do in No Man’s Sky.
That’s not the case any more. Having invested 2-3 hours in this “new” version, I’ve come away impressed by an expanded scope that includes one notable addition: the ability to build bases. No Man’s Sky might still be massive, but it’s rather less empty now thanks to this nifty new mechanic, while the overall experience is improved by a host of additions/tweaks.
Right from the off, the game opens with a menu that asks if you want to continue from your last save on “Normal” difficulty, start afresh in “Survival” mode or take the easy route and play a divine being in “Creation,” which tethers you to no restrictions at all and basically lets you play as Peter Molyneux. I’ve carried on my save game in “Normal” mode, but from the looks of it, you can enjoy concurrent save games — so there’s the opportunity to switch between play styles.
On the ground proper, a simple press of the up arrow on your D-pad bring ups a build screen, a la Fallout 4, from which you can get to work building your empire. Once you’ve found a habitable base, it’s time to add hallways, corridors, roofs, access ramps, ladders, windows and terminals. All these parts require, you guessed it, minerals, and terminals require a helping hand too in the form of an alien.
Eager helpers can be found spread throughout space stations. Remember those rooms in the corner of stations where a solitary alien used to hang out and quack at you? Now he’s got buddies beside him looking for a job. And what’s more, there’s a handy teleporter you can use to take you between the station and your base.
Back at the base, the name of the game is to harvest the necessary materials to expand your operations. Before long, you’re harvesting minerals using autonomous helpers that look like parasites attached to rock. There also appears to be a few different ways you can approach the base building mechanic, utilizing the differing strengths of alien helpers.
After my short time with version 1.11, I’ve already noticed a host of small features that streamline the experience. For one, a quick menu has been introduced (down on the D-pad) that lets you take care of refilling supplies, negating the need to continually open up the full inventory. Minerals are also more easily identifiable with big logos marking them out in the distance, and at last, we also get a photo mode! By hitting left on the D-pad, you can remove the HUD completely, which makes total sense in a game this beautiful.
And I do mean beautiful. No Man’s Sky looks simply stunning – perhaps more than it ever did. The patch notes point to graphical improvements, including the use of motion blur, and the results are very evident. I’ve literally had to hold my jaw in place while playing. It’s hard to single out exactly what’s changed, but the experience looks and feels so much smoother than ever before. Objects that you mine move towards you with greater fluidity, movement looks ten times better and I don’t whether it’s the new planets I’ve been finding, but No Man’s Sky seems to be pulling out all the stops to remind me what a visual feast it really is.
In addition to all of that, Hello Games has made a conscious effort to remove the tediousness that adds hours to your clock. Space traversal is faster as you can now scan planets from space and identify their minerals; getting off a planet is markedly quicker; initiating conversations with aliens is a faction speedier and there’s a new item called a “Beacon” which ensures you can roam the galaxy without ever losing your precious base(s). These little things add up and make a big difference in the end.
Weighing in at 2GB, patch 1.11 represents a mammoth update for a game that was only 5GB to begin with. While I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time with it, it still feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface, and for that I’m glad, as there appears to be new minerals to harvest, new fauna to interact with and new items to build.
Most of all, patch 1.11 gives a sense of weight and purpose to your time in the infinite universe of No Man’s Sky. You’re no longer aimlessly warping between galaxies, but instead making one of these beautiful planets into your home. Time will tell whether it’ll be a home you want to stick around in, but one thing’s for sure: Foundation is a definite step in the right direction.