No Man’s Sky, that old Chestnut. A lot of people really really hate it. But on the other hand, there are other cooler, smarter, better looking people who adore it. A year ago the internet decided that No Man’s Sky and its fiendish creators at Hello Games were literally The Devil; evil incarnate in the form of a sprawling procedurally generated universe made by about 12 people in Guildford.

I never stopped playing NMS. I read so much about it before its infamously underwhelming launch that I think I had more realistic expectations than most. Some people apparently thought they’d preordered the second coming of Christ for £40 by the way they reacted to the release. The game was a victim of its own marketing – trailers which condensed hours of gameplay into 2 minute vertical slices leaving the universe feeling hollow and lifeless for some. Interviews with the internet’s favourite punching bag, Sean Murray where he discussed features that it’s clear now were nowhere near fruition. I often ponder what the general consensus of NMS would be had it suddenly appeared on PSN or had it been an early access title -probably a far cry away from its current Pariah status.

Sure, there were missing features. Crashed freighters, multiplayer, portals etc… Elements that were shown in trailers or talked about in interviews that weren’t present at launch. However two previous patches have brought a slew of additional mechanics including Base building, customisable frigates, a vanity camera mode and drivable buggies. And now, a year after launch we are starting to see some of the famously absent features implemented, as well. I wonder if these features were cut in order for a timely release, or if this was  always the plan, if it was meant to be a work in progress.

Nevertheless, don’t let the feral hoard of ungrateful naysayers on the internet fool you. NMS is and always has been a masterpiece. It is alive and well with an ever growing fanbase of adoring fierce advocates like myself. You think No Man’s Sky is a bad game? Fight me. I will literally fight you.

No Man’s Sky patch 1.3 Atlas Rises brings higher texture detail, deeper space combat, a procedurally generated mission system, Portals, terrain deformation, better farming and trading, crashed freighters, ‘joint exploration’ and most notably, an actual story. This is something I will admit NMS was sorely in need of. A soul, a direction, something guiding you in your journey and a purpose or a reason to explore. All this, for free! No season passes, no DLC. Hello Games are well aware of their reputation and they have been working damn hard over the past year to redeem themselves.

What is truly incredible about this new narrative element is the way it seamlessly blends in with the rest of the game. There isn’t a separate ‘campaign’ mode to select in a menu screen, you don’t need to scrap your 40 hours save and start from scratch. The story naturally integrates itself into the world. And if you’re the kind of person who is happy making up your own adventure, similarly to the existing Atlas Path you can choose to ignore it completely.

Hello Games promise about 30 hours of story content, in tandem with the new Elite Dangerous style procedural mission system you’ll have no shortage of things to do. This campaign also acts as a tutorial. It provides a compelling narrative whilst drawing you into some of the deeper activities that the game has to offer. A few months after launch the Foundation update installed base building, which isn’t something that ever interested me. A couple hours into the campaign and here I am building an impenetrable fortress on planet Pixel Crashers and filling it with an entourage of Alien Pals to aid my exploration. The story is introducing me to features and mechanics that I had no idea existed, as well as opening up the universe and making it feel alive and populated.

Atlas Rises is full of improvements and quality of life fixes. Tweaks like the ability to summon your ship and to teleport back to your base from anywhere in the universe encourage exploration. The beefed up space combat makes traversing the great expanse feel perilous and exciting. At the very core of No Man’s Sky is its planet, environment and alien generation which has also been greatly improved. Higher resolution and texture detail bring the worlds to life. There is better consistency and more diversity in biomes which is a welcome change from the usual setting down on your 10th swampy hell-scape in a row. All of this accompanied of course by brand new music from 65daysofstatic

The hot topic when it comes to No Man’s Sky is the absence of multiplayer. Sean Murray often spoke about how pointless it would be in a universe of 18 quintillions stars, but the point is that he definitely indicated that it would be possible to bump into another explorer on your travels. This however was never the case, until now.

For the past year the only way to interact with other players was to discover their discoveries or come across their home bases. But after 1.3, videos are starting to surface of players actually meeting. If you happen to be in the same system as another player they will appear in your world as a glowing orb. Explorers who meet are given the option to leave a marker to commemorate the moments occasion. Currently up to 16 players can be in the same system at a time. It’s a start, Hello Games mention in the Atlas Rises trailer that ‘much more’ is to come.

Image Source : DestinationG

I have always been drawn to the world of No Man’s Sky. the visuals are striking, the mining and crafting loop is addictive and therapeutic. Nothing beats that first moment of landing on a planet and finding it to be a lush earth like garden world. I honestly believe that with the implementation of a more traditional story, the new mission system and the potential for actual multiplayer, the game has a much broader appeal. It’s just a damn shame that it didn’t release in its current state a year ago. There’s no doubt in my mind that if you’re one of the folks who felt let down at launch, that the game is rapidly approaching what you were hoping it would be. H*ck, it’ll probably exceed your expectations. Now you have a reason to mine, explore, craft, trade, fight and build. NMS has gone from gaming’s biggest atmospheric waste of time to something genuinely meaningful. Now there is a delicious warm sticky centre inside that shiny outer coating. 

So, if you aren’t one of those poor hasty fools who refunded No Man’s Sky with less than an hour of playtime, Atlas Rises is available now, and if you’ve been thinking of jumping back in, this is the time. For those new travellers, at £9.99 on PS4 and £15.99 on Steam there’s no better time to drop some credits.

Happy exploring!