It starts with starting over, and that’s the worst part. I haven’t played No Man’s Sky ($60 on Humble, on sale for $30 this week) in quite a while now, and memory is fleeting. I tried loading up my latest save and…nothing. A generic planet, some garbage in my inventory, no handle on the controls, and no idea what to do next. So I jettisoned that poor explorer into space and started fresh.

A lot has changed in the massive, free Next update. A lot hasn’t. The opening hours of No Man’s Sky: Next are still mostly flailing about, shooting laser beams at dozens of rocks that all kind of look the same on dozens of planets that also kind of look the same. It’s a great game to play while doing something else—running Netflix on a second monitor, for instance. But there’s a bit more story to the space-spanning exploration now, and a lot more options.

Fifth time’s the charm

Adding difficulty levels is the best decision No Man’s Sky made. I mention it early because I think it might lure in some of the people who bounced off the first time. Arriving about six months after the initial release, Creative Mode ditched all the grinding, the resource collection and management, and let you focus on exploration and base-building. If you just want to casually tool around the universe, build some bases, and look at bear-dinosaur-bird creatures, choose Creative. I can’t emphasize it enough.

No Man’s Sky NEXT IDG / Hayden Dingman

Not that it’s without problems. Like any low-risk game mode, motivation becomes an intrinsic thing. Stripped of its various timers, the repetition sets in. Take off, land, look around, take off, land, look around.

And there’s still not much to see. That’s, I think, No Man’s Sky’s biggest failing. Even all these years later, the limits of its procedurally generated universe are still so abundantly clear. Within three hours I’d visited five planets and seen the same tentacle-plant on four of them, named differently each time but quite clearly the same art asset. Ditto for the weird ground-cover mushrooms on every semi-barren planet.

The randomly populated buildings are even worse, which is strange given the whole base-building aspect. You’d think No Man’s Sky would scatter some pre-generated bases or whatever across the planet—but no. All I’ve found so far are the same pseudo-industrial structures from before, usually with one borderline-useless point of interest inside. Loot, and move on.

No Man’s Sky NEXT IDG / Hayden Dingman

I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing, or even surprising—not by now, at least. If you’re still somehow hoping for that “Wow” moment though, exploring this “limitless” universe, I don’t think you’ll find it. A couple of the planets are prettier than others, and there are still some strange and delightful oddities to uncover, but it very much feels like returning to No Man’s Sky in that respect.

It’s the player’s end that’s changed. First of all, there’s multiplayer now. That’s enough to make even the most banal game a better time, and while I haven’t tested it yet I’m sure it’s a significant improvement for No Man’s Sky and delivers on a long-awaited promise. There’s also a third-person view.

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