July 3, 2022

No Man’s Sky: Beyond – PC Review

No Man’s Sky has come a long way from the game that’s partially responsible for me no longer pre-ordering games. It’s become a sleeper hit and, with a very active and passionate subreddit, it has a significant player base.

Having wasted spent ~£50 on the game at launch, I felt a little burned. But the hype surrounding Beyond, as well as the passion for the game on r/NoMansSkyTheGame, I was intrigued by the launch of Beyond. My intrigue was rewarded by an excellent experience, and NMS is now my zen; here’s why. 

The Good

Performance

I run NMS at 1080p/ultra on a 6800K, GTX 1070 with 16GB DDR4 from a SanDisk Ultra 2 SSD.

Performance was great. Even when the textures and assets were popping, the game was running at a solid 60FPS. There were momentary dips, usually as I was emerging from orbit and the game had to generate planetary landscape for the first time. However, that was a drop of around 5FPS at most.

Graphics

No Man’s Sky’s central focus is exploration. You are rewarded for literally everything you discover, and you are always discovering something new. So, with a game focused on discovery, it kind of needs to deliver aesthetically. In that, it definitely delivers.

The game is teeming with animals, foliage and…rocks. That might sound a little dull, but the sheer variety of things ensure that sense of wonder never ends. It’s vibrant and stunning to listless and unimpressive. There’s something really satisfying about leaving a tropical planet, full of vibrancy, and landing on a scorched planet with barely any signs of life.

Survival Mechanics: Progression and the Struggle

Progression is very much tied to your sense of struggle, and so too your transition from struggling to carefree exploration. It’s open-ended, allowing several avenues of progression, but the easiest path is the one of least resistance – the story.

As you progress towards your ultimate goal of understanding what the Atlas is, and finding your friend, Artimus, you unlock new tech that makes your life easier. You unlock powerful augments for your gun, or powerful shields for your suits. Later in the game, you unlock new building tech so that you can transition away from your unsightly shack to a futuristic, space-age home.

You also gain units – the in-game currency – that allows you to buy new ships, or you can salvage wreckages that you then fix. The latter was my (frustrating) path. I disowned my shoddy C class for a nice B class, but it took me about 15h to completely fix it to unlock all of its inventory slots. This is something that can be done with your weapon as well.

Lastly, you can unlock legendary gear. This is done by exchanging the rarest of currency, and this is acquired by the completion of anomaly quests.

Pacing

NMS does nothing in a hurry, but that’s its charm. The pacing is pedestrian – utterly serene. It’s your journey, and Hello Games make sure that you are in control. While you’ll occasionally be reminded of mission objectives, there’s no Navi shouting “Hey, look!”

It’s my zen

Base Building

Having spent a lot of time getting rekd in Rust, it was disconcerting to build a base without fear of a 10-year-old killing me with a spear for the ten rocks in my inventory. It is, however, a nice experience.

Base building is varied and, unlike Fallout 4, it handles large structures well. It’s a relatively simple system, once you have deciphered the menu, and there seems to be no limitations on where you can build.

You can’t see my base though, because it’s an utter monstrosity. So, here’s a picture of a competent builder’s base.

Image result for no man's Sky base building

HUD/UI

As we’ve seen with Far Cry 5, minimal UI is best UI. No Man’s Sky has a really nice UI, which presents all necessary information with very little screen disturbance.

Image result for no man's sky first person

There are some irritating quirks, such as the way objectives unintuitively present themselves on the game’s version of a compass. However, the minimalist UI really contributes towards the immersion, especially in first person.

Combat: Gun Play

I split this into two sections, because NMS does shooting quite well, but does spacecraft combat terribly.

The shooting is simple, but it does simple well enough. Gun combat is not a huge part of the game, but the accuracy is nice and it doesn’t feel like damage dealt is heavily modulated by RNG. There’s basically no weapon variety though – everyone has essentially the same weapon and the same weapon upgrades. So don’t come into the game hoping for some nice loot shooter action.

So, this is a nice segue into “The Bad”.

The Bad

Combat: Spacecraft Combat

Either I absolutely suck at this – a very real possibility – or it is just not implemented that well. Either way, as I watched the barrelling of space pirates, mesmerised by their weasel war dance, I began wondering how those manoeuvres were possible for them, but my ship had the turning range of a frigate in canal.

Once you land hits, the battle is effectively over but, if the pirates get close enough, they simply whizz past and realigning the cannon target is just a frustrating experience. I actually found that I was just running away from most fights. Not because they’re particularly difficult, but just because they are not fun.

Asset and Texture Pop-In

In terms of performance, the game is fine. I experienced very few frame drops, and I certainly didn’t experience any of the frame stuttering present in the initial release. I did see a lot of asset and texture popping though.

This would frequently happen a few metres from my character, and was notably worse in 3rd person view. It’s not game breaking, but it is definitely immersion breaking. I really hope this is patched in a later version, because it’s the only visual issue that really sours my experience.

Difficulty Scaling

Like GTA V, NMS has its own “police” – the sentinels – and, like GTA V, NMS has a “wanted” rating that falls top-heavy. If level three is like getting hit by a water pistol, level 4 is riot-control water cannons.  Seriously, you go from dog-sized sentinels to Star Wars Walker-like drones. Whoever thought this was “balance” might find some surprise in the definition.

Image result for no man's Sky giant sentinel

Overall Impression

No Man’s Sky is rough around the edges, but it’s absolutely a great experience. I’ve lost days to this and achieved nothing, and a couple hours and made significant progress in my pursuit of understanding the cosmos.

I always feel like I’m on the precipice of discovering something new, or unlocking a new feature. That constant stream or discovery reward keeps me engaged, while also feeling like everything I do is meaningful to my journey.

Because of the pacing, the game can be enjoyed at your leisure, and places no real time demands on you. This pacing is also a welcome reprieve from most of the other games I play. I have a lot of love for this game, and it probably now sits where Stardew Valley does for some of my friends.

Given where NMS was in August 2016, I think it’s fair to say that it’s no small feat that No Man’s Sky is now a great experience. While I think the game falls short of being great, I think this is a solid 7.5/10.

  • 7.5/10
    Overall - 7.5/10
7.5/10

Review Overview

+ Visually stunning, with a minimal and sleek UI/HUD

+Great performance that doesn’t stutter, even in the most demanding situations

+ Base building is a nice distraction, and has a variety of base styles

– Asset/texture pop-in is sometimes immersion breaking, while the inability of the HUD to reliably direct you to your oobjective is often a frustration

– Spacecraft combat is atrocious


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