Few games in recent years have had the impact No Man’s Sky did upon the gaming industry. The amount of hype generated before the release for what, some people thought, would be an incredible milestone in gaming history fell flat. Between an incredibly buggy release and a grinding and redundant gameplay, the game flopped critically and with fans. It became poster child for “don’t preorder games” and “avoid the hype-train.” The bust was so strong that the developers went radio-silent on social media for months. It led many to think the game was on life support and would fade into gaming history.
Here we are a little over a year later. The dust from No Man’s Sky’s launch has settled, and surprisingly, the game is still doing fairly well. Three major updates and a multi-month augmented reality game later, No Man’s Sky is one of the top selling games on Steam. Meanwhile, big-studio backed games like Mass Effect: Andromeda are dead, with no further content drops coming. It all has me wondering, what is it about No Man’s Sky that has kept it from being thrown into a landfill in large numbers.
The Devs Still Care
In large part, I think the fact the devs care so much about the game is one reason the game survived all the disappointment. While not at the pace you’d see from a big name studio, updates still emerge periodically. Best of all, these updates aren’t simple patches and fixes. These are major updates that have really added to the content of what can be done in game. The Foundation update added base building, freighters survival mode, and mini-quests. Pathfinder added ground vehicles, perma-death, and photo mode. Atlas Rising is pointing towards the mysterious inactive portals becoming active and an expansion to the underlying story of the game.
The Atlas Rising update was another huge update, adding “30 hours of story content,” graphical updates, deeper space combat, working portals, a “good” story ending, and an initial iteration of the long-desired multi-player aspect. It had people on Reddit exclaiming that the game is now what they had wanted at day one. When users asked if it was time to come back, the answer was a resounding yes. Not only that, but the next day, the first hotfix was pushed out on a Saturday, fixing initial game-breaking glitches caused by the massiveness of the update. A little over a week later, we have 2 more hotfixes.
The game is Hello Game’s baby and their desire to make it something amazing shows in their continued support and hard work. They didn’t let the harsh launch criticism deter them glares at EA/Bioware.
Community Innovation is the key
From my perspective, the community of No Man’s Sky players is the major reason why the game still thrives. Once the dust settled from the launch and subsequent salt-mine that resulted in the subreddit shutting down and once most of the haters left, a small community flourished. There were still regular screenshot shares of beautiful vistas and they only got better with the addition of photo mode. Crafty mod makers tweaked the PC mods to create even crazier and more visually stunning worlds. They added in materials and items to the construction mode, and even added the ability to fly as near as possible to the ground (as a console player I’m still jealous of that last one).
The community found its own challenges to enrich their gaming experience. Reddit users like u/St3amb0t decided to circumnavigate a moon on foot. Upon completing this task, the system became dubbed the “Pilgrim Star” system and became sort of a Mecca for avid NMS players who wanted to honor the legend of St3amb0t.
Even more impressive was the community began colonizing a region of the galaxy simply called the “Galactic Hub.” Here, players have created their own civilization of planetary bases, resource farms, and a growing catalogue of creatures, ship types, life forms, and economic hotspots to get the most of your harvested materials. Fans built tools that allow any player to help navigate to this hub and instructions on how to become “citizens.” Hubs have been formed in at least 2 of the galaxies within the game. They even remain undeterred after Atlas Rising regenerated the Hub planets completely changing a large number of them. The result is a massive migration of the Hub to a new region of the galaxy for recolonization. It is an amazing endeavor that is being coordinated via Reddit and the NMS Discord server.
Into year two
At the conclusion of year 1, the Atlas Rising update is pushing No Man’s Sky forward. Does the game still have its flaws? Sure. Will year 2 fix them all? Probably not. Regardless, the game is still a fun adventure. If you gave up on it early, come back and give it a go. Every time I pick it up, I end up losing myself in the game. My progress on Mass Effect: Andromeda AND Horizon Zero Dawn has all but stalled because of Atlas Rising. The mantra “just one more planet,” becomes a constant and time slips away as I grind my way through the last 11 portal glyphs to hop to the hub.