Is Foundation Too Little Too Late For No Man’s Sky?

No Man's Sky - Still something to behold

Hello Games, notorious developer of No Man’s Sky broke their more than three month silence the other day. After the community surrounding the game has been collectively losing their minds since release, the update came kind of out of nowhere. Hello Games announced the “Foundation Update” which will allow players to build bases in-game. Apparently, this update is also the launch pad for future updates to the game as well. It’s a curious move, but perhaps a necessary one given the levels of unhappiness surrounding the game. But will it be enough?

Hype On Hype

No Man’s Sky was a title that crept up on me. I had been peripherally aware of the game and the hype surrounding it. But as with most overhyped properties, I find myself relatively able to ignore the news about them until about a month before release. Usually, at that point, I sit down and read about a game, taking into account just how hyped they are. With No Man’s Sky I read about a space game that was very largely based around exploration. This idea, at its very core, strikes a powerful chord with me. This idea is also where I fell victim to some of the false hype generated around the game.

I played a lot of Elite: Dangerous doing what many people consider to be the least fun aspect of the game: exploration. As someone who spends a lot of time reading about astronomy and astrophysics—just as a general hobby—space exploration has always been incredibly intriguing to me as a game concept. This was especially true when based in the small amount of realism of having a model of the Milky Way Galaxy to explore. No Man’s Sky lacked that realism and that was okay too because of how heavily it focused on the exploratory context.

 

What It Was And What It Is

The game seemed so varied in how much exploration there would be to do. A universe so large that you couldn’t hope to explore the whole thing—you never know what you might find on the next planet you check. And that’s how I played it. I explored every planet in every system I went to, maybe not fully, but enough to see what was up. Sadly, it only took a few star systems of this to realize that the procedural generation was not as great as what I and presumably many others felt should have had. No Man’s Sky went from an infinite space exploration game to a game where we were exploring tiny star systems full of planets that were filled with creations that often were about as impressive as creatures out of Will Wright’s Spore.

While it’s fair to expect that any game that promises the sort of procedural generation that No Man’s Sky promised would eventually reach that point, the realization came too early. The game was still frequently beautiful, and I kept playing because of that. There was a lot to like, in the sheer style and concept of the presentation. But it nagged at me that every star system was the same 2-4 slightly varied planets. Most of those planets having a similar amount of flora and fauna. A game can only get so far on concept alone.

No Man's Sky - A universe barren but beautiful

The Foundation Update

The update looks good, but most players are rightfully skeptical. It’s going to add a lot of stuff that should help to add a bit of variety to the game, including difficulty modes and a rather robust looking base-building system. You can read more about it on the official No Man’s Sky website. But what is it really doing to the game? Not much. The page for the update says that it’s the “foundation for things to come” and “the first of many free updates” but so what? In large part the update serves as a distraction from the major flaws of the game rather than any attempted fix. Yes, it provides a bit more variety to the game, and provides some needed usability options in being able to build camps and save points. But it’s a band-aid solution, and one I expect players will quickly tire of.

What the communication of the update does not provide the players with is any sort of roadmap going forward. What it looks like, at this point, is that rather than improving the base exploration experience of the game, the development team is instead going to be tacking on additional features that do little but distract. And I get it, the game needs more for players to do. But if the developers have spent the time they claim to have spent reading user response to the game they might realize the common thread which links the ongoing, but oft-drowned out, positive response to the game. That is: people love to share the really interesting and beautiful things they find.

No Man’s Sky was, and maybe still is, an opportunity for the developers to provide something truly new and interesting to gamers. The Foundation Update is a homogenous update in the survival game brand that proves they are still squandering that opportunity.

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