A lot has changed in a year.
One year ago, we took our first steps into the giant universe of No Man’s Sky. At the time, the prospect of discovering planets and flying my own little ship around a near-infinite galaxy excited me, and I played beginning of the game in awe of its immense scale. But that new ship smell could only carry me so far, and it wasn’t long before I was asking myself “Isn’t there more to this?”
Since then, developer Hello Games has slowly been adding free content updates to No Man’s Sky, most recently today’s massive 1.3 update called Atlas Rises. You can read about all the changes here, but nearly every aspect of the game has been touched, changed, or improved in some way. Here’s a video of the update in action:
No Man’s Sky had a lot of issues at launch, but one of the most glaring was its lack of content. There were a near infinite amount of planets, but with virtually nothing unique to find on them, it made exploration feel meaningless and boring. It felt like a shell of a game, an idea that was sound at its core, but didn’t have much to back it up.
I returned to No Man’s Sky still expecting the worst, but was immediately surprised as the planet I had abandoned myself on months ago sprang to life. Everything was brighter and more vibrant than before, and the planet looked far more enticing to explore because of it. The foliage seemed to be denser, giving the planet a more lively feel, and the various plants had bright, contrasting colors and it made the landscape pop out instead of being a dreary mess. Even the space stations now had an extra shine to them, making the coldness of space feel a little more exciting than before.
There’s more to the update than the visual overhaul, and one of the first things I wanted to look into was how the new procedural missions worked — and whether or not they were actually worth doing. The first question was answered rather quickly, as it’s a simple matter of flying to a nearby space station and speaking with an NPC to collect a mission. Those missions are easy to track as well, thanks to a much improved Journey tab in the menus that clearly shows your current rank and progress with the various factions in the game.
After finishing up a couple of missions and hopping to a nearby station, it quickly became apparent that they unfortunately aren’t that special, most boiling down to generic fetch quests, at least at early ranks. They’re mandatory to do if you want to rank up among the different guilds, but I imagine most people will pick and choose the best ones based on the rewards they provide, as the vast majority of these new missions just didn’t feel like they were worth my time.
The Atlas Rises update also added a vast new set of story missions that promise to expand the No Man’s Sky universe. According to the patch notes, it’s a full 30 hours of new story content, and I’m interested to see if the quests related to that story are more engaging than the procedural missions I’ve tried so far. Several new ships can also be purchased and flown around, if you’re lucky enough to find them. All of this is on top of a wide array mechanical improvements and other gameplay additions that have been added in the months since launch, like ground vehicles in the 1.2 update:
I’ve only just started digging into everything that’s been added, but so far I’ve been impressed with this new No Man’s Sky. Had this been what I played at launch, I surely would have thought differently about the game. Even if the new systems I’ve experienced aren’t as deep or rewarding as I’d hoped, there’s so much more to do that I find myself itching to start a new file so I can experience it fresh with all the new bells and whistles added in.
That being said, if you didn’t like No Man’s Sky at launch I’m not sure the updates and changes it’s received so far will be enough to bring you back yet. The core experience hasn’t changed, there’s just more stuff surrounding it to keep you occupied. But if you’re like me and fell off due to boredom rather than distaste, then the Atlas Rises update is a great time to jump back in and see what a year’s worth of updates has turned No Man’s Sky into.
Shawn Saris is a freelance contributor for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.