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No Man’s Sky Atlas Rises Review

Short of accidentally starting World War III, I don’t think No Man’s Sky could have caused any more life ending drama in the video game community if it tried. Rife with a mixture of jarringly vague marketing language and in some instances outright false advertising, No Man’s Sky would dominate headlines for months but not necessarily in the way any developer would want their game to. Sean Murray and crew would go on to all but disappear into the mists amidst the fire and fury, only coming up for air long enough to see more controversy surrounding cryptic tweets and a perceived abandonment of their game by the community at large.

Surprisingly enough Hello Games would go on to release two notable updates in the form of exo-crafts and base building functionality. The additions were largely appreciated by the community that remained post apocalypse, as well as the patches that would continue to slowly roll out. Now here we are today on the tail end of a reasonably successful ARG that led to the release of No Man’s Sky 1.3 “Atlas Rises” – a sizeable update that touches on almost every element of the game and then some. It was so significant that I felt I should revisit the game and see what a new player would experience as I feel this is the point people may start trickling back into the No Man’s Sky community.

I won’t regurgitate the litany of changes made in detail since there are in depth patch notes available but there are some major points that I’ll touch on beyond my overall experience that most people will likely find intriguing. Some notables are the claimed 30 hours of new, branching story added, the sort-of-but-not-quite multiplayer functionality, and vastly improved quick travel system.

One of the bigger criticisms No Man’s Sky originally faced was that the game lacked focus in that the gameplay and scant story didn’t line up to give the game any direction. Atlas Rises attempts to make significant strides to bridge that gap and gives a demonstrably more focused experience. From the get-go, you’re presented with much more digestible gameplay that stitches together smaller missions which mostly do justice to teaching you the ropes and keep you moving forward. At the very least, most new players will find themselves far less lost than they would have a year ago, and the addition of a pretty thorough and user friendly in-game guide of sorts does a good job of picking up many of the pieces left over. It’s not perfect and there are still things that you’ll have to sort out on your own when you shouldn’t have to, but it’s leaps and bounds beyond what existed at launch and should be adequate for almost everyone.

Follow the bread crumb trail of missions long enough and you’ll find yourself with a fully functional home base that does everything from providing minor quests to providing plants to grow and harvest for sale on the market. It will also provide access to a portal to quickly return home from any space station you come across and even return to that station should you need to. The base building functionality is surprisingly easy thanks to a largely compliant snap-to system that is a damn slight better than the Fallout 4 gong show, though admittedly it’s far less detailed in what you can accomplish. That isn’t to say you can’t put together some fancy looking bases since there is more than enough variety in building materials, paint selection, and terra-forming with your multi-tool. Your home base will also house your trio of exo-crafts which may or may not see much use in the traditional sense.

The exo-crafts are as nice as they are a bit superfluous. You’ll have access to three separate crafts which all serve slightly different purposes. One is the all-arounder that I ended up using the most of the three. It traverses basically anywhere but slows significantly when dealing with bodies of water. Another smaller hover craft deals with that water issue far better but has less carrying capacity. The last of the crafts is for all intents and purposes a moving storage facility – so much so that I never actually drove it anywhere, instead opting to simply use it for storing materials. It was my experience that the exo crafts filled a gap in the gameplay that felt awkward when I first played No Man’s Sky on release. When I wanted to go anywhere on a planet I either had to walk/glitch rocket myself around or use my ship. None of those options were particularly great at the mid-range traversing I wanted to do on some planets. As such, most of the planets I spent a lot of time on I never ended up exploring all that much because it was too tedious. The exo-crafts fill that void and allow you to more adequately explore the worlds you discover.

Star ships have also seen an overhaul. There are now various classes which grant bonuses to ship stats as well as letter rankings that determine the strength of those stat boosts. This gives a much broader range of viable ships for you to choose from and feels a lot less one note than before. You can also purchase freighter ships which will allow you to carry unbelievable amounts of materials as you would expect and make you feel like a proper interstellar space lord. They essentially function as a mobile base which can be useful to say the least but they come with an equally impressive price tag so you’ll have to work for that status symbol.

Eventually the game will point you in the direction of what it considers to be the main objectives. These missions make up the varying story content No Man’s Sky has to offer. One of these quest lines is the original Atlas quest line which those who have played the game before may have already completed. The second quest line is the new story brought in for Atlas Rises. The story expands a bit on the “Travelers” race which you the player are a part of. There is a unified attempt to try and flesh out the lore of the No Man’s Sky universe and while it is certainly better than the void the original release left, it’s still ultimately an attempt to justify the oft loathed result of completing the game. What’s more, the progression of the story is more or less jumping from system to system to read some text. Little has been done to provide many meaningful set pieces to help give more satisfying points of progression and that may turn all but the most lore hungry off from attempting to complete the story line. Combat both on the ground and in the air continues to be lackluster but it still would have been nice to get more of it in there to help spice things up. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to do it and simply read up on the new story work. You’re not missing out on particularly unique gameplay if you do so, and so ultimately it feels like too much drudgery for a glorified text box explanation of events.

Along your journey you will now have the ability to come across other players should you somehow manage to cross paths with one another. This isn’t multiplayer functionality in the sense most people would have likely hoped for, however. You will simply see one another as orbs of light and while you can absolutely travel around with one another, your interactions are limited. It is neat to see that you can leave a monument of sorts where you met the other player for others to be able to come across in the unlikely event they stroll through that neck of the woods. Also, those portal structures players spent forever trying to figure out actually serve a purpose of linking worlds together now and as such can be used in conjunction with this base level multiplayer to stay connected, among other things. I don’t really think full-blown multiplayer will ever make its way to No Man’s Sky and I don’t know how much it would really add to the game but I do appreciate that even this level of interactivity is now possible.

The change in how the gameplay feels has perhaps been the most significant for me, coming from not playing since the original release. Most things just feel so much more grounded and complete now and as such it’s simply a far nicer game to play in general. Annoyingly, however, Hello Games somehow thought that cranking up the level of grind would make the game feel more interactive and perhaps more “gamey.” For me it just ended up dragging stuff on longer than I thought necessary, and padded the game in ways it definitely didn’t need to be padded. Something as simple as opening a box you discovered now requires you to remove or take some rusted metal off the mechanism. It’s small, but like the “click and hold” to do any action in the game, it’s tedium that can become grating over time and there are more than a few instances of this type of thing.

Blueprints are also a lot harder to come by now. Originally you could acquire them in several different ways, but now it’s a much different story. Blueprints are largely purchased with a new pervasive currency of sorts called nanites which are dispensed out of the various containers and objects you originally received blueprints or other items from. Merchants on space stations will have blueprints to purchase with these nanite clusters though which blueprints are available are not only limited by location and price, but also your standing with the various races. You can get blueprints in other ways, often during some missions or via alien encounters but the majority are purchased now. This resulted in me finding one blueprint in 42 hours of play time which was a grenade upgrade I never ended up being able to use, and purchasing one upgrade for my boosters which all but drained by nanite count to do so. It made me feel like I was never really progressing unless I found a new multi-tool to buy or trade, and I certainly never really got to upgrade my suit outside of storage capacity which is something to discuss on its own.

No Man’s Sky struggled with its inventory management on initial release, and Atlas Rises while it improves things a great deal, still sees you spending too much time shuffling things around your various inventories. Thankfully now your suit includes a main inventory as well as separate inventories for technology and mass storage. Technology inventory can be used to store your suit upgrades if you so wish, while the cargo storage allows you to stack items the way you can in your ship and exo-crafts. Whenever you find a drop-ship you simply choose which inventory space to upgrade and you’re off to the races. Cargo space is of course more expensive to upgrade, but in general it comes down to what you want or what you need.

Like most of this update, the good comes with some annoyances. When you put something in the cargo space, say iron for example, and you then continue to mine iron it doesn’t get sent to fill that stack in your cargo space. Instead it is sent to your main inventory and you have to manually move it around yourself. Most annoying, however, is the exo-craft inventory management. Despite the fact you are physically sitting in the vehicle, you can’t (or I simply never discovered how) move things from the vehicle directly to your personal inventory. Instead you have to move the items from exo-craft to your star ship, then get in range of your star ship and move it from there into your personal inventory. Overall, despite trying to remedy the inventory management issues that existed, Atlas Rises only partially solves the problem and adds its own issues.

That’s kind of what the theme of Atlas Rises has been for me. It absolutely does a great job of bringing No Man’s Sky to within reach of the originally promised feature set as well as content that was never originally planned. Sadly, it replaces or keeps a lot of the annoyances and poor design language that hinders the core experience of what people expect. Thankfully the team at Hello Games has been sending out extensive patches post 1.3 launch and continue to bring that laundry list of issues down. Just in the time I played the game again there were four separate patches all of which fixed issues I was having so it may be worth checking the patches post 1.34 to see if some of my gripes have been fixed.

I was asked many times during my streams of Atlas Rises if the game is finally worth buying. I believe that as of this review, it is still a stretch to sell at full price. Only those who are absolutely convinced of their interest in the explorative component of No Man’s Sky should invest at full price and even then, it would likely be a tough sell. I think at best Hello Games has a $30 or $40 game on their hands. At the release of this update they wisely discounted the game for a limited time and at that discounted price I was able to recommend picking it up. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s enough here to please the majority of buyers at a $60 price point. Credit to Hello Games for releasing all of these updates for free, but they would have been nuked from orbit should they have stuck a price tag on any of it and I think they knew that. A year later, No Man’s Sky isn’t quite the technical achievement it was upon its initial release and so while it’s a better game with this Atlas Rises addition it’s a bit of a wash that makes the continued full price tag all the harder to swallow.

The core of what makes No Man’s Sky great has certainly been made more enjoyable. That is to say, exploring the universe and its innumerable worlds can be a very enjoyable if not mindless experience and there is just far more stuff to do. Ultimately though the game still limps along with many bugs and poor design choices that detracts even from that most impressive feature. The story content, while I appreciate the effort, is uninspired and lacks any real gameplay value. So, while there’s never been a better time to play No Man’s Sky I would still strongly suggest waiting for a major sale before making the leap. Those who already own the game and have been waiting for a reason to get back to it should definitely give it a shot. Atlas Rises represents the best-case scenario in a post No Man’s Sky release world but it’s still a tough sell for all but the most fiercely interested in exploring the stars.

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Adam Morehouse

Adam Morehouse

I play games and write stuff about them! Blessed with an amazing online community for many years now. One half of the LAGTV duo.

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