As No Man's Sky has developed, it's struggled to balance the appeal of its mystery with the utility that makes it playable. With yesterday's update, Atlas Rising, it feels like the game has finally struck that balance.
The 1.3 update for No Man's Sky comes with a lot of changes, small and large. Most exciting among them are a new mission board with randomly generated missions, changes to dog fighting, and — finally — "joint exploration". It isn't quite multiplayer — you're only able to interact with up to 16 players, who are represented by balls of light — but it's a step closer to it. But what I've found most interesting so far is the way the game has refined its story and how it shows what's possible in No Man's Sky to players.
When I played No Man's Sky at launch, it was easy to get lost and confused. This was a part of the game's appeal, in a way: To be able to get so deeply lost in a vast universe. I'd go from planet to planet, just looking for the best sunsets or strangest creatures. Now the game has actual opening missions, as well as ones that span more than one planet and galaxy. I was a little afraid that a more structured game would take away from the joy of exploration, but instead it's made the game easier to parse. Instead of making goals for myself 100 per cent of the time, I now I have a neat thing to check out in each new galaxy. Many of these introduced me to new gameplay elements. On one planet, I learned how to make antimatter. On the next, I found my first outpost. This guiding hand is sparse enough that I don't feel pigeonholed towards one way of playing the game, but direct enough that I now have a much clearer sense of what to do if I get bored of sunsets. For the even more mysterious additions, like portals, there's now a in-game guide that will tell you what to do with them when you find them.
Don't know where to find a mission board? Guess what! The game will tell you.
On a sillier note, the terraforming add-on for the multi tool is very amusing. No Man's Sky has been adding more ways for players to make permanent marks on the world via updates such as base sharing and leaving messages for each other, but now you can make a literal mark. If you have the terraforming add-on, you can shoot at the ground using your multi tool and add or destroy terrain. You can use a couple of different textures and adjust the size as well. I'm sure this will have some use for base building, but I just liked getting to indulge in the sci-fi fun of making a huge tower of rock sprout from the ground.
I didn't have a chance to try out joint exploration or dogfighting, but the manoeuvrability of the ships has changed a lot. You have way finer control over how ships move, especially on planets, to the degree that I felt like I had to relearn how to fly a ship. I was constantly over turning and flying into rocks, but overall it's a welcome change. At launch, I'd often ditch my ship in favour of walking; now, using my ship to go to far away landmarks is much more feasible.
When No Man's Sky first released, I wasn't really sure what it was, or what it was trying to be, but I found a way to have fun with it. Now I have a better sense of the game's goals: It's a survival game with base building and a heavy emphasis on exploration. It isn't revolutionary, but now it's focused enough that it does all those things very well. This doesn't mean it has lost its sense of wonder — there are still views that take my breath away. No Man's Sky is just easier to play now, and I'm very excited to get lost in it again.