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No Man's Sky Beyond review – to infinity and VR

No Man's Sky Beyond (PS4) – the ever expanding space adventure

Version 2.0 update for No Man's Sky brings with it new multiplayer and VR options but how much do they really change the game?

Not hard to feel sympathy for developer Hello Games. The launch of No Man's Sky has gone down in video game history as one of the most disappointing ever and they (along with Sony) deserve plenty of criticism for encouraging people to imagine the game was anything other than it was. But at the same time their response to the problem has been exemplary, with endless free updates and no attempt to deflect the blame onto anyone else.

And yet despite all the additions and improvements the game is still primarily known for what it launches, rather than what it is now, and it seems increasingly unlikely that it will ever change. Although if it does it will be because people are talking about how fun its multiplayer and VR features are – as the primary addition to this latest milestone update.

The Beyond update is promoted as version 2.0 of the game, though thanks to some post-launch bug-fixing (there were a lot of crash bugs in the first few days) already up to 2.06. But as with last year's Next Update, no matter how many new features and improvements the update layers are on – and there are many – there is almost no change to the underlying gameplay loop, and that is still going to be an issue for both new players. and old.

One of the big mistakes with No Man's Sky's initial marketing was not clearing what kind of game it was before launching. There were no hands-on previews and everything was very vague as to what you actually do in the game. The flippant answer to that question is 'not so much' and true that in traditional gameplay terms No Man's Sky often seems shallow and repetitive. And yet the experience can still be compelling despite its many obvious flaws.

The simplest description for No Man's Sky is a space trader, in the original Elite style, with elements of survival games such as Rust or Don't Starve. You start after your spaceship crash-landing, with no clue as to who you are and how you got there. The various updates have added a more structured story element, including sub-quests and many more aliens to talk to, though they still feel like animatronic extras in a universe that is otherwise devoid of intelligent life.

Depending on how you feel about your fellow humans that has changed now, thanks to many more robust multiplayer options. To be fair, Hello Games has never promised a very complex multiplayer experience, but now there's a new area called Nexus that works much like Destiny's social spaces, allowing you to meet other players and multiplayer missions or just pop by visit a friend's home base.

The Nexus can host up to 16 players but only eight can play together in the same universe, though that increases to 32 on PC. The chances of meeting anyone at random are still remote but any improvements are welcome and are certainly the perfect option for friends wanting to play together.

No Man's Sky Beyond (PS4) – the Nexus is very Destiny-esque

To get anywhere in No Man's Sky you need resources: to create the fuel needed to travel between stars and power your ship's other systems, as well as your spacesuit and multitool (a combination gun, resource gatherer, and scanner). You are also free to sell all the resources for cash at trading posts and space stations for a hopefully healthy profit. Unlike most other survival games your hunger is not an issue, but if your suit's ability to compensate for extreme temperatures or toxic atmospheres aren't maintained the effect is the same.

Unless you purposefully encourage it, combat is quite rare and when on-foot based almost solely on the mysterious sentinel robots that patrol each planet, and which get offset if you cause too much damage with mining or other general destruction. The gunplay remains very flat and not at all exciting, but the combat space is more interesting. Your weapons always feel a little wimpy but the controls are good and the dogfighting is tense and enjoyable given that they are almost always outnumbered.

As well as multiplayer and VR additions, there are a number of other extras that Beyond brings with it, including new tameable creatures that can be used either as mounts or livestock (dairy or meat). The options for building your base have also multiplied, and now include automated factors and the ability to program features into your game, with Hello Games already managing to create a working version of Rocket League.

No Man's Sky Beyond (PS4) – made for VR

We're sure programming will lead to even more unlikely creations in the months to come, even if it's only used by a very small percentage of players. But what also has a limited audience, albeit for a different reason, is the VR mode. Fans have been hoping for the option for years and now every bit as immersive as you hope. Exploring distant plants on foot or peering around your spaceship's cockpit is the stuff of science fiction wet dreams, even with several notable issues.

The first is that viewing the game in VR makes the graphics look very blurry, at least on PlayStation 4. This seems to be purposeful, to keep the frame rate up, but very noticeable for anything in the middle or far. Such are the limitations of the PlayStation VR though, and some similar problems with using the Fire Move controllers. Apart from the awkward menu system they are generally preferable to planetside but they become all but useless when flying your ship.

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By comparison, the DualShock is ideal for anything but a more well-rounded option and we found the default teleporting movement system to work very well. On a hardware level it's easy to find fault with VR options but the fact that VR game suits so well overcomes those concerns, at least for us. We've never enjoyed No Man's Sky as much as before, even though we wish there were so many different things.

The problem with No Man's Sky is that it still has a coherent answer to the most basic of questions: what do you do? On a gameplay level there is very little to do but if you impose your own goals on it then it can be a fascinating and engrossing experience. Certainly not what we were hoping for in our launch, and it probably never will be, but it has evolved into something we can recommend with increasingly fewer caveats.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £ 34.99 (currently £ 15.99 on the PlayStation Store)
Publisher: Hello Games
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: 14th August 2019
Age Rating: 7

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