No Man’s Sky may have been one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, but it was a demanding and technically difficult development process that would put many studios out of business. Despite this lacklustre launch week performance, No Man’s Sky is still worth playing for its sheer ambition – although you’ll probably need to lower your expectations.
No Man’s Sky is one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, but has been plagued by its own controversy.
No Man’s Sky VR Review – A Wonderful, Deeply Flawed Space Odyssey is a review of the game No Man’s Sky. The reviewer gives an overview of the game and all its features. He also provides a list of settings that are needed to play the game in virtual reality.
A cosmos of limitless discovery and endless potential exists beyond the known earth. That is, until you die at the hands of an enraged Sentinel detachment, or inhale too many atmospheric poisons and collapse on the surface of some remote planet. There’s a lot to see (and run away from) in No Man’s Sky VR, with over “18 quintillion” procedurally-generated worlds to explore. While Hello Games has dubbed the new BEYOND update the game’s ‘2.0’ version, No Man’s Sky’s brand new VR support feels a lot like ‘1.0’ in many ways, reminding me that while the sky’s the limit for the studio, their flagship title’s initial foray into virtual reality has some serious turbulence to work through.
Details about No Man’s Sky Beyond/VR:
Hello Games is the creator of this game.
Available on the PlayStation Store and Steam (Vive, Index, Rift) (PSVR)
Rift was the subject of a review (CV1)
Release Date: August 14, 2019
Note: Despite the fact that No Man’s Sky Beyond is the game’s sixth major update in over three years, we’re just looking at how the VR part of the update works for now. Given that the game’s flatscreen mode and flatscreen players seamlessly exchange save data and multiplayer gameplay, this review does not represent the experience that a player may have if/when they choose to play No Man’s Sky Beyond without a headset.
In a procedurally created world, the only rules are the ones you choose to obey. No Man’s Sky VR starts its slide towards anarchy by allowing you to select whether to load a current save or create a new one. As a new player, you’re given four save slots, which correlate to the four game modes: ‘Normal,’ ‘Survival,’ ‘Permadeath,’ and ‘Creative.’ You can even start a session with your PSN or Steam pals right from the main screen if they’re online.
While ‘Normal’ is presumably the most popular—at the very least, it is the quintessential No Man’s Sky VR experience—each mode offers a unique experience. For example, ‘Survival’ retains the majority of the basic gameplay while adding modifications that make every action less profitable and every possible threat more hazardous. Permadeath is targeted directly at people who want a significantly increased sense of urgency in the game’s exploration and combat encounters, which is something I’d never want to experience in a game that may pile up tens, hundreds, or thousands of hours of play. Meanwhile, ‘Creative’ is much more accommodating to individuals who just want to relax and construct bases, providing invulnerability and an unlimited supply of crafting materials.
Note: The rest of this review is based on my time in the ‘Normal’ difficulty level, which includes the No Man’s Sky VR experience at its most basic.
The urgency of survival becomes apparent when you create a fresh save file from scratch. You’re little more than a speck on the surface of a dusty planet in a strange system. You soon realize that your protective exosuit is deteriorating and that you will perish in short order if you don’t do anything about it when you find yourself alone without a spacecraft or a weapon, surrounded by hostile environment and dangerous animals.
But there is reason to be optimistic. A instructional canvas in the bottom right corner of your helmet display tells you that you can live if you fix your scanner and find a supply of sodium, a naturally occurring element that enables you to replenish your suit’s “Hazard Protection Unit.” Following these instructions not only keeps you alive, but it also starts a sequence of minor chores that you’re obligated (but not needed) to accomplish as you get to know your surroundings, your equipment, the interface, and, eventually, your first spacecraft.
No Man’s Sky VR does not hold your hand, but it does provide you with pellets in the form of main objectives to pursue. Each of the game’s systems is taught task by task for the first few hours. Unfortunately, without a better narrative framework, many of these initial missions don’t teach you much more than “go here, do this.” They’re nothing more than a subtle push for a player who wants to go out into the cosmos and explore sooner rather than later, especially because the game is so open-ended.
It’s an odd juxtaposition since there is a story, but you won’t even see it until after you’ve completed the tutorial, which is many hours into the game. In fact, the real meat of No Man’s Sky VR—the journey to the galactic core, which includes freighters, higher-tier solar systems, the Artemis story path, exocrafts, advanced base blueprints, and the multiplayer hub ‘Space Anomaly’—is hidden behind the hyperdrive, which is awarded at the end of these lightly enforced, extremely helpful, but seemingly monotonous tutorial quests. The game will undoubtedly teach you all you need to know, but only if you are patient, attentive, and ready to study at Hello Games’ speed.
The real fun comes, though, once you get access to the broader world. No Man’s Sky VR is difficult to sum up since it can be so many things to so many individuals. It’s tough to keep track of what to do and where to go at any one moment since there are so many systems operating at the same time.
Are you looking for a way to make money by exchanging goods? You can discover the finest trade routes and even collapse whole economies for your personal profit since each solar system has its own economy that reacts to supply and demand. Would you rather have your wildest cosmic geoarchaeological dreams fulfilled? Unmapped planets to discover and scan, alien ruins to pollute, and rich gems to dig out with the Terrain Manipulator abound in the cosmos.
And if you’ve ever considered being a pirate, you don’t have to wait any longer. You may chase civilian ships and steal their valuable cargo before warping out into the next system to avoid being caught by Sentinel authority interceptors.
You may improve your Multi-Tool using Nanites, the game’s secondary currency that acts as a stand-in for experience points, as you collect them. This allows you to earn more money each time you scan a new anomaly. Alternatively, you may spend your Nanites on exosuit improvements that shield you from severe weather patterns, enabling you to explore for extended periods of time without needing to seek refuge. You may also spend on vehicle customization or larger, better weapons if that’s more your thing.
And they are only a few of the game’s many features in terms of substance and replayability. Base-building, creature taming, undersea diving, exocraft racing, 32-person multiplayer, faction missions, bounty hunting, farming, crafting and smelting, artifact scavenging, black hole charting, frigate collecting, cave digging, punching mineral nodes to dust with your bare hands, and a full 30 hours of story content are all included. There’s a lot more to do than what I’ve mentioned, but the key issue is how do any of these features feel when wearing a headset?
I believe it is worthwhile to investigate what binds this whole event together: the spacecraft. On the one hand, there’s something to be said about flying a spacecraft with a throttle and joystick while gazing out the cockpit window into space. For want of a better word, that section is very cool. And that initial blast out from a planet’s surface into space may go down in history as one of my favorite virtual reality experiences of all time.
I took a minute to cut off the throttle and look into space as I burst through the atmosphere and rocketed into orbit. I took in the scene of planets casting shadows on one other, cosmic dust particles striking my ship’s outer hull as it bounced about in the solar wind, and the game’s beautiful retro-electronic synth pads harmonizing underneath it all. That’s when the gravity of No Man’s Sky VR became apparent to me. I could go to it if I could see it in my headset. Nobody was going to be able to stop me.
After then, there were a slew of more memorable occurrences. Slingshotting between asteroids to gain the jump on an opposing ship as an ocean of stars whirled around in my peripheral vision, my first combat in space was adrenaline-pumping. It seemed like something out of a movie, but I could understand how dogfighting in VR might make other players ill, even with constant frame rates.
After using the Terrain Manipulator to dig a shelter out of a cave in the midst of an ice storm, I proudly stood in the center of my chamber, watching the snowdrift blow into the cavern’s entrance while light shined off the walls, in awe of what I’d made with my hands.
But, for all their value, No Man’s Sky’s best VR moments are also the reason I’m so dissatisfied with most of the rest of the game’s presentation. Every great piece of VR immersion conjured up by this game, there’s another poorly-translated remnant from its flatscreen origins that mucks up the whole thing. While the problems that have plagued No Man’s Sky since its launch—inconsistent interfaces, by-the-numbers NPC interactions, and immersion-breaking bugs—are much cleaner in the latest desktop version, they nevertheless collapse under the scrutiny of virtual reality.
I spent far too much of my time with the VR update flitting between big text boxes, busy menus, and digital cardboard NPC conversations to fully appreciate the scope of the world Hello Games had set out before me. Even though I was on foot, I couldn’t escape the sense that I was managing a player character—a human gateway to a set of numbers and records—rather than inhabiting that same character in a world that reacted to me as a real person who truly existed. Of course, this was to be anticipated from a port, but it was still frustrating.
One of the main aspects of gameplay in No Man’s Sky VR is scanning various lifeforms and minerals on each planet with the Analysis Visor and the Multi-Tool, but even that requires standing in one spot, aiming at something, and holding the trigger for a few seconds. Even in desktop mode, it’s a basic kind of advancement, and in contrast to the high-impact ship commandeering experience, it’s just plain unfun in VR.
It doesn’t help that your Multi-Tool, the one item you’ll use the most in No Man’s Sky (apart from your spacecraft), is essentially a floating mesh in VR. It has no recoil and just a wrist-mounted panel from which you may change between mining and weapon modules or reload if you have a weapon module loaded. It’s the least immersive method to introduce a ‘gun’ feature in a VR game, as it clearly portrays the Multi-Tool as a weightless toy. As a result, many on-foot encounters seem disjointed, reminding you that you’re just traveling through the world rather than living in it.
The HUD is fixed forward, which means it doesn’t move with your real perspective. As a result, every time I swiveled my head or moved my body while walking, I had to relocate or even reset the HUD location utilizing artificial locomotion. I realize that this is intended to accommodate players who like to face front at all times, but the absence of a toggle to turn off the HUD lock is a pain if you, like me, love moving about your whole physical area.
It’s also aggravating when you forget that the HUD is completely behind you yet the game still assumes you’re looking in the same unchanging direction. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t have any gameplay consequences, but it does. The ‘Rocket Boots’ module, an improvement for the jetpack that is intended to make walking about much easier, travels in the direction that your HUD is pointing. It’s triggered by a fast press of the same button that also activates the jetpack, which means it’s simple to jump in the incorrect direction if you neglect to reset your location or change your HUD’s orientation. It’s the kind of thing that throws you out of your experience if you’re not paying attention, but even if you are, avoiding it entirely requires being aware of dull interface components that have been removed from the virtual environment.
It’s easy to describe No Man’s Sky a thick game after three years of fresh content, implying that there’s a lot to do and see. Unfortunately, in any of its individual elements, it’s still difficult to call it a very deep game. Despite significant improvements over the years, many of its functions still seem janky if not well thought out. It’s much more apparent in virtual reality, because you’re standing within the environment rather than watching an avatar stand in for you.
Because each random contact was still, in the end, simply a transaction linked to some random number generator, alien encounters already seemed unremarkable and forgettable. To this day, each random NPC encounter results in the learning of a new alien phrase or the acquisition of a new object, all of which are shown on a canvas slate in the HUD or in a menu. And in VR, you’re dealing with all of that, as well as a huge text box and a blank-faced NPC figure that seems to be looking straight through you.
Despite this, the dull conversation provided by random NPCs in No Man’s Sky VR is nearly always disconnected from your journey, failing to leave anything approaching a significant or emotional effect virtually every time. However, while exploring a world that prides itself on being “procedurally created,” tone deafness is to be anticipated. Of course, the main ‘Atlas Rises’ campaign (which stars Artemis, one of the few handwritten NPCs you’ll spend any time with) and the world-colliding multidimensional Space Anomaly both provide more dynamic and engaging characterization and context than 99 percent of the other habitations you’ll encounter across the galaxy. However, completing those aforementioned instructional tasks takes time, and a novice player may get bored and abandon the game before reaching either.
There are a few comfort choices in No Man’s Sky VR, but they are restricted in contrast to the breadth and variety of comfort options offered in many other contemporary VR games. You may switch comfort blinders on and off and select between snap-turning and smooth-turning, teleportation or hand-tracked smooth movement. Furthermore, if you want to play with a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad, you are not required to utilize motion controllers. I decided to play the update for 40 hours with Oculus Touch controllers, smooth locomotion, and comfort blinders turned off. I had no problems with the experience since I don’t get motion sickness in VR.
Unfortunately, I have every reason to think that the majority of people will not be able to put up with No Man’s Sky VR in the same manner that I have.
Simply stated, the VR mode is simply too problematic in its present state to provide a consistent experience. Understanding that there was a lot of game to weave into virtual reality, I encountered more crashes, frame-sucking performance issues (on my GTX 1070), and outright broken user interface components while playing No Man’s Sky in desktop mode than I’ve ever seen since I first started playing the game during its ‘Atlas Rises’ update in 2017.
Surprisingly, I discovered game-breaking flaws in typical user interface activities. Inside a space station or my ship, attempting to use my Multi-Tool and switch to the Terrain Manipulator’s ‘Create’ feature locked me out of further gameplay interactions until I returned to an autosave. Meanwhile, attempting to snap a fresh base screenshot at a planetary ‘Base Computer’ flipped my camera sideways and prevented my Touch controllers from entering anything for a whole 10 seconds. Yes, for many seconds in VR, my whole vision was mysteriously flipped horizontally.
To my disappointment, there were many major problems throughout the remainder of the game. My foray inside the freighter’s storage container units resulted in my demise under the cargo hold of the capital ship. There’s no longer a method to upload all scanned systems, planets, flora, fauna, or minerals at once, which means extra time wasted trawling through menu panels. To so much as back out of the conversation, I had to get out of my headset and use my actual physical keyboard in the real world to rename anything.
My list goes on and on, but I think I’ve made my point. There are just too many technical problems to identify and define in a timely way, and that is the major issue I’m addressing. It’s not even the bugs themselves that annoy me. It’s that there’s a constant sense of having to fight with the game in order to make it ‘work.’ Furthermore, dealing with so many problems in No Man’s Sky VR means spending even more time looking at text in canvas menus, resetting saves, tumbling through the environment, totally losing track of what my avatar is doing, losing track of the camera, and having an overall unpleasant experience.
Can these problems be resolved with future updates and patches? Totally. Do I think they’ll be? I have confidence in Hello Games based on their recent past. Many of the Beyond update’s ‘2.0’ features appeal to me even when I’m not in VR. But it’s fair to say that, although No Man’s Sky VR is innovative and thrilling in many respects, it’s riddled with bugs, poor optimization, and glaring design flaws that cause frustration and, at worst, diminish the pleasure of wearing a headset.
No Man’s Sky is a game that was released in 2016 and has been praised for its immersive space exploration. The only downside to the game is that it does not have a great control scheme. However, if you want to experience this game in virtual reality, then No Man’s Sky VR is the perfect choice.
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