In the six years since No Man’s Sky first launched, the ambitious space game‘s name has morphed from a synonym for hubris to the go-to example of redemption through hard work and dedication. In 2022, ‘pulling a No Man’s Sky’ means saving a troubled game after a botched launch. No Man’s Sky update 4.0 rolls out on October 7, and creator Sean Murray tells us that while there’s not much in the way of spectacle in this patch, it’s full of quality-of-life improvements that continue to make the spacefaring RPG more fun and easier to play – whether you’re a newcomer or an experienced space pioneer.
“They’re not big, you don’t take an amazing screenshot of these things,” Murray says. “But they’re really important to people playing.”
The big version number updates for No Man’s Sky have come alongside launches on new platforms, and in 4.0, that platform is the Nintendo Switch. Players who have sunk hundreds or even thousands of hours into No Man’s Sky – and Murray says people tend to play this game for a long time – will find that version 4.0 raises the level cap on ships and weapons, providing new reasons to head out into space and hunt for rare crafting materials.
New players will find the inventory system easier to wrangle, as Murray says that’s been overhauled to make it less overwhelming. Streamlining the inventory system has also sanded down some of the rough spots that have irritated long-term players as well.
Hello Games has also reworked the No Man’s Sky survival game mode.
“I always thought [survival mode] was best during its first few hours, and then it became less challenging, and didn’t feel too different to some of the other game modes,” Murray tells us. “I think we’ve managed to make that feel a lot more different.”
While No Man’s Sky will be coming to the Switch this week, it’s already made its handheld debut on the Steam Deck, where it has surprised Murray and Hello Games with its popularity.
“It’s been consistently in and around the top five, top ten games played on there,” Murray says. “We’re a well-played game on PC across the board, but on Steam Deck in particular, which is exciting.”
Development of the Switch version of No Man’s Sky has prompted changes that make it more suitable for handheld ‘on and off’ gaming, as Murray puts it, that will also benefit players on the Steam Deck. The save system in version 4.0, for example, constantly saves your game, so you don’t have to worry about making it back to your ship or physical save point every time you want to end a session.
Again, not the kind of change that usually makes headlines, but impactful nonetheless. As Murray points out, the 4.0 update is unique in that it’s been preceded by a long line of content updates since 3.0 that have added big new features to the space game on a pretty regular basis. In May, the Leviathan update added space whales and a roguelike mode, and it was followed in July by Endurance, which introduced instant-warping, bigger fleets, and Nexus missions. The 4.0 update revisits some of No Man’s Sky’s less spectacular – but certainly no less crucial – fundamental systems.
While the story of No Man’s Sky in the popular imagination is a long redemptive arc, for Murray and his team at Hello Games, it’s been about maintaining a consistent balance between the joys and challenges of making games. He says he reads every bit of feedback that’s sent to Hello Games via email and Twitter – all that still goes right to his phone and his smart watch. While there’s too much of it to respond to individually, Murray says he hopes players see their feedback reflected in the updates to No Man’s Sky. The game itself is a part of that ongoing conversation.
“That’s how I like to see it,” he says. “I hope that’s how it feels. To be honest, that’s what’s credible, and what people want to see from us. People don’t want to hear from me, they want to know what’s in the game. They don’t want to know how I feel or whatever, and I have no interest in that side of things anyway.”
Murray has learned a lot since the leadup to the No Man’s Sky launch, and he seems to have settled into a comfortable understanding of the sometimes uneasy relationship between developers, a game, and its players.
“The simple truth for me is that making games is really hard,” he says, as we discuss the struggles CD Projekt Red has had ‘pulling a No Man’s Sky’ with Cyberpunk 2077. “It’s a sign of how hard it is that everyone finds it hard. If you’re making a movie, you put it out, and it’s good or it’s bad, right? If you make a game and you make it badly, it would be the equivalent of making a movie and then with it goes wrong, people get stuck in the cinema. Or no one can get into the cinema, everyone’s stood outside. The cinema goes on fire.”
Murray says he’s sympathetic to players who get highly passionate about the games they play, because he counts himself as that kind of player.
“I don’t know how much other people care about games, right? But for me, they’re something I’m super emotionally involved in,” he says, a smile broadening on his face. “I’m sure for other people, music is their thing, or books, or cinema, or whatever it is. And I love all those things, too. But the level of emotion I am feeling when I am playing GTFO, or when I’m playing Diablo, or I’m in VR… that win in Apex Legends, or that loss, hits like nothing else does, you know?”
No Man’s Sky 4.0 rolls out October 7.
Top image credit: @nms_friendstacy, via Twitter