I have a lot of respect for Hello Games. No Man's Sky was a mess at launch, plagued by bugs, performance issues, half-baked systems, and a general feeling the developer had overpromised and underdelivered. Fast forward to today, after five years of free updates, and the game is in much better shape. It's a good game. Great, even. Yet I can't help but feel that, with every new update, as impressive as they are, No Man's Sky is drifting further and further away from the game I dreamed it would be when I saw it at E3 2014.
Frontiers is the latest major update for No Man's Sky, adding procedurally generated alien settlements to the game. You can become overseer of these neat Star Wars-esque frontier towns, guiding citizens, making choices, building structures, and defending them from Sentinel attacks. This update also greatly expands the base-building systems introduced in 2016's Foundation update. The developer has gone big on survival and base-building in recent years, and I get why.
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People love base-building survival games. Just look at the wild success of games like Valheim, Subnautica, ARK, and Rust. I don't blame Hello for leaning into this aspect of its space sim. It's simple supply and demand. But when I first heard about No Man's Sky and fell in love with the concept—its infinite procedural universe, quintillions of unique planets, and focus on discovery—I never imagined the game would become quite so eager for me to put down roots and stay in one place.
For me, the thrill of No Man's Sky is exploration. Jumping between systems, landing on planets, and seeing what fresh space-weirdness is out there. Some updates have focused on making that experience more interesting—particularly 2020's Origins, which increased planetary diversity and introduced new weather conditions and creatures. Of all the updates released so far, this excited me the most, because it focused on making the entire universe richer—not just giving me more things to do on the surface of a single planet.
Other expansions, however, have left me cold. They're not bad—far from it. Hello constantly impresses me with the quality of its updates. But the idea of finding somewhere and settling down seems like the complete antithesis of everything that's interesting and evocative about No Man's Sky. Why would you want to put down roots in an endless universe? I can't imagine finding a planet, then spending 30 hours there, scavenging materials, building bases, or running a small town. I'd be far too eager to see what's waiting around the next galactic corner. That's what really motivates me in this game, not building space huts.
Maybe my own playstyle is incompatible with the direction Hello wants to take No Man's Sky in. I just wish, selfishly, that the developer would focus more on people like me—players who don't want to build bases, get deep into survival systems, or play with other people. Yet every update seems to be largely tailored towards multiplayer, construction, or different layers of management and progression. I feel like Hello is ignoring the game's most powerful feature—its vast, vivid, joyously colourful procedural universe—in favour of creating its own versions of experiences I can get from a dozen other base-building survival games.