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No Man’s Sky travel diary: the end?

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So close, yet so far

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky is an almost impossibly huge game, an entire virtual universe filled with 18 quintillion planets, each one different from the next thanks to the powers of procedural generation. Instead of a typical review, I’m going to be writing regular dispatches from No Man’s Sky, giving a firsthand account of what the experience is like, and what you can expect if you choose to dive in. You can follow along right here. Spoilers below.

For the last few days I’ve remained focused, and now I can feel it: the end is near.

My off-and-on quest to follow the path of Atlas — a mysterious entity that trades platitudes and red stones for obedience — has now become an obsession. It’s my only focus. I find myself ignoring everything that doesn’t relate to my quest. At times I’m surprised to realize I’ve run out of fuel; at one point I flew right through a surging space battle featuring a half-dozen ships, so that I could get to the Atlas interface on the other side.

Each time I visit Atlas, it (they?) is slightly different. When I pull into the red diamond-shaped structure this time, I’m greeted not by a giant orb as per usual, but instead three humanoid figures, suspended in an ethereal mist. I don’t understand who or what they are. But like everything else in this vast universe, it doesn’t matter too much. All that matters is getting the next Atlas stone, and finding out what is at the end of this quest.

No Man's Sky

Following the path of Atlas requires making a lot of hyper drive jumps. Every five or so systems along the path, I find what’s known as an Atlas interface, and entering one gets me both a pretty red stone and a brief interaction with whatever Atlas is. The strange thing is, Atlas never actually says anything of substance. It’s always vague promises about the mysteries of life and the universe. Yet, it still fills me with hope; hope that this long, arduous journey will be worth it.

As I leap from system to system in search of Atlas, I can’t help but wonder what I might be missing out on. I’m leaving literally dozens of planets unexplored. Weeks ago that would’ve been unthinkable, going against the sheer thrill of exploration that initially guided me. Now it feels like the only option.

When I do set foot on a planet, it’s out of necessity. I land my craft on a nearby moon in search of zinc to craft the warp cell necessary for my next jump. For a barren rock, the moon is surprisingly interesting. There are no animals, but the surface is home to giant plants that twist and throb in strange, alien ways. I spot a boulder with an eerie, pulsating orb visible at its center. Plants that look like tiny, floating squids dot the sky. And while there are no signs of life of any sort, I do spot the ruins of an ancient building, suggesting I’m not the first one to set down on this moon.

No Man's Sky

After I take off, I cruise through an asteroid field and turn my attention to my inventory. Right now I have 10 Atlas stones. I wonder how many more I’ll need to reach the end. The next interface is just two systems away, so I plot my course and sit back and wait to arrive.

Something feels different when I get there. It’s hard to explain; everything looks as it normally does, but the vibe is new. My ship docks on a raised platform, as per usual, with steps that lead to a harshly lit pathway with silver arches that detach when I walk underneath them. At the end of the path is a massive, spherical gem that slowly rotates and hovers in place.

No Man's Sky

When I talk to it I’m told that my journey is complete. It feels so sudden. Atlas tells me nothing about it or the secrets of the universe. Instead, it requests the 10 stones I’ve spent so long collecting. Giving them to Atlas will "birth a new star," I’m told. I have no idea what that means, but I don’t see many other options. Maybe a star is what I need. But instead of providing a new destination or insight, the star simply makes me "free to explore," presumably outside of the confines of Atlas’ path. The being — which I once considered powerful, but now am not so sure — suggests I go off in search of a black hole.

I’m starting to think Atlas is as confused as I am.