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No Man’s Sky travel diary, day two: death comes for us all

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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, for the next week I’m going to be writing daily 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 find the first entry right here.

Let me tell you about the first time I died.

My earliest moments in No Man’s Sky have all been relatively cozy. The planet I landed on, Toigasaika Naurn, is peaceful and temperate, the perfect place to get acclimated to the game’s distinct blend of sci-fi survival. No animals have attacked me and the chilly air is harmless. I feel safe. That all changed once I repaired my ship and took to the skies.

Following a distress beacon, I land on a yellow planet that turns out to have a toxic atmosphere. Despite this, it’s surprisingly abundant with wildlife. Spiky cats wander around in groups, and I manage to feed an armadillo-like creature some zinc I harvested from a flower. I accidentally hit the L2 button and pull up a pair of binoculars I’ve apparently had this whole time. Not only do they let me zoom in to check out things from afar, I can also scan plants and animals to show the universe that I was the first to discover them (which is also a handy way to make some cash). I feel like a wildlife photographer.

No Man's Sky

The entire reason I came to this planet was to answer a beacon, but it’s not long before I’m distracted: my heads-up display tells me there’s an alien grave about 12 minutes away, if I walk. I have no idea what an alien grave might look like, or what might be there, but I have to find out — it just sounds so cool.

Wandering around a toxic planet is about as dangerous as you’d expect. In addition to constantly keeping my life support system in top shape, I also have to worry about maintaining the tech that keeps me safe from the poisonous air all around me. In order to do both, I need to collect very specific resources that can recharge these tools; but while this new planet is teeming with animals, resources are far more scattered, and I see none of what I need as I trudge toward the grave.

No Man's Sky

One of the most useful aspects of my suit is a cheerful robotic voice that alerts me when specific things happen. If my life support system drops to 75 percent, she’ll let me know, which means I don’t have to keep my eyes glued on the various numbers and meters in my HUD. I continue walking — still about eight minutes left, according to the computer — and come up against the first large body of water I’ve seen so far. The water is so clear I can see the plants and rocks on the ocean floor. Despite being rendered in a sickening shade of green because of the toxic air, it’s beautiful. Like a postcard from an alien world.

But I don’t have time to enjoy the view for long. It’s at this same moment my helpful computer informs me that my hazard protection has dropped to 25 percent, while my life support is at an uneasy 50 percent. I’m standing at the edge of an ancient alien ocean, with a desolate, near-empty wasteland to my left and right. Going back to my ship will take about as long as the trek to the mysterious grave. At this point I’m not sure I’ll make it in either direction. To the grave it is.

To be honest, I expected my first death in No Man’s Sky to be a little more exciting. Shot down by enemy fighter ships, or mauled by some kind of space dinosaur. Instead, it’s a long, tedious walk that eventually ends with me succumbing to poisonous air while listening to a distraught computer warn me about the state of my health. When I do finally die, the screen turns black and an Albert Einstein quote appears.

No Man's Sky

I come back to life at a nearby building, my last save point. I still want to go to that grave, but this time I think ahead: I get in my ship and fly most of the way, soaring over the water and turning an epic, dangerous journey into a quick one-minute trip. It turns out that trying to make it to the grave again was a good idea: the strange, metallic crystal I discover doesn’t do much, but it does give me back all of the resources and other items I lost when I died.

Soon after, I make contact with the Vy’keen, an alien race that calls this solar system home. The first alien I meet is a warrior who offers to give me a better multi-tool for no real reason other than being nice; the other, the one who sent the beacon in the first place, provides the blueprints I need to build a hyperdrive that will allow me to fly to distant star systems. The conversations are brief, and despite all of the ancient stones I’ve been finding, I understand maybe one in every five words they say.

No Man's Sky

Before I can build that hyperdrive, though, I need to do two things. First, I head off-planet to a nearby space station, where I’m able to use my limited grasp on the Vy’keen language to procure an important part of the drive. Then I venture to the closest planet in search of a specific resource called heridium needed to complete its construction. Problem is, this planet is just as desolate as the last, with toxic air, dangerous animals (including a Tyrannosaurus rex with a fly’s head, and a carnivorous beaver), and no heridium to be found on its surface.

Luckily, the one standout feature of this otherwise backwater planet is a bustling trading post. It looks sort of like a cyberpunk bus station, complete with rows of uncomfortable-looking red seats and a simple roof to provide shelter from the constant acid rain. It doesn’t look like much, but a new ship lands on one of its docking pads every few minutes. Each time that happens, I talk to the pilot and buy all of the heridium they have. Before long, my hyperdrive is complete.

No Man's Sky

By this point I’ve had enough of all of these toxic planets, so I decide to test out the drive and see what the next closest star system has to offer. As the hyperdrive powers up, light bends around me, shifting to a screaming shade of yellow.

When the yellow dissipates a few minutes later, I’m left staring at a wonderful site: a huge undiscovered planet as blue as the Earth.