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No Man’s Sky travel diary: following the path

No Man’s Sky travel diary: following the path

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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, 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.

When I enter a new star system I pretty much always know what to expect.

The colors and placement may be different, but I usually encounter four or five new planets, a space station, and maybe a group or two of marauding space pirates. But after my sixth lightspeed jump, I find something different: a black, diamond-like floating alien structure, stark against the blood-red of space. My computer tells me it’s an "Atlas interface." From the very outset of my journey Atlas has been a mysterious voice in the background, often pushing me forward to new locations. But even now, after visiting dozens of new worlds, I have no idea what exactly Atlas is. So I steer my ship toward the round, ocular entrance.

The inside of the intimidating structure is even more alien in design. After I exit my craft I find myself surrounded by a vast, virtually empty space with mirrored walls and staircases and hallways that seem to lead nowhere. In the very middle is a massive, red orb. Its surface features a mesmerizing triangular pattern, with an uneven texture that almost makes it seem like a natural thing, not some kind of alien construct. When I approach, it talks to me. Is this Atlas? I’m not sure, but its words are incredibly enticing: follow it, and I’ll be on the "path to enlightenment." I get no further explanation, but it gives me a small stone that’s like a miniature version of itself. Naturally, it’s called an "Atlas stone."

No Man's Sky

The encounter has reinvigorated my desire to follow Atlas, even if it’s just to find out exactly what it is. Stumbling upon the interface feels like the first truly new thing I’ve done in ages. I want more.

It turns out I do crave some sort of end goal

I spend a few hours exploring the local planets. I find some more fascinating ancient ruins, including the remains of once-impressive structure that lies beneath a shallow pool of water. I run across the surface of a beautiful frigid planet, with red mountains and blue trees that combine for a view that makes the damage to my hazard protection systems almost worth it. When I dive underwater, I spot schools of what look like purple angelfish the size of soccer balls, and am attacked by a creature that’s like a 10-foot long lamprey, except even more terrifying than that sounds. This system has some of the most abundant, varied, and downright beautiful worlds I’ve visited — and yet I can’t stop thinking of Atlas.

As much as I enjoy the freedom of exploration, it turns out I do crave some sort of end goal. I could spend hours cataloging the often strange, sometimes adorable, always interesting alien creatures I come across. And I have. I even enjoying just taking photos of the different landscapes. But it’s not quite enough to drive me forward indefinitely — and I’m hoping Atlas can be the solution.

No Man's Sky

So instead of scouring each and every planet as I typically do, I decide to make a few jumps through space, in hopes of stumbling across another floating monument. I jump across two star systems, but don’t find what I’m looking for. At one point pirates blow my ship apart, and I temporarily lose the Atlas stone I’ve come to treasure. (Luckily I’m able to retrieve it simply by going back to the spot I died. The pirates are no longer there when I arrive.)

After traveling to yet another star system I find something new, but it has nothing to do with Atlas, at least initially. My computer alerts me to a nearby space anomaly, a spherical structure that looks a bit like a miniature Death Star, sans the planet-destroying laser beam. For the second time in a few hours I find myself entering a structure unsure of what I’ll find on the other side of the door.

No Man's Sky

When it opens, my eyes immediately settle on a tall, white beam of light pulsating through the center of the room. I’m unsure of its function and I don’t have a way of finding out what it does. But it turns out to be the least interesting part of the anomaly. Inside I find two aliens of different races — one a reptilian Gek, the other a robotic Korvax. It’s the first time I’ve seen the different races interacting with each other like this. They seem to be of a higher standard than the beings I’ve met on space stations or planetary outposts, and they appear to be working together, but to what end I’m not sure. The Gek asks me to share information on the beings I’ve encountered so far, and rewards me with a new piece of technology that’s actually useful (it helps my suit protect me from toxic radiation).

The Korvax, though, wants to help me on my quest. The question is, what kind of quest am I on? The mechanical being offers three options: supplies to aid with my exploration, information about black holes that can help me get to the center of the galaxy faster, or the location of another Atlas interface. It takes me a few minutes to decide. Supplies are relatively easy to come by, but the center of the galaxy — the ostensible goal of No Man’s Sky — is tempting. Getting as far as I’ve managed has already been a long and laborious experience, so the idea of quickening my pace would be very welcome, but who knows when I’ll come across an Atlas interface on my own next. The first one took me dozens of hours to find. I make my choice.

I choose Atlas.