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No Man’s Sky travel diary: the joy of missing out

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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.

The more I explore, the more I realize how much I’m missing. And I’m finally OK with that.

After my last encounter with an advanced alien being, which put me along the path to find Atlas — some kind of mysterious, all-knowing force spread throughout the universe — I continue to search for more signs. "Atlas interfaces" are huge, monolithic structures floating in space, each one promising a brief encounter with Atlas and continued enlightenment about the secrets of the universe. Problem is, they’re spread out quite a bit. It wasn’t until my eighth-or-so foray into a new star system that I stumbled upon one, and according to my map it will take three more hyperdrive jumps before I find another.

I want nothing more than to find the next one — but that also means I need to learn to let go. Each star system is home to a handful of planets, each with its own distinct wildlife and landscapes to explore. Many are barren wastelands, dangerous because of extreme weather, a toxic atmosphere, or violent predators. Others are the opposite, abundant with herds of strange and wonderful creatures, and rich with useful resources to help me on my journey. The thing is, because all of these remain undiscovered — at least until I land on them — this means that I never know what to expect when I set course for a new destination.

No Man's Sky

Part of this is thrilling; exploration and discovery have been the highlights of my experience. But it can also be exhausting. For the first leg of my journey, I found myself exploring nearly every single planet as thoroughly as possible, spelunking through caves in search of rare minerals, and diving underwater in hopes of stumbling across a submerged alien ruin. I’d scan every plant and animal I saw. But as I look at my map of star systems, I realize this isn’t something I can keep doing — not if I really want to find Atlas. It would take forever. Instead, I force myself to ignore the pull of these strange alien worlds, and instead jump from system to system, without taking the time to explore.

It’s freeing.

Without the need to look at everything, just in case it might be interesting, I finally make some real forward momentum on my quest. When I land in a new star system I take a quick scan around to see if there’s anything of note, and then I immediately warp to the next. I stop only to gather up the necessary resources to build new warp cells to fuel my journey. Before I know it, I’m once again face-to-face with an Atlas interface, its invisible alien technology pulling me inside once I’m close enough. I step out of my ship and walk through a dark hallway, illuminated by strange golden spheres. Metallic arches detach and rise into the air as I move underneath them. When I confront Atlas, it once again promises me simply the gift of knowledge if I continue to follow along its path. I agree.

No Man's Sky

Even moving at this rapid clip, I still see some amazing sights. After I exhaust my last warp cell, I set my ship down on a nearby planet in search for the minerals needed to craft antimatter, a key component for inter-system travel. It’s a radioactive world that’s only tolerable because of the many upgrades to my suit. Yet somehow it’s still abundant in wildlife. When I first exit my craft, I’m attacked by a green pig-like creature, and nearby are what look like foxes with bat wings (though sadly they don’t appear to be able to fly). When I look into the sky, I’m astonished to see swarms of massive, flying, dragon-like worm creatures. They twist and turn through the air like resplendent kites. I can’t stop snapping pictures. Later, when day turns to night, I’m greeted with swirling yellow gas clouds, beautiful against the night sky.

Sure, I’ve probably missed out on some equally astonishing views on the planets I’ve ignored, maybe some that are even better. But even when I’m not trying to I keep finding fascinating new worlds. I might not see everything, but I see enough to keep me satisfied.

No Man's Sky

Once I’ve completed the new warp cell, I head straight into space and make the leap to the next system. There, I come across another anomaly, once again home to two seemingly powerful alien beings, who for some reason are intent on helping me. I’m offered the same three options as last time: aid in the form of supplies, a guiding hand to the next Atlas interface, or a chance to learn about black holes that can help speed up my quest to the center of the universe. This time, I choose the black holes, and my star map is updated with the location of one a few systems away. I leave the alien structure, cobble together some new warp cells at a nearby space station, and then make a handful of leaps through space without stopping to think about everything I’m missing out on. After a time, I finally arrive, confronted by a huge swirling blue mass, with a dark circle at its center.

I have no idea what’s on the other side. I push forward to find out.