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No Man’s Sky travel diary: turning to a life of space crime

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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.

This planet might just be the worst I’ve set foot on.

Desolate isn’t a strong enough word to describe it. The atmosphere is toxic, and there is no animal life whatsoever. Not even a scrambling crab to pester me while I search for resources. The only plants I see look more like rocks, hardened from eking out a sad life from this awful terrain. Even the buildings I discover are deserted: no alien calls this place home, and I can’t blame them.

No Man's Sky

After a quick exploratory jog, just in case there’s something useful to mine from this space hell, I decide to head back to my ship. I stumble across a strange open area, filled with what look like small, round boulders. They’re about double the size of a basketball. When I get close to one, spikes shoot out and injure me, even through my highly advanced space suit. It makes me irrationally angry: I pull out my weapon and blast the spike-balls to pieces. I’m rewarded with a new resource called "sac venom," but almost immediately a robotic defense force appears and starts attacking me. I’m forced to fight my way through a pair of sentinel drones and a robotic dog that shoots a bright red laser beam from its head. Apparently, sac venom is not something you’re supposed to just take.

A few minutes later I understand why.

On my way back to my ship I find a trading terminal, and I use the chance to offload the troublesome resource. It nets me a hefty sum, close to 30,000 units, significantly more than any other resource in my inventory. I do a quick scan and realize that, while this planet is devoid of just about everything, it is abundant in sac venom. I’m standing on a deserted planet that could make me rich.

No Man's Sky

So far my time in No Man’s Sky has largely been focused on exploration: finding new worlds, new life, and new secrets of the universe. I’ve gone so far as to create a philosophy for myself, one that forces me to live off the land, so to speak, and only take what I need. I’m here to discover, not to drain a planet of its natural resources.

For the most part this has suited me just fine. But there have been moments where some extra units would have been useful. I’ve discovered suit upgrades only to be short on the necessary funds, and I often look at the ships of alien traders with awe, only to realize that I would have to spend upwards of 1 million units to get a nice ride for myself. I want one of those ships, both for practical reasons (extra storage is always welcome) and personal ones (I’m not such a fan of my current cockpit’s layout).

And so I turn to a life of crime.

At first, it’s messy. I use my mining beam to destroy a few boulders and harvest the sac venom, and then fight ensuing security crackdowns. But it’s not easy to keep this up. I can take down a few sentinel drones and their dog helpers no problem, but after waves of them my health starts to take a serious hit. So I think things through a bit more. I start by landing my ship very close to a large grouping of the boulders. Then I make sure I have as much inventory space clear as possible, and proceed to collect exactly as much sac venom as I can carry, before sprinting as fast as I can back to the safety of my ship. For all of their technological advances, the sentinel force has a disturbingly short memory, so as soon as I take flight they forget about me. I’m able to repeat this process as much as I like. Before I know it, my account swells with 1.5 million units.

No Man's Sky

It’s enough money to get me a shiny new ship, but I still hesitate about leaving this planet. Once you start getting easy money it’s hard to stop. Sure, I don’t need any more units right now, but maybe at some point in the future I’ll be kicking myself for not sucking as much cash from this planet as possible. Harvesting sac venom isn’t a fun process, but the financial reward is so very tempting. I could easily spend hours on this otherwise terrible planet, and have enough cash to fuel my expedition for a long time. Ultimately, though, I decide against it, and set course for the nearest space station to haggle for a new craft. I settle on an angular number with a high-set cockpit, an advanced weapons system, and nearly double the amount of storage as my current ship. The mechanical Korvax pilot seems very happy to receive the hefty sum of units.

I take my new ship for a spin right away. The previous owner left it running on empty, so I have to mine a few asteroids to power up the pulse drive, but after a few minutes I’m speeding through space on my way to another undiscovered planet. When I land, my computer tells me it’s rife with animals. It looks like the exact opposite of the sac venom planet: green; full of swaying trees; strange, spiky plant life; and sandy beaches. As soon as I step out of my new craft I’m attacked by a skittering crab creature. The surface looks sort of like a surrealist riff on Honolulu — exactly the kind of place I love to get lost in. I do a quick scan to see what’s around me.

I’m disappointed to discover there’s no sac venom.