“What do you do in No Man’s Sky?” is a question that’s followed Hello Games’ ambitious space opus around ever since it was unveiled back in 2014. Truth is, it’s never been an easy proposition to explain; when there’s an entire galaxy to explore, how do you tell someone where to start?
You might already know that the goal is to make your way to the center of a galaxy full of unique, procedurally-generated planets, but it’s what happens on the way there that’s a mystery. Now, with about five hours game time behind me, it’s becoming clear that there’s a lot to do. As millions of travelers prepare to make their way into this vast, unknown universe, here are a few things that will help get your journey underway…
1. Fix Your Ship
You’ll start No Man’s Sky in sight of your small starship and it won’t be in good shape, so making essential repairs, fuelling up, and taking your first tentative steps into space flight are job #1.
Some milestones are laid out for you as you progress through the game — like locating a space station, repairing your ship’s Hyperdrive, and eventually travelling between star systems — but for the most part, you’re free to explore as you please. And before blasting off, there’s already a lot you can do on that first planet.
2. Collect Essential Elements
Your Exosuit’s scanner reveals valuable elements that are scattered across every planet. Plutonium fuels various parts of your ship and keeps your life support systems online, while iron keeps your shields powered up, protecting you from the hostile conditions on a planet’s surface — so you’ll want to stock up on those early.
Combining elements lets you craft materials to fix your ship or enhance your Exosuit and Multi-Tool — while others fetch a high price on the galactic market. Inventory space is limited, but it pays to learn which elements are worth keeping hold of.
3. Meet the Sentinels
An early mining expedition introduces me to the sinister, ever-present Sentinels — a galactic police force of sorts, who silently patrol each planet to ensure order is maintained. They hover around, scanning the area I’ve been mining to check I haven’t been greedy before focusing on me with a large, techno-cyclops eye.
Satisfied I’m not upsetting the galactic order (for now), they leave me alone. But it’s a chilling reminder that I’m being watched — and I certainly don’t feel ready to mess with them… yet.
4. Explore a Planet
Wandering around even a small area of your first planet, you’ll encounter unique creatures, plant life, and minerals to scan, name, and upload to the Galactic Library (who, by the way, pay handsomely for discoveries) — as well as evidence of alien civilizations. Knowledge Stones teach you words from strange languages, which make trade negotiations with their native speakers easier and raise your standing with their cultures.
There are also signs of less fortunate travellers. Smoking debris can be seen on the horizon and investigating these provides blueprints for new technology or improvements to your Exosuit, ship, or Multi-Tool. You’ll also stumble across abandoned signal scanners — beacons that, if you’ve got the elements needed to get them working, highlight points of interest like trading posts, downed ships, or transmission signals. Each of these could lead to rewards like valuable resources, a new Multi-Tool, or even a bigger, better ship.
5. Blast Off
Leaving solid ground for the vastness of space is a mind-blowing experience — there are asteroids to blast through, colossal freighters to marvel at, and other pilots to dodge (or engage in a dogfight if you’re feeling brave). But it’s when you take a look at the galactic map for the first time that the overwhelming sense of scale takes over.
Every star system is charted, each is home to a multitude of planets that are yours to discover, once you have a hyperdrive blueprint. It’s an exciting prospect that every pinprick of light can be explored, particularly when a path to the galaxy’s center begins to open up. A true sense of purpose takes over, and travelling onward to a space station to buy, sell, and craft the necessary parts becomes an important goal.
6. Make Some Upgrades
The role you play in the galaxy is very much defined by your gear. Your Exosuit, Starship, and Multi-Tool can be modified in countless ways and blueprints for new technologies and enhancements are common — but inventory space is limited, so giving some thought to the kind of traveller you want to be is wise when making upgrades.
If exploration and discovery is your focus, adding extra range to your Multi-Tool’s scanner will make new species discovery a breeze, while enhancing your mining beam will help you become an efficient, wealthy trader. If a more aggressive approach is your thing, adding a Plasma Launcher or upgraded Photon Cannon to your vessel can aid a life of piracy and take down traders and Sentinels faster.
7. Cause Some Trouble
If you find the eyes of the Sentinels on you to be intimidating, or the lure of plundering space freighters gets too much, it’s easy to start a fight. A warning though: early-game aggression is likely to be over pretty quickly and the chances of you coming out on top are slim.
With the right upgrades, you’ll stand more of a chance — at least against the first wave of Sentinels. Attaching a shotgun-esque attachment to my Multi-Tool let me take a few down, but revenge came swiftly as my wanted level increased, more Sentinels arrived and I was brought to justice. Equally, my attempts at interstellar piracy were short lived as Sentinel fighters were instantly scrambled in response to taking a shot at a cargo freighter.
Of course, the thing with No Man’s Sky is that you don’t have to do any of this — there’s a lot more you could do in your first five hours, but equally you could spend all of that time and more on your first planet and still come nowhere close to getting bored.
It all depends on how you want to play the game; in this relatively short time I feel like I know what I want to do with my game and have an idea of how to get there — but that might be entirely different to how you want to play. That’s what makes No Man’s Sky such a unique, intriguing prospect — and I can’t wait to spend many more hours in its universe.