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Ever since it launched in the summer 2016, No Man's Sky has been evolving and expanding, adding several new features and improvements to a game that maybe didn't deliver everything players were hoping for on release.
The sci-fi survival title, an adventure of galaxy-spanning exploration with some of the most striking procedurally generated visuals in the medium, added base building and new vehicles after its launch. Its 'Atlas Rises' update then delivered 30 hours' worth of new story, as well as portals to quickly travel across the stars.
And then came No Man's Sky: Next, released in the summer of 2018. It introduced a full suite of multiplayer options, and brought the game to the Xbox One, having previously only been on PlayStation 4 and PC.
We've gone hands-on with the next massive update to No Man's Sky - or the post-Next update to it, I guess? No Man's Sky: Beyond releases on August 14th as a free update for existing players - and it is, quite simply, No Man's Sky taken to all-new levels of immersive amazement.
The game established two key gameplay pillars with Next - multiplayer missions and base building activity. Beyond, as the game's largest update yet, adds a third pillar to that mix, with superbly optimised virtual reality play, covering every main VR platform and controller set-up on the market (not including the PSVR Aim controller).
If you've got a headset already, and a copy of this game - and we're told that around a million people already have both - then strap in for something special.
We started a new game in Beyond, in VR, using Valve Index controllers and with three other people in our squad - and we've never played anything else quite like it.
From jetpack-boosting around a frozen starter planet to mining down beneath its surface in search of valuable minerals, to simply getting in and out of the cockpit of our spaceship, everything felt incredibly tactile and - perhaps most importantly - perfectly intuitive.
VR is a massive part of Beyond, and No Man's Sky's makers Hello Games have made the mode superbly immersive. Its menus have been adapted to VR play, floating before your eyes, and they're accessed through screens that pop up above your in-game hands.
Your essential Multi-tool is stored over your right shoulder, and must be reached for - a little like how you grabbed your rifle in the recent PSVR game, Blood and Truth. And your Analysis Visor, used to scan the environment, is accessed by lifting your left hand to your face.
Movement in VR can be adjusted to suit your own comfort levels. Complete freedom is possible, allowing you to use the twin sticks as you would a regular first- or third-person game. But there's also a teleport option, instantly zapping you to a selected position, which is a little easier for VR newcomers.
Speaking to Hello's co-founder Sean Murray, who became the face of the studio during No Man's Sky's pre-release promotion, it's very clear that Beyond is much, much more than just the long-awaited VR update that fans of the game have been waiting for.
Murray spoke excitedly to us about how Beyond enables players to join up with their friends to take on multiplayer missions - both for their own gain, and for the benefit of the entire community. Maybe you'll take down enemy pirates together, or go exploring for the bones of ancient beasts? The spectacular bases that players create can be shared and visited, and ships can be shared too.
On the more bizarre side of things, many alien creatures can now be mounted like horses, so watch out for gangs of fellow explorers riding around on giant crab-like things. And they can also be milked (think about that for a minute), as cooking and recipes are added to the game with Beyond. Yep, there's farming in No Man's Sky - if you want it.
Also added is electricity and logic, so that basic computers, Rube Goldberg machines and even complex mini-games within this game can be created. One of the things we saw testers at Hello Games create was a fully functioning version of Rocket League, built with the new tools of Beyond.
New to the game is a mysterious Anomaly, a moon-like structure that players can fairly instantly warp to. This is where players can congregate and join together for multiplayer missions, assigned by something called The Nexus. There are all-new story elements based around this area of the game, which also provides a lot of new shops and services.
Get used to it, as you're going to be inside this Anomaly a lot if you're playing No Man's Sky with friends. And the introduction of proper multiplayer missions, assigned at a hub area, really feels like No Man's Sky is aiming for a slice of the Destiny pie - or, perhaps, it's targeting the faltering Anthem, and offering those players an alternative sci-fi experience.
Beyond is No Man's Sky version 2.0, basically (and if you want to remove the ".0", well, you might well be onto something given just how many changes there are, here). It's the culmination of three years' work, which itself comes after four years of solid development for the original No Man's Sky, the roots of which stretch right back to 2011.
It brings in hundreds of improvements, twice as many that featured in Next, for core players and newcomers alike. It represents a great jumping on point for anyone who hasn't started No Man's Sky yet, and the perfect opportunity for lapsed explorers to clamber back into their spacecrafts.
And there's more to come beyond Beyond, too, as Hello Games has loads of post-launch content lined up, with weekly missions and more, and it's all being made available for free. And of course, if the multiplayer options don't appeal, No Man's Sky can still be enjoyed solo - NPCs now have new language options, and can move around the locations you'll find them in. As far as lonely spacefarer simulators go, it's the most beautiful game out there.
It's tempting to call Beyond something of a Game of the Year edition version of No Man's Sky, given everything it's added to the base game. But when we put that to Murray, he shied away from the idea. Such a title would imply that this is all there is, the fully finished package, he told us.
And it's clear that, with Beyond's post-launch content, Hello Games isn't quite done with No Man's Sky yet.
Featured Image Credit: Hello Games
Topics: No Man's Sky
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