After playing and very much enjoying the Cartographers Expedition, I decided to start a new Normal Mode save to get a feel for all the new content in the Frontiers patch. No Man’s Sky continues to be one of my favourite games, and every patch has delivered great new features and mechanics (and at no additional cost, as we all know and love)!
In the course of my recent (and ongoing) playthrough, I was reminded of some of the things I don’t like about No Man’s Sky. My goal here is not to whine about the game, but rather to invite conversation about how the game could be made better. let me know what you think!
First, though, let’s go over the things NMS does best. It’s an unparalleled space exploration game. Exploring planets and collecting cool ships, multitools and freighter fleets are among many players favourite activities. It’s also a brilliant builder. From base designing to industrial supply chains, to farming, interstellar trading, fleet management and the recently-released settlement content, the replayability of the game is nearly endless.
There are, however, a couple of things that get in the way of our favourite activities in No Man’s Sky, namely:
- Categorically bad quest design
- A poorly scaled reward system
I’ll go over what I mean by these two aspects one by one.
Time-limited expeditions aside, there are broadly speaking three types of quests in NMS:
- the main quest (e.g. Artemis, Atlas Path)
- side quests (e.g. the Farmer, Base Computer, Settlement); and
- radial quests (e.g. Guild quests, Navigation Data waypoints)
All theses quests are procedurally generated to some degree, with objectives that spawn on random planets, following certain templates (ie. abandoned building, collect x resource, destroy 5 sentinals).
The main quest includes a long tutorial (far too long), followed by what is essentially a series of quests that are indistinguishable from what I’m calling radial quests. Once you get to the Anomaly and finish the base building tutorial, the rest of the Artemis path consists of a series of incredibly repetitive tasks (locate a distress signal again, return to space and contact Apollo again, activate a Holo-Terminus again).
The transition from tutorial to “storyline” is also poorly executed. Why am I visiting a multitool trader half-way through the third main quest chapter? Why I am doing guild missions for the Gek in Patterns in Time?
More broadly, the pacing of introducing new mechanics via side quests is completely off. By the time you get to the Exocraft Technician questline, you will almost definitely have progressed to a point where exocrafts are only marginally useful. Rather than drive to your mission objective, you’ll just hop in a spaceship and be there in 20 seconds. It would be so much better if we were given the Minotaur before we purchased 3 S-class environmental protection modules, hazmat gloves, etc! Why is the submarine questline only triggered at the very end of the Artemis path? Wouldn’t it be better to encourage players to explore the incredible underwater worlds earlier? Also, what the hell even is the Atlas Path?
The opening tutorial up to the Anomaly is some of NMS’s finest gameplay. Learning how to survive on a hostile planet, collect and refine resources, build your first base and launch into space is a thrill, and probably the main reason longtime players still crave a fresh save file. The base technician quests also have the potential to engage the player in new activities, in particular the timed exocraft missions and the agriculture missions that send you to different biomes to become more self-reliant.
The structure and pacing of main quest/tutorial actively turns you off these mechanics by delivering them too late/slowly and forcing you on a wild goose chase of irritating generic fetch quests.
While No Man’s Sky is primarily a sandbox, it does have a wonderful tongue-and-cheek lore. The main quest “delivers” this lore in such a grueling way, I find myself clicking through the majority of the dialogue boxes without reading them an hour or two in.
So many of the tutorial videos on YouTube essentially explain to new players how to quickly get resources and access game mechanics without doing the main quest or radial quests-- How to scrap ships for nanites (instead of doing repetitive radial quests), How to farm money, etc. That in and of itself is proof of the problem.
Of course you might say “just don’t do the Artemis path”. Fair enough, but I don’t think I’m alone in being a bit of a completionist in the games I play. It bugs me to have quest objectives active that I’m putting off. I think there’s a better solution.
Related to the poor pacing of quests and gameplay mechanic delivery is the equally poor scaling of rewards. The early quests attempt to entice you by giving blueprints for craftable equipment that opens up new gameplay possibilities (refiners, for example). However, these are delivered so slowly that new players quickly figure out that they can get the blueprints faster by simply grinding to collect salvaged data. Let’s be honest folks: collecting salvaged data is a fairly boring way to progress through the game.
Once you’ve unlocked a ton of blueprints with data, most of the quests become pointless. I’m not going to do seven Base Computer archive recovery quests before unlocking the Medium Refiner. Just no.
Then we get to the radial quests, which reward the player with guild standing and some token resource that is easy to harvest (175 chromatic metal, anyone?). Guild standing basically does nothing, aside from make certain purchases 6% cheaper. Considering that these are also repetitive and grindy, I’d expect a more interesting reward. High-level quests should be longer, more complex, and give meaningful rewards that encourage the player to engage with them (more like the Expedition milestones or Weekend Community missions, for example).
Missed opportunities and ideas for improvement
I don’t want to just rant about the negatives here. I think there are ways quest design and rewards in NMS can improve in the future. Here are just a few ideas:
- Better rewards (nanites, salvaged data, blueprints, storage augments, SFMs are good rewards-- 47538 units or 5 warp cells is a lame reward)
- Introduce exocraft way earlier when they’re actually useful
- Don’t make me climb three ladders at a boring Holo-Terminus just for the privilege of clicking through three lines of dialogue. Those quests suck.
- Encourage exploration rather than exposition! Send me to new planets and systems. Not ones I’ve already visited. A good procedurally generated quest can be: visit one of each biome, scan all the critters on a planet, etc. These encourage you to get distracted and take in the sights. The main quest and side quests typically have you bounce between 2-3 planets you’ve already visited.
- Expand on the guilds! Make reputation meaningful and make interesting rewards/unlockable mechanics. Nobody wants another Korvax Casing. Nobody.
To be fair, Hello Games has done great work on NMS in so many ways. Thankfully, it’s possible to enjoy this game without doing anything more than getting to the anomaly. (Thank god we don’t need to do manufacturing facilities anymore to unlock crafting blueprints). I realise they’re a small team and it’s a very, very complicated piece of software. Rather than overhaul the storyline or anything, one thing they could do would be to simply allow the player to disable the Artemis Path on a new save.
Game modes could be like this
Expedition Mode (when applicable)
with 4 difficulty levels for each game mode: Creative, Normal, Survival and Permadeath.
Sandbox Mode would disable the Artemis Path after you repair your ship. You’d have access to the Anomaly after your first jump.
That would greatly increase the quality of life of many seasoned players.
These are my ideas. Sorry/not sorry for the wall of text. Let me know what you think!