No Man’s Sky‘s [official site] Foundation update was released over the weekend bringing base-building, different game modes, farming, freighters (kind of mobile resource warehouses), new resources, UI tweaks and so on. It’s a massive update, both in terms of what it brings and also in the sense that it feels like it changes the nature of the game. Previously it was this nomadic planet roamer with bits of resource gathering and survival bolted on. Now it feels like it’s aiming more for exploration and colonisation in the manner of something like Subnautica, just with procedural generation instead of predefined landscapes.
I’ll run through the main points of the update here and then put my own thoughts at the end (although I’ll caveat that by saying I’ve only played a few hours with the update).
The first thing you’ll see when you boot up the game is the choice of modes. Normal mode is where you’ll find your previous save file (if you have one) and is a kind of standard difficulty pottering space exploration experience with normal building costs and tech and whatever else. Survival mode ramps up the difficulty of surviving, so more hazards, more aggressive enemies, fewer resources… You get the idea. Creative mode is pretty much the exact opposite. You get unlimited health and resources and zero building costs so it’s entirely about building and exploring – a space sandbox with space lego thrown in.
In terms of the building side of things, a really big change is that you can now construct save points of your own out in the field, so if you have the resources for that you won’t have to trek all the way back to your ship and clamber in and out to activate the previous ridiculous save mechanism. There are also resource harvesters and waypoints amongst other in-the-field buildables. The patch notes point out that “Communications Terminals allow explorers to leave sub-space messages for others to find.” I have no idea how often people bump into one another in the game nowadays, although I remember that the infinitesimal possibility of people finding one another actually ended up happening really early on and they discovered they couldn’t see each other, so perhaps this is some kind of revised multiplayer-in-the-sense-that-it-acknowledges-others-exist-and-gives-a-sense-of-them-being-in-the-same-universe.
In terms of the actual base-building, you can claim a home planet and start building a base from an uninhabited base building – those are the ones you find scattered on the surface of planets. The bases are modular and you can slot all manner of different structural, infrastructural and decorative elements in to customise or to build out your base. You can also add storage modules for your resources and you can teleport back to base from space stations if you don’t fancy the return trip by spaceflight.
The update notes: “Find an even more beautiful location and you can simply dismantle your previous homestead to refund all of the spent resources.”
Farming is also part of this update, meaning you have little hydroponics modules you can build and use to grow crops for resources either on your base or in your freighter or outdoors if the biome conditions are right.
That brings us to freighters themselves. They’re enormous, expensive mobile storage spaces (so later game options if you’re not playing in creative mode) which you can use for trading or just for stockpiling resources. There’s an element of base-building with them too in the sense that you can customise them with the same suite of tools and use some of the space for farming, too.
“Use the new recruitment system to crew your Freighter with Engineer, Farmer, Weapons and Science specialists to help research new technologies.” Basically there’s an NPC employment scheme as part of the Foundation update – you can use the recruits on your freighter, but you’ll also be able to hire them for your base, researching particular tech or buildables. The farming specialist helps you access new plant types, for example.
There are also new resources which might be specific to a star-type (there are now red, blue and green star systems) or a biome and new bits of tech/products/misc to be researched and built.
As a result of all of this – the increased resources, the need to gather larger quantities for building, the attempt to make trade more meaningful – storage is a big part of this update. You can see that in the freighters, but also in the fact there are various storage modules as part of the base building and that you can now stack products in your inventories up to five times so the interim stages of production, or the gathering of products for sale isn’t so taxing on your inventory space.
There are some UI tweaks too. It’s mostly quality-of-life stuff, but the big one for me is that when you scan for resources you get a coloured diamond which contains the element’s chemical symbol, so a yellow Fe for iron and a red Pu for plutonium.
Other points of interest from the patch notes:
You can find the full patch notes on the Foundation update page. The Terrain and Visuals sections were really interesting if you want to know what’s changed about how the game looks.
I played a few hours on Sunday and… it’s certainly a massive change. I think it’s one of those updates which so fundamentally changes the nature of the gameplay and its core loops for me that it’s proving difficult to make the shift mentally although I do really like the terrain improvements.
To try to explain that a bit better, previously the game was about skimming through the universe, visiting but not staying on all of these planets. There were elements of survival and crafting, but they felt more like attempts to make the nomadic bit feel more consequential without tying you down. Now, I still have my save file and I’m still in the star system I was when I abandoned the game earlier this year but suddenly I can put down roots. That home-building element is really clashing with the mindset all of the previous play engendered – that there was always more to see and that you could easily become bored in one solar system. I’d assume that’s where the biomes come in, as well as the different resource types and the NPC recruits and so on – to tempt you into setting up a base – but I’ve found myself genuinely struggling to shift to that new way of thinking using my existing save file. Why put down roots when I’ll be done with this system in another half hour?
I fared better in creative mode, just experimenting with building and making my home planet the one I spawned on. I found myself creating a little plant room (because I’m nothing if not predictable). It was nice to start to see how those base structures and other elements came together although I would say that creative mode doesn’t give you anything to rub up against, so it feels a bit inconsequential for my taste. By that I mean that I accidentally accessed and built all of the different farming crops before I found out these were things you needed to research and work for in the main game, so I’ve kind of ruined that surprise there.
I also noticed some frustrations with building – for example, the structures are these modular things so you’d think they would clip onto one another easily, but I can’t seem to get a cylindrical room to “latch” onto a corridor I’ve laid down at all, so there’s a weird bit of my base where you have to go outside for a second before going back in to this other room. The rest has so far been okay in terms of slotting into place, but I’m finding the colour menus for objects a bit awkward. I’ll not be sure whether I’ve mucked up the colouring of a piece of decor or whether it’s just a fixed colour as I twiddle with the interface.
I’m also not sure how I’d feel about dismantling a base. It’s good to know you can get the resources refunded but I wonder whether you’d lose too much in terms of the relationship with the space if you’re just boshing together a bunch of elements instead of gradually building them up having worked to gather the resources. Maybe that’s where the freighters come in?
In terms of what the game now is, I guess it reminds me a lot of the core loops in Subnautica, just with procedurally generated planets rather than the predetermined undersea biomes. I love Subnautica so maybe that’s a good thing. There’s also Osiris: New Dawn – an early access planetary exploration/base-building survival game occupying similar territory. I started tinkering with that a month or so ago and was getting that same Subnautica-flavoured enjoyment which I think the Foundation update is supposed to bring to No Man’s Sky. But until the Foundation content and ideas bed in, No Man’s Sky for me is still casting around for a strong identity as a game. I see the Subnautica/Osiris adjacent stuff and I can’t help wondering why I would point people to this – a game that wasn’t supposed to be those things – instead of those games. Not yet, anyway, because No Man’s Sky is still tangled up in the promises and the descriptors of its initial release and players who experienced that might (like me) take a little while to disengage.
It also reminds me of my main release-time point which was “Good lord, if ever there was a game that should have been in early access while they figured out what it should be, No Man’s Sky was it.”
I’ll conclude by saying I definitely want to play more and see if I can get myself to make that shift because the changes are promising and I would like to have a reason to become more attached to some of No Man’s Sky’s worlds. It also changes the game loops in a way I think more people will find rewarding or engaging. I have no idea where it leaves the main story progression though, nor how other people might react as the game they bought appears to diverge from how it was pitched at release. I’ll play a bit more and try to put more thoughts together.
[Disclaimer: Alec wrote some bits and bobs for No Man’s Sky’s original release, but I don’t believe he was involved in any of the base building stuff. Unless they get Optimus Prime voice lines or something.]