I am on a quest to make a chocolate cake. Not a real one – I could do that in half an hour downstairs. No, this is a No Man's Sky cake; an item which has arrived in the game after the Beyond update as part of a new food crafting system. After carting refined flour (which I crafted from Heptaploid Wheat), churned butter (Wild Milk), bittersweet cocoa (Impulse Beans) and processed sugar (Sweet Root) around the galaxy map for days I gave up on trial and error and consulted the wiki. Turns out I need Creature Eggs.
Prior to Beyond, the thing which kept me exploring No Man's Sky was the photo mode. I'd bounce from planet to planet, solar system to solar system in search of stunning vistas and weird creatures to record. This time, as a result of the food crafting, I've found myself more engrossed in the game itself rather than its aesthetic, seeking out ingredients and unexpected combinations.
Creature Eggs are not so easy to come by, so in the meantime I've been tinkering with the food crafting system's other possibilities aboard my freighter. As a result, if you check my character's pockets you will currently find Stellar Custard, a Fruity Pudding, Pilgrim's Tonic and a LOT of Sweetened Compost. The latter is one of the types of bait now in the game and will hopefully come in handy for befriending an egg-laying critter.
To start using this system I had to get the blueprint for the nutrient processor which was just a matter of picking up a few scraps of salvaged data from a planet and trading them in at the Space Anomaly (now the game's summonable social hub). After that it was just a matter of collecting foodstuff from planets and trying different combinations in the processor. The foodstuffs are marked on your analysis visor as ears of wheat. and they're often lovely to look at in the wild. The Jade Peas are a personal favourite – gigantic peas glowing from inside a split in a huge pea pod.
At some point in my return to space I realised I'd also started vaguely engaging with the story again, which was a surprise. When the game first launched I got so annoyed with anything to do with Atlas that I ended up angrily ignoring every notification and nudge it would provide. Giving Atlas the cold shoulder at all times probably became my main mission. I have now, to my surprise, finished the Atlas quest pretty painlessly.
Aside from that, I've also doubled down on trying to learn the alien languages. That's proving more rewarding this time as the game groups versions of a word together so you won't trudge across the planet from one vocabulary-imparting stone to another only to find you've learned the word "you" and later the word "your".
No Man's Sky tends to muddle as it simplifies, though. So although the language-learning feels more generous, there is now an option to practice your language skills by saying single words to NPCs of each of the three main alien races. I cannot fathom it. I've tried speaking words which seem relevant, others which seem appropriate to their race (aggressive words for the Vy'Keen, for example), and I've tried working through every word option until they're exhausted. I've only ever been met with bafflement or hostility. My attempts to speak Korvax tanked my approval rating with that race so hard it went into minus figures. It's like the time I spoke Swedish so badly the Swedish person replied to me in Russian.
This muddling also applies to the food system. It's exciting! And the new catalogue system is kind of helpful in offering guidance. Except when it isn't. For example, it will tell you that to make Sweetened Herbs you need Faecium (poo) and harvestable plants. But it doesn't mean all harvestable plants. If you try Star Bulbs or Sweet Root you get Fermented Fruit instead. If you opt for Impulse Beans or Frozen Tubers you'll get Enzyme Fluid. And the catalogue won't record successful experimentation, only the resultant foodstuff. So I've made a Fruity Pudding and a Cocoa Tart, but I couldn't do it again if you asked me.
Further muddling comes with the new creature taming. Scanning a creature tells you its bait preference. Then you craft the bait and chuck it to the creature, making them your best buddy. This is when they will allow you to harvest whatever it is they produce – honey, milk, eggs, or a fruit from certain crabs concerningly called an 'apple', which might be some kind of prairie oysters style euphemism. Some animals will also let you ride them. But on my cake quest for Creature Eggs I became frustrated that I couldn't tell what an animal would offer before I went through all the foraging, crafting and bait-offering. I have now teased more honey from alien beasts than I know what to do with.
There are some changes I want to praise from the rooftops, though. Mousing over an NPC on a space station will immediately tell you if you've already visited them. The mining beam now actually powers up and cools down in a sensible way, allowing you to mine more efficiently if you can keep the beam the right side of overheating. Basic resources now stack up to 10,000 units in a slot instead of 250 (!!!!) You can move a piece of tech once it's installed. Pulse engine fuel is easier to track when you're in the cockpit. And there are now warp cores which have five times the capacity of regular warp cells. If you are not familiar with No Man's Sky, the latter is a MASSIVE reduction in busywork for people who want to go skipping about the galaxy using the hyperdrive. There's also the promise of fully remappable controls (although that's currently bugged).
Surfing the wave of my new enthusiasm, I buddied up with a friend and explored his home planet. We made a nutrient processor and carted it all over the place looking for things to put in it, along with creatures to tempt. We were trying to find a creature to milk, but we ended up harvesting those 'crab apples' from some happy crab monsters instead. We also managed to tame and ride some of the creatures. A peculiar experience, given the first pair we tried were shorter than the long grass we were in and so we sort of jolted along, tilting forward, on barely visible mounts. It was joyfully daft.
Partnering with another friend whose save file was less advanced was a different experience. It was still good, but the disparity in our resources created small points of friction and required constant navigation. We spent a lot of it passing items he couldn't get back and forth, or with him hiding in a hole to wait out a storm that my upgraded suit could handle easily, or realising we couldn't just head somewhere in space cars as I couldn't lend him one, and so on. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't as much fun.
In search of the game's other multiplayer options I turned to the Space Anomaly. This was a massive error because the Anomaly is the common factor in pretty much all of the major bugs I've experienced. In fact, let me say this upfront: the Space Anomaly is a big enough source of strife right now that you should absolutely avoid it until Hello Games have been able to tackle the worst of the problems.
As of the Beyond update the Anomaly is a space station you can summon to your current location. It's intended to act as a social hub as well as the space where key NPCs hang out and new crafting components can be unlocked. The chat window also offers a snapshot of some of the area's current bugs: players stuck in an invisible box above the ships, players whose ship simply disappeared when they exited the area leaving them floating in space, players spinning and unable to land. I've had the spinning one and the dying-in-space-without-a-ship one. I have also had the one where the game LOSES YOUR ENTIRE FREIGHTER AND ITS CONTENTS.
The first time was a surprise. I exited the Anomaly after some routine visit to buy components and the freighter just wasn't in my menu anymore. All my crafting material, all my stored valuables, all of it... gone. I thought it might be because I'd taken a screenshot as I exited the area, but it turned out it was happening to other folk who were exiting the Anomaly normally. Freighters are huge, valuable things. They have a lot of space and thus often end up being repositories of valuable items or resources for projects-in-progress. To have one just vanish was horribly dispiriting, especially given this is where important chocolate cake ingredients were being stored.
The second time it happened I'd grown wise to the Anomaly's issues, but I'd had a decent run of luck. I'd seen the dev team push out several small updates, so I was hoping the area was becoming more stable. That's when I returned from an hour-long mission of digging and running on a hostile planet with terrible weather. I headed back to the Anomaly with the mission complete, but there was no way to turn in the mission, and my second freighter was gone. In short: the Anomaly is currently a source of red-hot fuckery and you should steer clear if you have any possessions you want to keep hold of (although updates and fixes might have been released by the time you read this - go check).
After that latest blow I'm trying to figure out what to do with Operation Chocolate Cake. I could make the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa again pretty easily, but the eggs are still an issue. I don't want to invest in another freighter until those issues are fixed so I'd need to carry the various baits and ingredients in my suit or ship and thus take up valuable item slots. I'm also less keen to experiment with the food system now that I know I'll need to record my own recipe progress, consult wikis or risk repeating combos.
I could double down on base-building instead but since the update I can't seem to find a planet that's not actively trying to kill me. I'm not sure if that's because I'm still a fair distance from the galactic centre, but for me everywhere is either dead, covered in aggressive sentinels, aggressive carnivores or awash with jolly weather events like superheated storms. Nowhere really has the "settle down here" vibe that makes me want to spend time figuring out how to power my hydroponics trays. Plus I'd need to visit the Anomaly to unlock new component options.
The other activity I could turn to was restoring a crashed ship I found. It has 31 slots as opposed to my current ship's 23. That would ease some of the resource issues for sure. But, having plugged the repair slots with thousands of pieces of Chromatic Metal, Magnetised Ferrite, Wiring Looms, Platinum and goodness knows what other valuable resources, I've found that one of the slots is bugged and can't seem to be repaired. It won't affect the ship's ability to fly, and I can trade it in for a new one. But I wasn't after the money. I was after the sense of finishing a restoration project.
And so, weirdly, given the instances of real enjoyment I've had with this update, and the projects I was delighted to start, I've ended up back where I was before; skipping from planet to planet and taking pictures. The photo mode activities seem immune to Beyond's worst bugs and improved by its changes.
The crucial difference is that I'm now using photo mode as a stop-gap rather than the entirety of the game. It's what I'll do while I'm waiting for bug fixes and tweaks. When the glitches are banished I'm looking forward to picking up the projects I started and revelling in them again. I'm excited for that moment to come, but I'll let other people brave the wretched Anomaly first.