Today, No Man's Sky is one small step closer to being the improbable dream-game so many envisioned it as, in one giant leap for patch-kind. The 'Next' update adds full online multiplayer, third-person camera modes and a chunk of new things to do, see and explore. The graphics have received a bit of love from Hello Games as well, going as far as adding scads of pointless but cool-looking greebles all over spacecraft and structures. There's a whole lot more, but you're probably better off skimming the enormous patch-notes page here.
Reworked space stations, new fleet dynamics, expanded base building, excavations for buried treasures and more. It's a lot. When you launch the game now, you'll be asked whether you want to be auto-matched with players and dropped into someone else's game, or if you'd rather start alone, with the possibility of meeting strangers out in the void. It's an interesting dynamic, promising some interaction even if you're a more solitary sort, although there is an option available in-game to disable online play entirely. Multiplayer feels like a central part of No Man's Sky now, which feels an odd thing to say.
For those who'd rather actively seek out players via the new Stargate-esque portal system, check out the official Galactic Atlas site. With that, you can find the most densely populated player hubs. Apparently some of the more heavily packed regions of space will play host to the upcoming live community events. It's fascinating to see the dynamic of the game change from a dive towards the galactic core to a more social, stationary experience.
From a quick look around a starting planet, it feels like many smaller parts of No Man's Sky's design have shifted as well. No longer am I looking for big chunks of Ferrite mined from massive stones, but being told to use Ferrite Dust from small rocks to get my initial gear back in order. The UI has been rearranged somewhat, and the game now begins in third-person view by default, which works better than I expected. The character animations feel solid and weighty, especially when jetpacking around. Plus, some of your UI is visible on your backpack.
I'm honestly a little bit stunned, seeing how far No Man's Sky has come since its admittedly rocky launch. No Man's Sky Next could almost pass for a full sequel, factoring in the three major updates leading to this point, one of which added a lengthy central story arc with a large cast of characters. Seeing Next released for free is heartening. Good on ya, Hello Games. Now when's Joe Danger 3?
Disclosure: RPS's own Alec Meer once wrote some story bits for No Man's sky, but this is before they were buried by a far bigger story-heavy update a while back. Honestly, we're not even sure what parts he did now.