No Man’s Sky is a fantasy game about being a space castaway.
The appeal of the game is that it’s an infinitely deep lucky dip of randomly generated planets to explore.
The game’s planet generation technology is extremely impressive, capable of creating a broad variety of environments that almost always feel seamless and natural (it struggles a bit with very wiggly coastlines). The best results it produces could pass for hand-crafted outdoor vistas in most other games. Hiking through them is relaxing and zen-like as in the best open world games. The pulpy alien sci-fi setting was a good decision, as it lets the game get away with a much lower level of general detail than if it was trying to build a more relatable real-world environment – the original Halo pulled a similar trick.
A lot of valid criticism I’ve seen of the game (from people who’ve actually played it and aren’t just always dullards with bad opinions) seems to be from players becoming frustrated at the game’s obtuseness, and how much grinding it expects you to do early on just to get to a point where your character is basically competent.
It’s understandable that the developers wanted as much about the game’s systems to be a mystery for new players as possible – after all, everyone has spent the last few years breathlessly praising From Software’s games for taking this approach. The problem is that the player is presented with lots of activities and given no clue which are polished and fun and which are broken and safe to ignore entirely.
To this end I’ve put together a quick list of tips below that are things I’d wished the game had mentioned at some early point. If you’re still in the stage of spending most of the time scrabbling around for plutonium and rearranging your inventory, hopefully these will help you get past that stage to the point when you can start enjoying the game (although the inventory juggling never fully goes away).
The main quest: It’s pretty obvious at this point that the Atlas / center of the galaxy ‘end objectives’ were tacked on to the game as an afterthought out of fear that players would get confused without an explicit goal to work towards. You should probably say ‘yes’ to the Atlas question right at the start (but don’t fret if you didn’t) and definitely not sell the Atlas Stones you receive (as they’re expensive to replace and you need ten on hand to trigger the ending). You don’t need to get all the Journey Milestones to complete the quest so you can ignore the tedious ones (like ship combat).
Inventory: Ship slots hold twice as much of a stackable good as exosuit slots. The intention seems to be that if you’re mining elements on a world, you should be constantly dumping them back to the ship on a landing pad next to a trade terminal somewhere. When you reach a new planet almost always the first thing you’ll see on the surface is a drop pod with a suit expansion. You should buy these whenever you see them.
Feng Shui: Technologies of the same type (e.g. Thermal Protection, Warp Drive, Plasma Grenade, etc.) get a bonus if they’re in adjacent inventory slots.
Movement: The most important thing for any NMS player to know is that sprinting and tapping the melee button before firing your jetpack gives you a massive boost. Forget walking, forget using your ship to make expensive, time consuming and clumsy short hops – jetpacking lets you cover lots of ground and immediately grab/scan nearby items. Unless you’re on a very hostile planet don’t worry about getting too far from your ship. Many bases have a beacon or terminal you can use to summon it for the cost of a bypass chip.
You can also move rapidly underwater by ‘dolphin diving’ – jetpack as high as possible over the surface (preferably starting from a high cliff), and aim towards the water and push forward as you hit the surface, and you will move through the water at high speed until you collide with anything.
Finally, the ‘interact’ button works like a vacuum cleaner. Hold it down as you approach something and you’ll interact with that thing as soon as it’s in range and you can even move away (as long as the button remains depressed) before the bar fills. Sweeping the cursor over multiple collectibles/crates is quicker on a pad than lining up and activating each one.
Multi-tool: You’ve probably noticed this already, but letting go of the trigger on the mining beam before it overheats immediately flushes its temperature back to zero. If you scan a building/structure this will put a marker on your radar to help you find it again. Grenades are the quickest way to blast open steel doors and to farm iron. Grenades can also be used to dig small caves to hide from storms if you need your environment shield to recharge. Don’t bother with the homing grenade upgrade as it screws up tunnel digging.
Combat: All forms of combat in the game are boring and broken but the good news is they can easily be avoided. Sentinels can’t attack you inside buildings, and will stand down if they can’t see you. If you’re being bothered by them on the surface (i.e. you’re farming valuable rare items), you can use the jetpack to easily outrun them. If the drones are bugging you, a grenade at point blank range is effective. Sentinels drop titanium and cargo canisters which sometimes contain really good stuff.
In space, pirates can also easily be outrun (duck and weave a bit and keep dumping fuel into your shields) and they can’t follow you into a planet’s atmosphere. You can dismantle those dust-gathering ship weapon upgrades if you need more cargo space.
Bases: Once you’ve got lots of technology blueprints you can largely ignore mucking about with bases and beacons, aside from using their trade terminals. Landing on landing pads saves launch thruster fuel. If you’re on a particularly resource-rich planet, it’s worth looking for a spaceport to use as a base of operations. This gives you the option to buy and sell goods to visitors (as well as buy their ships) and the trade terminal.
Shipwrecks: Wrecked ships are free if your time is worth nothing – the ones you can find will only ever have a slightly larger (or smaller) inventory than your current ship, and require you to go through the tedious process of repairing all their broken systems and refueling.
The quickest way to get to a distress beacon that’s a long way away on the same planet is to go into the upper atmosphere. (It’s extremely obvious that ‘distance’ is a flexible concept in NMS – what it actually means is ‘how quickly the game can generate this new scenery’. Move far away enough from a planet that it’s not having to process the nearer levels of detail and you can traverse it more quickly.)
Making quick cash: There are playing guides out there that explain in detail how to cheese the game’s trading economy. The quickest ways that are still vaguely fun are finding planets with abundant rare items (Vortex Cubes, Albumen Pearls, Gravitino Balls, etc. – some of which don’t appear on the scanner), and scanning the complete set of animals on a planet, for which you can claim a bonus (usually in the 100,000s of units range) from the Options screen. There are rarely more than one or two types of sea, cave and flying animals on a planet, and land animals are more often found in plains and valleys. You can of course use the name of a planet to remind yourself (and inform other players) of a particularly fruitful world.
Atlas Interfaces: Avoiding spoilies, it’s worth exploring the whole accessible area in an Atlas station or a Space Anomaly.