No Man’s Sky promises players the opportunity to explore a vast, procedurally-generated universe, but it’s really a game about economics. When you start the game with your crummy, wrecked ship and your tiny backpack, your first order of business is to collect resources and craft parts to fix your ship.
You will continue to collect those resources, craft upgrades and trade with merchants as you progress toward the center of the galaxy. You aren’t traversing those billions of planets for the joy of exploration or the thrill of discovery; you’re scouring the terrain for rare resources and valuable loot.
This is the best way to get rich in the early portions of the game.
Every game with an economy has a shortcut to riches
You have to pay attention, but finding the most efficient path to wealth is rarely hard. For example, in Fallout 4, the settlement system allows you to grow fruits and vegetables in large quantities. These crops are highly prized by the game’s merchants, who have stocks of very rare and powerful items that they’ll trade for an armload of corn.
No Man’s Sky has a similar "exploit" that simply takes advantage of the game’s economic systems, without cheating. This systematic mathematical approach to gaming is the way I play, but it isn’t for everyone.
Playing the game in a way that focuses on maximizing efficiency is also likely to result in a much shorter journey to the center of the galaxy, so keep that in mind if you prefer to take the scenic path.
A couple hours after I started grinding, I found a mountain made of gold. Gold is a rare and valuable resource, and finding a big pile of it is supposed to be an exciting event. A literal mountain of gold was a deliberate design choice meant to evoke a certain emotion, but I didn’t feel much at all. Collecting that gold wasn’t significantly better for my progress than the efficiency I’ve been grinding.
Depending on how you want to feel when you play No Man’s Sky, you might not want to read the rest of this.
How to own the sky
Okay, so this is the trick: Bypass Chips. You’ve probably made some of these already if you’ve been playing the game. Bypass Chips are craftable items that you can use on signal scanners to reveal the location of points of interest, or on landing pads to summon your ship. They’re nice, but they're just as useful as a sort of proxy currency early in the game.
You craft a Bypass Chip by combining 10 iron with 10 plutonium. Along with carbon, iron and plutonium are the most common resources in the game. Just about every rock can be mined for iron, and there are huge red plutonium crystal formations jutting out of the ground everywhere you go, especially in caves. I found a planet that was constantly barraged by acid rain. It had no life at all — no plants, and therefore no carbon — but it still had tons of plutonium.
Plutonium is useful fuel for your ship’s launch thrusters, and it can also refuel your multi-tool, but chances are you’ve been dumping your extra plutonium to make room for other, more valuable elements, or you’ve just been passing by those red crystals without harvesting them because you don’t need them and you don’t have extra inventory space.
Both reactions to these minerals are mistakes.
Here’s the thing: Bypass Chips sell to the vendor for a base cost of 3,575 credits (prices on all commodities in No Man’s Sky vary by a few percent randomly from store to store). Each unit of plutonium sold individually is only worth 41 credits, and each unit of iron is worth 17, so turning 10 units of each into a chip multiplies the total value of the component resources by about seven.
As a point of reference, each unit of gold sells for 229 credits, and if you divide the price of a chip by the 20 units of resources required to create it, you get a price of 178.75 for each unit of iron and plutonium. It takes a couple of seconds to combine each chip, but you can fill your inventory with iron and plutonium in less than one-tenth the time it would take you to collect a similar amount of any comparably valuable resource. To give you an idea of how efficient this is, I earned the gold trophy for accumulating credits 65 minutes after I earned the silver trophy, which means I earned a million credits in just over an hour.
And, since then, I have significantly increased my inventory, which makes the whole process more efficient. Protip: Don’t use the mining beam to collect iron; just shoot the rocks with your grenade launcher.
It’s just that easy. Iron and plutonium can be found everywhere. Max out your inventory with both, and then craft and sell Bypass Chips. That’s the whole strategy. It’s the quickest path to turn something that’s easy to find into an item you can sell for a large profit wherever you go.
What to do with your credits
Having a lot of money is a means to an end, and that end is escaping from the restrictions that No Man’s Sky places on the player at the start of the game. Those restrictions are:
- Extremely limited carrying capacity in both the player’s inventory and the starting ship’s hold
- A starting ship that moves slowly and handles poorly
- Limited warp fuel
- The limitations on the starting configurations of the exosuit and the multi-tool
So far, I’ve been primarily focused on the first problem. Scattered around the surfaces of planets are drop pods, which each contain an exosuit inventory upgrade. The first of these is free, but the second one costs 10,000 credits, and each subsequent upgrade costs 10,000 credits more than the previous. I have played about 12 hours of No Man’s Sky so far, and I have expanded my inventory from the initial 12 slots to 40, at a total cost of around 4 million credits. I paid for this by crafting Bypass Chips.
I’ve done this by systematically searching for "shelter" at every hackable beacon, to scour planets for drop pods. The great thing about getting my credits from iron and plutonium is that I don’t have to go looking for resources; wherever I go while I am searching for drop pods, there’s lots of iron and plutonium. Crafting all the resources I collect into chips feels like a grind, but collecting the stuff doesn’t. My inventory just kind of fills up with iron and plutonium as I do other things.
In the course of searching out those pods, I also developed a "special relationship" with the Vy’keen aliens and learned about 35 words of their language. I think my alliance with them brought down the prices they asked for spaceships.
Speaking of which, I bought a ship with 23 inventory slots for about 1.3 million credits. It is much faster than the basic ship and doesn’t spin like a top when traveling through space, so I am pretty pleased with it for now. Apparently the quality of the ships you can buy is dictated by the quality of the ship you’ve got, so I will probably be replacing my ship several times before I make it to the center of the galaxy.
Play how you want, but this way is most efficient
Thematically and aspirationally, No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration, about freedom and about the breathtaking scope of the universe. But mechanically, No Man’s Sky is a game about farming resources to make money.
Gathering lots of iron and plutonium, crafting Bypass Chips, and selling those to the vendor is the most efficient way to make money in No Man’s Sky, at least through the early and middle portions of the game.
Don't think about this approach as decreasing your sense of wonder; think of it as a quick way to buy yourself a faster ticket to the more interesting aspects of the game. With more cash and a roomier inventory, you can spend more time exploring and less time earning. But first? Let's make some Bypass Chips.