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No Man’s Sky update makes the game more social, which kinda ruins it

No Man’s Sky, more like Too Many Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky - a long spaceship with double engines pulse drives through the galaxy, passing by a planet. Image: Hello Games via Polygon

By and large, No Man’s Sky Expeditions is similar to the standard game — the galaxy is just less empty. Other space explorers are now everywhere, hanging out near your ship or clustered around a trade post. You can see figures in the distance jumping off of mountains or skipping down dunes. These are big additions, and they come with some small technical issues that are consistently frustrating. At points, Expeditions feels a lot like the MMORPG version of No Man’s Sky, warts and all.

Expeditions are a time-limited season, added in patch 3.3. In this mode, players start a new save file, except that everyone else also starts at the same point in the universe. There’s a set of goals to complete, in any order you want, like a certain amount of miles to travel. Doing so earns rewards that persist into your other save files. You can race through the usual campaign and progression so you can get straight to endgame stuff, or start over and learn the ropes step-by-step along with other players. There’s incentive to start over, too: You can earn rewards, like a cool golden spaceship.

For some players, this kind of structure and presence is incredibly helpful. No Man’s Sky is a vast sandbox. When playing without a guide, players often spend time wandering through landscapes, finding more carbon and oxygen, and flying in space. It’s not exactly thrilling. Expeditions add obvious waypoints and immediate goals, which is a huge help for finding your way.

There are a few technical issues to deal with. For instance, locking onto the right target for a pulse drive warp is very hard when tons of bases, players, and waypoints are clustered together. I want to go to the space station, but the game thinks I want to go to some guy’s base on a nearby moon. Some of the later goals feel like a grind or reliant on random chance. These kinds of issues are annoying, but small and relatively easy to tweak in later Expeditions.

The larger issue is the social aspect. Being able to read messages from other players is fine in theory, but it’s not great when people leave racist or hateful screeds behind. The fingerprints and footsteps of every other player are all over every planet and system, which means sometimes you fly past a planet named Yee Yee Ass Haircut, explored by Joe Rogan. Other times, you can find a cruel message left behind to troll, and the game thinks you want to head there instead of your actual objective.

If you play No Man’s Sky for things like the majesty of a triple sunset, this makes things a little tough. On one hand, you still get to unravel a tapestry of galaxy lore and slowly build your presence in space, and that’s still fun. On the other hand, it’s tougher to stumble across the ambient pleasures of enjoying a storm or a giant sandworm.

Players who previously tried No Man’s Sky and found themselves lost may find a lot to enjoy with Expeditions. There are still two months left in this season, and players can jump in and begin their journey. There are several steps of objectives, ranging from being as simple as leaving your first space system to more complex objectives, like acquiring an incredible multitool and scouting an abandoned freighter in space. It’s a roadmap through the progression of No Man’s Sky, and that’s going to be invaluable for some players.

As someone who finds the most joy in roaming around planets with my big bird friend Tumbles, taking photos of alien landscapes and cool rocks, the new mode is wildly unappealing. The Expeditions patch did include other quality-of-life fixes to features like the jetpack, the scanners, and quest-givers, so it’s still worth diving back into the game. I just won’t be pursuing the neat golden spaceship in Expeditions; I’m happier without the road to that reward.

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