Wanna watch me run through the new No Man’s Sky? Click for the video

I still remember when my innocence died. August 2016 – a simpler time. Me, a fresh-faced young child of only 28 years, excitedly rushed back from their contact centre job. Slowly the gigabytes downloaded as a me not yet ground down by the world hopped around impatiently. My mouse cursor hovered over the ‘Play’ button as the percentages ticked up… 97%… 98%… 99%… Ready. With bated breath, I launch the game that had been hyped for years as a genre changer, the last game you would ever need, an infinitely expanding universe with a lifetime of content.

It was shit.

Imagine this, for 20 minutes, when loading the game at launch…

The second worst thing to happen in 2016

Loading was torturously slow, and slowdowns were near constant for no good reason. Controls were inconsistent and poorly communicated, if at all. Planets were barren landscapes with only minor cosmetic differences, littered with creatures that look like a child played with the contents of a butcher’s bin. Multiplayer was a lie. Base building was non-existent. Story dull. Just… never-ending sins.

Why have I spent too many words telling how bad this good game was? Because seriously, I need you to understand how far it’s come.

Pictured: a game that doesn’t look like arse

Game, but not as we know it

Recognisably, it’s still No Man’s Sky. Vivid landscapes, alien creatures, mineral deposits, scanning, space stations, warp travel, three alien factions… You get your own multitool and your own spaceship, both of which can be upgraded and swapped out.

As for obstacles, you’ll still encounter the rogue robot sentinels and the odd aggressive Doctor Moreau outcast. Pirate ships will pull you out of warp, planets will chip away at your environmental protection with hostile atmosphere…

But all those too-familiar parts run so much smoother.

Base building is just one new system added to the game

We can rebuild it

The muddy wastelands of bland planets have given way to more varied vistas, and the alien monstrosities are now monstrous on purpose. Put a gun to my head and I’d be hard-pressed to say everything they’d done, but graphically it appears more diverse yet more consistent. What I see is strange and alien, yep, but no longer am I being yanked out of the experience by watching a few variations of lumbering giraffe-necked critters glitch through the one of the two plants that exist in this entire world.

Diversity extends to the sentinels too. The hordes of identical laser-toasters are still around, but now they come in heavy and support varieties, bad-boy doggos, stompy mechs, stompier mechs, spaceships…. And if you fuck around you’ll find out exactly how deadly these new types are, with waves of increasingly varied robots sent to carve you up.

Spaceship and multitool upgrades are now much harder to get with multiple grades available, which for many you’ll need to buy or find. Before, it was a chore to slot the host of generic implants you had immediate access to, because you’d be replacing your ship or tool soon due to the slightly more slots. Now, you’ll be thrown the harder choice of grabbing a new tool or ship with unearned implants, keeping your current investment in tech, or finding something long-term with more slots.

Recharging your various shields, meters, weapons and equipment is still a part of the game, but no longer do you need to laboriously drag elements from your inventory. A quick menu has been added with X that cleverly determines the most desperate bit to recharge. Whether you’re dying from toxic exposure or being blasted in a ship with a sliver of shield left, staying out of death’s door is as quick as tapping X and the left mouse button twice – assuming you have the right elements in your inventory.

The clunkier aspects of the game have been sharpened and polished to, if not a brilliant sheen, then bright enough to reflect the potential of the old systems, and shine a light on everything new.

A living, breathing universe

Shiny and chrome

First and foremost, the most demanded missing feature on release, one so critical to their immersion that thousands of people desperately modded into their game … you can crash your spaceship. By default! I’m barely joking, it was the first mod I put in to try and salvage the wreck that was No Man’s Sky launch.

More substantially, they added new modes of play: Normal is the classic No Man’s Sky mode you knew and… you knew it. Death is a minor inconvenience and building costs are sensible. Survival and Permadeath ramp up the challenge, with more aggressive enemies and your inventory being lost on death, and (on Permadeath) your entire game as well. Creative dials everything way back, with your various life support bar never decreasing and all technology unlocked from the off.

Multiplayer is a thing, and you don’t even have to painstakingly find your friends in the endless universe like they lyingly lied about before release. Simply join their game from Steam or within the game itself. To go with this new, actually really real multiplayer are character customisation options and a third person camera so you can enjoy your pimped-out astronaut too.

Making a permanent mark on planets is now possible, with a simple but satisfying base building mechanic. Not only can you use a range of parts and aesthetics to construct a homely edifice (or terrifying volcano planet death fortress, depending on your sensibilities), you can fill it with useful gizmos like life-support rechargers and teleporters. Other players can even visit your pride and joy, with particularly impressive bases showcased by Hello Games.

My submission for Base of the Century. I await my plaque

Let’s (not) squash some bugs

Utopian the game isn’t, at least not quite. Quadrillions of randomly generated planets will mean not everything spawns entirely as intended, with things frequently glitched below bedrock where you can’t reach, and objects visibly spawning in as you travel across planet. Nothing game breaking that I encountered, but occasionally frustrating. Speaking of frustrating, milestones still dramatically pop up on screen all the damn time, though they can be mercifully skipped now.

These small issues only slightly scuff the surface of what is a light and engaging experience. If you liked Elite: Dangerous but aren’t willing to commit hundreds of hours to getting to grips with that game, then No Man’s Sky is a solid choice.

Oh, also the story is better now. If that matters to you.