No Man's Sky: What you need to know before exploring the universe

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Aug 17, 2016, 2:52 PM EDT (Updated)

The long-awaited procedurally generated universe simulator that is No Man's Sky has finally been unleashed upon the masses. It's almost a bit surreal seeing the game on store shelves when just a short month ago it felt as though it were still years away. It's available for both PlayStation 4 and PC right now, and if you're down for space exploration, this might very well be your game of the year for 2016. 

But despite its unmitigated levels of hype, there are still a lot players who don't actually know about No Man's Sky. In fact, there are plenty of hardcore gaming fans who don't know about the game. The idea of No Man's Sky has been an attractive one -- live out your wildest science fiction dreams in a universe where you can forge your own path -- but what's it all about? Is it worth your time and attention? Here's everything you need to know about Hello Games' lofty space exploration adventure before playing. 

What is No Man's Sky, exactly?

No Man's Sky is all about exploring the universe on your own terms. It's non-scripted, procedurally generated and chock-full of planets for you to explore, name and have fun with as you progress through the 18 quintillion possible combinations of worlds within. In short, it's you versus space, and there's a whole lot of it. 

Your experience will likely be much different from your friends', as the game is so large and so vast that you may never see the same thing being seen by another human being as long as you play. But that's what makes it such a unique and harrowing experience, capturing the loneliness of space and the struggle of maintaining your composure in such an endless expanse. 

The game communicates these feelings well, though if you're not interested in exploring for long stretches of time alone at your leisure and building your own paths, you may decide No Man's Sky isn't exactly right for you. For anyone else who's ever watched Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica and wished the universe were their oyster, they'll feel right at home. 


Is this a game I can play with my friends?

You may have heard conflicting reports that No Man's Sky is meant to be played with others. While exploring planets with buddies would be interesting, this isn't a multiplayer game. There's no cooperative play, though you will share your experience with other individuals. Per the game's creator Sean Murray, 99 percent of the game's universe will remain untouched by each player. You can run into other players and even see the planets and other discoveries they've made, but you won't be spending time with them.

Think of No Man's Sky as an asynchronous multiplayer experience in which every player is dumped into his or her own sandbox, where other players can see their sand castles but cannot communicate about them. 

What aspects of the game will I want to focus on to get the most out of it?

If you're looking to reach the endgame result as quickly as possible or you simply want to see as many planets as you can, you'll want to make sure you spend time upgrading your space suit, spacecraft, weapons and tools. For instance, as soon as possible, you'll want to fine tune your weapons to take down larger threats and increase your space suit's thermal protection to protect you from planets with environments that end up being too cold for you. 

You'll also want to make sure you scour each environment for items to collect and trade. If you do none of this, you'll find yourself ill-prepared for progression in the later stages of the game. There's a swath of NPCs available out there for you to interact with, much like we saw in the classic PC adventure Commander Blood, and making nice with the alien races across the universe will mean that you're afforded further opportunities and assistance when you need it most. 

Will I be able to explore the outer reaches of space? This is a space game, right?

Yes, you'll get to head out into space. In fact, you have to in order to reach other planets, and there are plenty of planets out there for you to reach. You've got three primary modes of transport out in space: your normal drive on your ship, jump drive, and warp drive. 

It doesn't take fuel to use your normal drive, but your jump drive and warp drive expend fuel and are meant for long distances. You can fly between systems out in space with or without your warp drive, and you'll eventually happen upon things floating through space. Flying from place to place is not only an option, but it's encouraged. 


Do I do anything beyond exploring the universe? Are there enemies?

There are varying combat situations in the game, a lot more so than promotional materials may have you believe. You'll be equipped with multitools that can act as mining tools, scanners, and your trusty weapon that fires off lasers and other attacks. You can also use your spaceship to protect yourself from the threats that appear throughout the universe. Don't let the trailers or previews lull you into a false sense of security; it can be quite dangerous out there, and you'll have to make sure you protect yourself. 

I've heard about beings known as "Sentinels." Should I watch out for those?

Sentinels are scattered throughout the universe in No Man's Sky, and they're meant to protect the planets, intelligent life and flora of each area. If you don't bother them, they generally won't bother you, but if you disturb life in any sort of way, they won't hesitate to come after you. If you destroy an environment or kill the local fauna, Sentiles will come after you, resulting in Sentinel Drones being dispatched to your location. As your "wanted level" in the game rises, more powerful Sentinel robots will be sent to rein you in to keep you from doing any more damage. If you're more interested in combat than exploration you can draw Sentinels to you, but you'll be putting yourself in unnecessary danger from there, so make sure you're able to protect yourself before going on the warpath. 


What is the endgame for No Man's Sky?

The game's all about exploring at your own pace and making room for the quintillion planets out there, but how do you end up reaching the end? There's a very clear path you can take to reach the center of the universe. You'll begin on the outskirts of your universe on simpler planets and make your way inward from there, at which time the game will simply become more difficult to scale to your ability. 

To do this, you'll have to upgrade your equipment and play accordingly. It's all about progression, but on your own terms. It's best to sit back and enjoy the journey rather than focusing on getting things over and done with as quickly as possible. 

With any luck, you should be ready to jump into the game, armed with the knowledge of what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and even what you’re playing to eventually uncover. It’s a great time to leap headfirst into No Man’s Sky, and remember to take things slow. There’s a lot out there to discover. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your own personal universe won’t be finished that quickly, either.