The latest major content update for No Man's Sky, fittingly titled Next, promises to be its biggest expansion to date - finally delivering a true multiplayer mode, improved visuals, and a new third-person perspective. The Next update continues Hello Games' efforts to try and steer the ship out of troubled waters following its difficult launch two years ago, and it succeeds in doing just that after other recent additions such as base building, new story beats, and the addition of a snazzy new photo mode. Next is a free update for players on PC and PS4, but it also coincides with the game's launch on Xbox One - providing a whole new experience for owners of the platform.
Perhaps the most enticing draw from the Next expansion is the inclusion of a true multiplayer experience - something which Hello Games promised initially but failed to deliver at launch. Up to four players can explore the universe in tandem and can build bases, trade resources, and find new life forms together - disrupting the former sense of eternal loneliness. Joining together with a friend or a complete stranger can be done right from the main menu although those looking for a solo voyage in the stars can also select the option to turn off encounters completely. Playing with others is great as you can share your moments of discovery and Hello Games has plans to further expand on multiplayer with community missions set to arrive shortly.
Joint base building is present here for the first time and so are many other additions expanding upon what was first introduced in the Foundation Update. Players can now build bases on terrain such as water and mountains, and over 100 base parts have been added which in turn allows for more personalised safe havens. The size and complexity of bases has also been bolstered and this, coupled with the fresh new parts, will give you plenty of incentive to go out in search of additional resources.
The Next updated has also provided No Man's Sky with a visual face lift and tweaks that have been implemented in order to create a more immersive experience for the player. Lighting effects, improved draw distances, and more detailed environments work to make the worlds you discover feel richer and more alive and there's an undeniable improvement when you compare new screens side by side with old ones. Other improvements have seen animals and NPCs receive more realistic-looking animations and sound effects, and some planets have now been given rings to help distinguish them visually. Performance issues do remain however, and these are especially apparent when playing together in groups.
Players now have the option to play in third-person and this is available both inside and outside of your spacecraft. The new perspective may not be as revolutionary as GTA V's added first-person mode, but it does allow you to take in the full scope of your surroundings so you can admire every detail found in the the gorgeous procedurally-generated worlds. It also works well during combat and when using your jet pack as you have a much clearer idea of what is directly around you. Customisation has also deepened, complimenting the fact that you now have full view of your character. Here you can change your face, armour, and other minor details - it's a welcomed addition to help distinguish your explorer from other friends you make in the galaxy.
The Next updated (as expected, really) also brings many quality of life improvements and subtle UI refreshes. You can now tag points of interest within your analysis visor which makes navigating key locations much simpler. The build and quick menus have also been redesigned and its much easier to recharge your life support and hazard protection - which is handy during an impending storm. Information such as your beam charge level and health is also displayed much more clearly, allowing you to at a glance see all of your vitals - there's much less clutter filling up the screen. These are standard additions you'd perhaps expect from an update of this size but everything does feel much more intuitive now and easier to grasp for beginners.
Whilst Next does so much to elevate No Man's Sky as an experience - there are still some flaws that are prevalent and may not sit well with everyone. Combat, whether on foot or in outer space, feels a bit one-dimensional, and there isn't a great deal of weapon variety present. Even with a 30-hour story there to offer plenty of direction and structure it's still very much a game where you have to create your own enjoyment. Exploration is pretty much what you make of it here and we are sure many will get lost for hours exploring the stars, but the repetitive nature of some of the gameplay may prove tedious for some.
Next is an undeniable achievement for No Man's Sky, pushing the two-year-old title to new heights and moulding it closer into the experience we initially hoped for. The added multiplayer mode, refined aesthetics and under the hood tweaks present a much more polished introduction for a whole new audience of players and we are fortunate that Hello Games didn't dash in the opposite direction when met with the initial bout of criticism. The combat though still feels a little weak and its very much about making your own adventure, but if you've been on the fence for a while now then Next is the best argument so far as to why you should take another look.