Starfield vs. No Man's Sky: Why you shouldn't compare these games

Starfield astronaut facing to the right. No Man's Sky character facing to the left.
(Image credit: Bethesda and Hello Games)

Starfield is a No Man's Sky clone, through and through. At least, that's what you'll hear when you listen to certain people who pay no real attention to what either game brings to the table. It's essentially the love-child of Oblivion and Fallout in space. Bethesda's latest rich RPG game that players will likely be traveling through for years to come.

On the other side is No Man's Sky. A game that launched to harsh but realistic reviews has now gone on a revival tour for over seven years. It's a game that has gone on to receive 29 named updates. Each has brought something new and exciting to the game. From graphical overhauls to adding pets and creature breeding, the game has gone on to become something completely different from when it launched.

So, how exactly are these games different or similar? If you look online, especially on social media, you'll be flooded with multiple arguing their points. We're here to break down some key features and compare them side-by-side. 

What's the same?

(Image credit: Michael Hoglund)

Space station docking

While both games allow players to dock with space stations, neither actually lets the player do this themselves. If you're looking for something manual, you'll need to head over to Star Citizen or Elite Dangerous.

Both games do get sort of cinematic when players choose to dock with space stations. Starfield solely relies on outer docking, much like we see between space shuttles and the International Space Station of today. At the same time, No Man's Sky brings the player down a tunnel toward a landing pad within the station itself. There is no outer docking like Starfield.

Scanning resources

(Image credit: Windows Central)

This one irritated me more than it should have, but after a week, I was already tired of people chanting that Starfield was copying No Man's Sky by allowing players to scan for resources. While it's true that both games have this mechanic, this has also been a sci-fi trope for decades.

Look back to the original Star Trek, dating back to September 1966. That's 57 years! Spock and the crew have been scanning planets for signs of life and other resources since the '60s. Yet, here we are having a war between players that Starfield is suddenly copying a mechanic that No Man's Sky apparently invented. 

They didn't.

Ship Flight and long-distance travel

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Both games contain ship-flying mechanics but vary in how they're presented. Or at least, they did until the 'Echoes' update for No Man's Sky. Before it, Starfield showed power-swapping mechanics to different energy-dependent sources, diverting power to engines, shields, or weapons like Elite Dangerous.

However, like my point above, this has also been a thing for decades. "Divert all power to shields immediately!"


Both games allow players to research upgrades, building materials, or weapon mods. While the items researched between the two are different, this mechanic is similar enough that there are no fundamentally staggering differences between them.

Base building

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks (screenshot))

Yes, there is base-building in both games. Rather than Starfield being an iteration of No Man's Sky, it's an iteration of Bethesda's creations in Fallout 4 and even further back in Skyrim.

Both titles allow players to flex their creative muscles when building, with resource collection, power needs, and more. A significant difference between the two is players can assign crew members inside outposts in Starfield.

With bases in No Man's Sky, you can create teleporters between planets across the galaxy. Making travel rather quick and easy to accomplish. These can be used to travel to other bases and previously visited space stations.

What's different?

(Image credit: Hello Games)

Survival mechanics

While modders will most likely bring survival mechanics to Starfield within the next month or so, they don't exist in the base game. That's a department dominated by No Man's Sky. While it's nothing close to the likes of titles like DayZ or Ark, No Man's Sky does require oxygen and other elements to survive the hostile environments that the player encounters.

If you're looking for a Bethesda title that features some of this, check out Fallout or Skyrim and download some of the more popular survival mods. They're absolutely terrific and give the whole game a fresh coat of paint.

Deep RPG mechanics

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Starfield features rich and engaging RPG mechanics. There are awesome and various methods to craft your character's physical appearance, background, ongoing story, and more. Something No Man's Sky lacks entirely.

It's not a bad thing. Still, some people too often overlook this massively crucial feature. I've seen folks call Starfield "Bethesda's version of No Man's Sky," as some sort of horrible thing. However, when you say "Bethesda's version" of anything, that comes with decades of some of the best games we've seen.

Story and choice

(Image credit: Michael Hoglund)

I touched on this in the RPG section but wanted to mention it again. Both games feature a story that deals with unraveling the mysteries of the universe but in wildly different ways. Not to say, Starfield allows players to tackle each of these story missions with force, a silver tongue, or some other method. 

No Man's Sky relies on singular ways to tackle its story, and that's fine. However, it's something that sets these two apart.

Miscellaneous mechanics

(Image credit: Windows Central)

You don't go about No Man's Sky using persuasion on NPCs or stealthily moving around to pickpocket traders, random astronauts, etc. There's no lockpicking of chests, lockers, or computers. All these little miscellaneous things in Starfield aren't generally present in No Man's Sky.

Player combat

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Starfield and No Man's Sky each feature player combat, but the similarities only run surface deep. No Man's Sky prides itself in beautiful simplicity, with various weapons to choose from.

Starfield features an extensive coverage of weapons with differing stats and modifications that players can make. Different tiers, like common and legendary weapons, further distinguish the player combat of Starfield.

You can also blow up explosive barrels for varying effects, engage in sneak attacks, and more. Starfield is just a different beast when it comes to combat.

Seamless planet landing and loading

(Image credit: GameSkinny)

One hotly debated part of Starfield is the lack of a seamless planet landing. When a player wants to land on the surface of a celestial body, they enter a loading screen followed by a cinematic event. The area in which they land is also bound by size limits. While it would take players a while to reach the edge of an area, said edge is still there. However, you can load another spot on the planet by traveling to another landing location.

Players in No Man's Sky are able to watch as they enter the planet's atmosphere and can glide across the ground as they do. They can also manually choose to land anywhere they can see. Any horizon the player sees, they can continue walking towards without any interruption.

Space magic

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Without spoiling much, Starfield players get their hands on abilities similar to Dragon Shouts in Skyrim. They're wild and fun to play around with. No Man's Sky doesn't have something similar in its game (yet.)

Ship building

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Starfield has an exceptionally well-made shipbuilding feature with which players will most assuredly spend hours tinkering. You can add storage tanks, different engines, weapon systems, shields, and pieces that have no meaning outside of looking freaking cool. Not to mention, you can change the color of every single part.

No Man's Sky doesn't have shipbuilding to any degree. The only way to obtain ships is to purchase them when seen. It's something that many players refer to as ship hunting.

Ship combat

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Combat using interstellar vehicles isn't anything new, but Starfield and No Man's Sky have unique twists. Each allows for various degrees of turning dependent on speed during and outside of combat, with each also offering players a lock-on mechanic. 

A few noteworthy differences for Starfield is that it allows players to board enemy ships, giving players a different way of destroying the enemy. No Man's Sky doesn't allow players to do this. Starfield also features a much larger array of weapons for players to choose from, as well as different targeting mechanics that players can make use of when taking on enemy ships. Do you want to take out their shields first, or maybe their grav drive? Players can do that.

Companions and crew

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

In Starfield, players can assign crew members to different facilities within their starship or outpost. Each crew member has different strengths that players need to account for to make the best use of their talents.

These crew members can also accompany you on the surface or in space during missions and exploration. Many of them offer more than another gun, giving players quick quips as well as an assortment of missions to go along with their backstory.

Know of any other differences or similarities? Let us know below! Once you're finished, go ahead and check out one of our many guides on the game itself!

Michael Hoglund

Michael has been gaming since he was five when his mother first bought a Super Nintendo from Blockbuster. Having written for a now-defunct website in the past, he's joined Windows Central as a contributor to spreading his 30+ years of love for gaming with everyone he can. His favorites include Red Dead Redemption, all the way to the controversial Dark Souls 2. 

  • GraniteStateColin
    I'm no expert at No Man's Sky, but I think Bethesda is unique in their physics-based world where nearly everything is interactive. You can stack bodies, sandwiches, potatoes, etc. You can pick up and throw any object. If you move one object into another, they interact somewhat realistically. I don't think No Man's Sky supports that does it?

    On the other hand, NMS supports some multiplayer features, where Starfield is a pure single-player story. Personally, I like that the universe exists for me to be the hero of the story, but I appreciate that many people prefer multiplayer.

    Really, other than the setting, they're completely different games. They're not the same genre of game. It makes more sense to compare Starfield to Fallout, or even other big open-world RPG's including CDPR games like The Witcher and Cyberpunk, then to what is, at its core, an exploration sandbox like No Man's Sky.