Hands-on with No Man's Sky for Xbox One: The final frontier, rejuvenated

No Man's Sky emerged in 2016 in a furor over some of its marketing promises in the run-up to its launch. Promised multiplayer aspects never materialized, and some of the game's visuals were nowhere near what was advertised in trailers. The release was followed by a barrage of criticism from game journalists, YouTubers, and social media commentators, even from some mainstream press. That was all two years ago.

No Man's Sky is launching for the first time on Xbox One this week, along with large updates for both PlayStation 4 (PS4) and PC. Dubbed "NEXT," this big update adds piles of new features, virtually relaunching the game.

We experienced the game on Xbox One a little early. And here's what you can expect.

Immense and impressive

No Man's Sky is an explorative adventure game where crafting, survival mechanics, and resource gathering make up the bulk of the early play. Armed with a laser mining tool, you're virtually thrown in at the deep end, provided a few pointers on what to do first.

You're a space explorer, stranded on a strange alien world with a busted space ship. First point of call is to figure out what happened, repair your rig, and sort out your immediate supply needs. On one starter planet, I was immediately besieged by radiation, which slowly ticked down my suit's life support systems, while on another, toxic gas permeated the atmosphere. You can use your laser tool to extract necessary minerals and materials from nearby plants and rocks, which, by the way, are all procedurally generated.

Representing what is effectively No Man's Sky's signature feature, all plants, creatures, and planetary landscapes are randomly generated, granting unprecedented levels of explorative opportunities. You can fly between planets once you have repaired your ship, and even engage in space mining (and battling) if necessary. After playing for a few hours, I've barely scratched the surface of what this game represents.

Multiplayer promises delivered

One of the key criticisms of No Man's Sky when it launched originally was that it lacked many of the connected systems previously touted by Hello Games. Now in 2018, it seems many of these previously-promised features are starting to appear. You can jump into a party with up to four friends on Xbox Live, and invites are as easy as you would expect for any other Xbox multiplayer title. When you have invited a friend to your game, they appear in your world with their own ship, and you can explore, craft, and eventually, build together.

A little glitchy, a little grindy

No Man's Sky on Xbox One X has a 4K mode, in addition to a 1440p mode at 60 frames per second (FPS). I found that sometimes it can hitch and struggle in certain situations, particularly when traveling fast through deep space. It's by no means what I'd call game breaking, especially when you consider the complexity, but it's something to be aware of.

No Man's Sky certainly seems like it could use some polish on Xbox in general, though. On my first save, an essential quest item that formed part of the tutorial became lost. I could have acquired another one by exploring around in the field, but it's the sort of glitch that might frustrate new players.

Explorative "craft 'em ups" like No Man's Sky are known for their grindy elements. Early on, I've already found it a little annoying to navigate the game's various environmental hazards while ensuring my life support systems are topped off with resources that almost constantly deplete. There are also sentinel robot "police" that fly around and attack you if they see you extracting resources and attacking local flora and fauna, which get exponentially more aggressive, Grand Theft Auto-style, if you upset them.

After a few hours I've already hopped across a few planets, have explored alien ruins, abandoned outposts, gathering data on all sorts of fantastical creatures and alien vegetables. The game has thrown a few narrative mysteries my way, offering further opportunities to uncover game lore and work towards completing its storyline. But I'm wondering how many space turnips I'll have to squash in order to get there.

I just hope that I begin feeling the similar creative hooks of Minecraft and Conan Exiles sooner rather than later. Judging by some of the higher-level buildings and ship constructs, I think the grind will be worth it.

The future of No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky has already received several large free updates, and it is set to receive even more in the future, with the promise of no microtransactions. Players deeper into the game can build all sorts of large, complex bases, gigantic space freighters, and more.

Seeing the way No Man's Sky has managed to turn around the PR disaster it went through in 2016 has been nothing short of inspiring. Hopefully, the game will continue to soldier on and grow even further, serving as a tale of perseverance over adversity.

I'm excited to see what the future holds for my No Man's Sky adventure, as I move towards a full review, but if you're eager to give it a try now, it's $49.99 for Xbox One and PS4, and can often be found cheaper for PC.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!