My wishlist for No Man’s Sky

NMS

Despite its enormous promise, No Man’s Sky has proven to be a massive disappointment for a lot of players. It has become clear that a lot of planned content was hastily ripped out in the final few months of development, and a lot of more complex systems were greatly simplified. What we’re left with is an impressive piece of software technology with a somewhat engaging but deeply flawed set of gameplay mechanics bolted roughly onto it.

In several online discussions, I found myself listing many things that would improve the gameplay experience, and I decided to make a master list. What follows is not a static document, but will be expanded and edited as more problems become apparent and as (hopefully) issues are patched out. There is no order to these; they’re just typed in the order I thought of them. I have tried to restrict myself to changes that could realistically be made – there’s no point wishing for the impossible.

Without further ado, my wishlist of features, large and small, that would make No Man’s Sky a much more enjoyable game.

Add free-look in the cockpit

From the start, NMS was sold as virtual space tourism. How weird is it that virtual space tourists can’t turn our heads to look at things as we fly past them? This would also help with navigation, tracking enemies during space dogfights, nailing the perfect landing, and more.

Give planets biomes and distinct geographic areas

Any planet in the game can be fully explored just by checking out one or two square kilometres of its surface. Every plant, animal, natural resource, and landscape feature is present in every place over the entire world, making true exploration a meaningless endeavour. How difficult would it be to add polar ice caps, warmer equatorial regions, large oceans and continents, rivers, forests, mountain ranges, plains, lowlands and swamps, deserts, and so on? All of these things would give every planet a much-needed sense of place. Further, this would give the existing ability to name waypoints much greater meaning: imagine if you could name a mountain range or a river, rather than just arbitrary spots scattered across the surface.

Give us a map

Again, this game was sold to us with the promise of galactic exploration and discovery. What kind of explorer can’t make a map? There is so much wrong with this decision that it’s difficult to know where to start. If you discover a cool spot with access to valuable minerals, and then you fly up to a space station to sell what you have found, you will never find that spot again. Since planet surfaces are so homogeneous, you can’t find it by following landmarks. Since there is no map, you can’t simply look it up. Since there is no waypointing system built into the game, you can’t select it from a list of visited places and follow a HUD marker. It really is a ridiculous oversight.

Make the scanner meaningful

Both the player’s spacesuit and ship have a scanner that can send out a pulse that highlights nearby objects of interest. This would be so much more useful coupled with a map, but even without one it could be so much more useful. Why not have the option to select one mineral that you need, for example, and have the scanner highlight that one in particular? Why not have settlements and alien artifacts and other interesting sites added to a map or list of points of interest? Why not have a planetary scanner that highlights mineral deposits or major settlements? Why not have the ability to scan asteroids for useful minerals?

Free the pilot

Flying above the surface of a planet is a dull activity in NMS. You have minimal control over altitude or speed, the landscape pop-in happens too close to the virtual camera to really see interesting features at a distance, and even if something interesting does appear you can’t turn your head to look at it. When you want to land, you press a button and the auto-lander takes over; all you can do is hope that it lands you somewhere sensible this time. Actually landing on a platform designed for that purpose at a trade port or settlement is a matter of luck, and more often than not you end up landing beside the pad instead of on it.

Unclutter the sky

Why does every bit of space inside a system need to be cluttered with identical asteroids? Why can’t there be asteroid clusters, ring systems, and other places full of floating rocks, with the bulk of in-system space left clear to fly around in? The fact that flying absolutely anywhere off-world involves dodging a constant stream of floating rocks is just silly.

Do something about the landscape pop-in

Graphically, this is the biggest problem in NMS. Approaching a planet from space or flying across its surface at even a fairly sedate speed involves a massive amount of detail pop-in, and it happens shockingly close to the player with an ugly dissolve effect. I know that LOD pop-in is an unavoidable side-effect of an open-world game, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near this bad in a game with such steep system requirements.

Make the animals DO something

Almost all that animals in the game ever do is walk around aimlessly and run away when you get close. Predators will always attack the player with a stupid charge and they cannot be frightened away or otherwise deterred. Very, very occasionally an animal will appear to nibble on vegetation or a predator will attack another animal. It really wouldn’t be that hard to give them some more complex behaviours. Give them simple hunger and thirst values so that they will periodically seek out food or water. Give them homes and a daily activity cycle so that diurnal animals will be going to sleep in a cave while nocturnal hunters are just coming out for the night. Tie specific creatures to specific landscape types or biomes, like caves or mountains. Let flying creatures land! How cool would it be to walk through a forest and have a flock of flying creatures take off in fright at your approach?

Fix the lighting model

After the pop-in, this is the biggest graphical issue with the game. Everything is lit in a very flat way that highlights how low-poly most of the game’s assets are. There is minimal dynamic lighting and minimal shadowing, and it makes the whole game look a lot older than something released in 2016.

Edit: Patches have improved performance enough that I’ve been able to bump up the detail settings a bit. The lighting is better than I thought, but you need to be playing on a beast of a machine to see it.

Make weather more meaningful and diverse

Every planet has two states: storm and not-a-storm. That’s it. There’s no fine-but-cloudy, there’s no warm-but-rainy, and there’s basically no weather at all. All we have is the default temperature and conditions (usually fine, but I had one world where it rained constantly) and then sudden storms which either make it much hotter or much colder. Okay, there are four states, because storm and not-a-storm also happen at night. All of this is also constant across the entire world, owing to the lack of poles and equators, and of biomes like deserts or alpine highlands.

Add some variety and scale to settlements

One very cool design element in the game is that the three sentient races each have unique design cues, but it is disappointing that this is limited just to what the doors look like. It would be so much better if an experienced player could spot a Vy’Keen settlement just by the shape of its buildings, or if the interior of Gek buildings all used blue or green lighting because of how their eyes work. Also, some cities would be nice, rather than the entire galaxy being populated one small outpost at a time, with every planet being settled to the same degree. How about some more established worlds with decent-sized cities and roads joining the settlements? Gek boast about their civilisation being thousands of years old, but apparently they never built a single city.

Edit: Turns out there is some distinction between the three intelligent races’ architecture, but it’s fairly subtle and took me a long time to see it. The Korvax favour spheres and curves, and the Vy’Keen like angles and spires and satellite dishes. My eye is now practised enough that I can usually pick the race that owns a settlement at a glance, but it’s hard to put into words what makes them distinct.

Mix up system control between races

In the game as it stands, every system is controlled and populated by one of the three sentient races. There are no neutral systems. There are no disputed systems. There are no border systems where the Korvax hold some worlds and the Vy’Keen hold the others. There are no skirmishes over territory. There are no trade systems where all three races are present. There are no completely unsettled moons. There are no heavily-settled core worlds covered in cities. As it stands, every world feel very samey, and adding some dynamism like this would help make the galaxy feel much more alive.

Allow manufactured items to stack

Raw materials can be stacked to 250 in the suit inventory and 500 in the ship inventory (a differentiation which seems to serve no purpose except to be annoying) but nothing else can be stacked. Sheets of armour plating each take up a whole inventory slot. Micro-thin fabric takes up a whole slot. Power packs, cultural artifacts, and everything else other than raw elements, all take up one slot per item. It is especially insulting when the flavour text for a power cell talks about how it is a much more space-efficient way to store power!

Give spacecraft trade-in value

One of the most irritating things in the whole game is how ship upgrades work, and to a much lesser extent the upgrade path for your combined mining tool and weapon. A great ship that costs 6 million units of in-game currency costs the same regardless of whether you’re upgrading to it from a rubbish starter ship or an advanced craft only incrementally less powerful than the new ship. Money spent on ships is not an investment, because every ship is devalued to zero as soon as you take ownership of it. This means that if your current ship has 40 inventory slots and you have found a new ship with 41 slots, you are spending the entire purchase price of the new ship on one inventory slot.

Make spacecraft selection meaningful

Despite how they may look, every ship is functionally identical apart from the size of its inventory. Even though some look like freighters and other look like fighters, in a fight or flying around they perform identically. The only way to change how your ship works is to take up that precious inventory space installing modules that enhance the default set of components. You can’t directly upgrade any part of a ship, such as installing a better engine or a longer-range hyperspace drive. Strip out the upgrade modules and every ship is exactly the same.

Allow ship and multitool upgrades to be carried over during an upgrade

Since every ship is just a meaningless 3D model that has no bearing on its functionality, all you are ever buying when you buy a new ship is a number of inventory slots. As such, it seems ridiculous that while you can transfer cargo across when buying a new ship, you can’t transfer your upgrade modules. Perhaps you’ve spent hours and hours hunting down the resources to set up your ship exactly the way you want it. Too bad: you’re stuck with the upgrades that come with your new ship, and if you want something different you’ll have to delete them all and spend all those resources building the upgrade modules all over again. Why can’t upgrades be carried over? It’s not like your ship has a resale value, so every module you’ve lovingly crafted is just getting flushed down the toilet anyway. The same is true of multitool upgrades. Every time I upgrade to a new, better tool, I spend a good hour or so deleting the useless modules that came with it and re-crafting the ones I like. For god’s sake, just let us transfer them over.

Add some more weapon options

Every ship is fitted with the same two weapons, basically a rapid-fire machine gun and a single-shot laser. Neither of these can be removed or swapped out with another type of weapon, though they can be modified by installing extra modules. However, all these modules do is change rate of fire, cooldown time, damage, and so on. None of them turn the single-shot laser beam into a rapid-fire pulse laser, or turn the machine gun into a shotgun. There aren’t even any missiles for goodness sake.

Let us add inventory slots to ships

Players can add more inventory space to their spacesuits, though it gets gradually more expensive with every slot that is added on. For some reason, this function is absent in ships. Since ships are all functionally identical anyway, why not let players settle on a cosmetic ship appearance that they like and just spend their money a bit at a time to incrementally increase its cargo space?

Give us ship customisation

Ships appear to be procedurally generated, and while there is a finite number of basic types, there is a near limitless variety to how each ship can look. For some bizarre reason, players are locked out of this system. You can’t even give your ship a new paint job, let alone add some new wings or fins or engines or racing stripes. We already know that outward ship appearance means nothing, so it is baffling that players weren’t given the ability to change it. If this were added, it would also let players design cool ships, give their design a name, and upload it to the cloud so it can appear in other players’ games. Spore had this functionality way back in 2008.

Fix space combat

So much is wrong with space combat that it’s hard to know where to start. The biggest issue may be that your ship’s shielding, which will be chipped away by enemy attacks, can only be replenished by opening the inventory in the middle of the fight, selecting the shield, then selecting a resource or item from your inventory to recharge it with. Who thought this was a good idea? It isn’t unusual to take more damage during this process than you manage to repair. So many other things are needed to make combat fun, including some kind of strategic management of resources, more interesting ship handling, real diversity in the enemies players face, and so on. At release, the space combat is dull and irritating rather than exciting or fun.

Make the ship’s instruments mean something

The central instrument in the ship’s dashboard is a kind of 3D scanner which is really only useful during fights, as it clearly shows where hostile ships are relative yo your own ship. It also shows some nearby planets and space stations, though their actual orientation is hard to work out. In every other situation, the instruments are useless. You can’t see settlements or landscape features, can’t use it to line up landings, can’t use it to track mineral deposits in the surrounding area, or anything else. 99% of the time, it is wasted space.

Edit: Also, it would be great to be able to point your ship at another ship or at a space station and see some kind of indicator, either on the ship’s dashboard or on the game’s HUD, telling you who they are. A simple “yes, this is a pirate” before opening fire on a ship would be nice.

That’s all for now, but expect this list to grow. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, and I will add the best suggestions to the master list.

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