Do you, like me, find yourself firing up No Man’s Sky with giddy enthusiasm with every new update, eager to sample Hello Games’ latest delights, only to become immediately overwhelmed, prod a few things hesitantly, then turn it off half an hour later clouded in an air of bewilderment? Then allow me to introduce you to No Man’s Sky’s latest Expedition: Cartographers.
Expeditions, in case you’re out of the loop (or, equally likely, at the other end of the loop, still trying to figure out everything that got released in-between), are effectively No Man’s Sky’s stab at live-service-style seasonal content. They’re limited-time, curated experiences that condense and reshuffle the game’s sprawling tangle of systems into a series of progression-based milestone challenges that plop everyone on the same starting planet and reward fun cosmetic doo-hickeys to those that get to the end.
Previous Expeditions have sent players planet-hopping their way across the universe, but No Man’s Sky’s latest effort is something a bit different, taking place almost exclusively on a single planet as participants work through the steps required to get their incredibly broken ship airborne. Essentially, it’s the main mode’s opening ten minute tutorial expanded out into something considerably more involved as you try to restore the ludicrously extravagant technology inside your very, very fancy (but regrettably loan-only) starship.
What makes Expedition 3 particularly great is that this elaborate reworking of No Man’s Sky’s intro scenario pulls in a significant number of the more peripheral systems and processes heaped into the game during its last five years of post-launch development – the kind of stuff that’s all too easy to overlook alongside the flashier headline additions.
Here though, they’re mandatory for progression, spread across five tiers of challenges structured to encourage you to explore and tackle each objective in a relatively linear fashion. Completing one goal unlocks various rewards and these usually include the next bit of essential tech needed to complete another challenge, gain its rewards, and so on. This way, you’re able to focus on, and engage with, each newly introduced element one by one, rather than being immediately buried beneath No Man’s Sky’s quivering heap of systems, as tends to happen when playing normally.
And having completed Expedition 3 over the weekend, it was frankly a bit of a revelation. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering around with No Man’s Sky’s sandbox, but, especially in recent years, it’s usually been the tinkering of a slightly confused, definitely overwhelmed man. But now I feel like I’ve a far more solid framework for understanding the complex interplay of NMS’ mountainous systems, meaning that, finally, I can set myself a goal in the sandbox and have a much clearer understanding of the steps required and tools available to get things done. What I thought was going to be a relatively brisk few-hours distraction has completely revitalised my enthusiasm for the game.
Granted, Cartographers is far from exhaustive in terms of the stuff it covers (and at least one challenge is a nightmare if you’re unlucky with your spawn point – tip: make Herox by combining ammonia, cobalt, and silver in a Large Refiner and thank me later), but what’s there is supremely useful.
I got a lovely refresher on construction, and was reminded that research stations are a thing and I’m not actually forced to leave a planet every time I want to get unlock something new; I learned about combining chemical compounds, about setting up automated mining systems, electricity, efficient ways of scouring the planet for resources and handy landmarks, even archeological sites!
I did not know, for instance, that there’s a fancy new visor upgrade that guides you to underground resources that can be automatically mined over time while you’re away; I did not know you could install a personal refiner in suit so you don’t need to carry cumbersome machinery around with you; I didn’t have a clue about half the upgrades available that really boost the capabilities of No Mans Sky’s anaemic starting equipment, and I’d certainly never had a go at stamping about in big sexy mech suit.
Now, I’m not suggesting Cartographers is going to suddenly make you love an experience you’ve continually struggled to enjoy (No Man’s Sky very much remains a game about mining for resources and making your own fun), but I found it to be a wonderfully focussing refresher and a handy reminder that there’s genuine logic to the sometimes baffling tangle of systems squirrelled within No Man’s Sky five years on. Perhaps it’s the thing that’ll help you reconnect with the game too, and find a renewed sense of fun.
And if that’s not enough incentive to give Cartographers a go before it whizzes off in a couple of month’s time, let me also add: you get an unspeakable alien monstrosity as a permanent pet for getting everything done.