I spent a day killing and stealing from players in No Man's Sky and all I got was a bunch of guilt

"Help friends to stay alive, or prey on others to survive." Those words appeared in the No Man's Sky Next feature list, and after a couple weeks of exploring solo and occasionally waving in a friendly manner to other Travelers in multiplayer, I thought it was about time to see just how feasible it really is to prey on others. I went full-on space pirate for a day in No Man's Sky. Arrr, and so forth.

It's not so easy, as it turns out. My day spent as a space pirate involved a cold-blooded murder, the theft of many items of very little value from some extremely nice and trusting people, some light base vandalism, a metric ton of crushing guilt, and perhaps the most daring high-stakes space-heist you will ever read about (in this article).

Immediate problems

There are a lot of roadblocks to being a vicious pirate, the first of which is simply that a lot of players just don't want to play multiplayer. It's on by default, but is easily switched off in the menu, and I'd say roughly 30% of the random sessions I joined ended a few seconds later when someone saw a notification that I'd arrived, said to themselves "Oh yeah, I have networking on," and quickly toggled it off. It's what I do when I'm playing solo and someone joins because I don't want them to see my pathetic, shabby base. (Pardon our mess—a roof is planned for 2022!)

Several people also just straight-up quit playing, leaving me with nothing but a marker showing where their base is when they're online. But having logged out, their base is gone too. And one player had a brilliant defense mechanism to protect himself against invading astronauts: he was nosily eating chips into an open mic. I left immediately. Well played!

Another fairly big issue is that not everything works properly in multiplayer, including important things like being able to shoot asteroids for fuel. Here I am, attempting to load up on pulse-juice on my way to visit someone's base:

You'll notice (I didn't) that the first few shots with my laser not only blow up the asteroid but also damage my own shields. If I had noticed, I probably wouldn't have switched to missiles, which blew up an asteroid but also killed me. This is a known bug that will hopefully be fixed soon, but my advice in the meantime is to fuel up fully in singleplayer before becoming a pirate. When I needed asteroid fuel after that, I resorted to simply ramming my ship into space rocks to break them. It's not exactly elegant.

Base vandalism

The things No Man's Sky multiplayer lets you do to strangers, and the things it doesn't let you do, are both pretty weird. It feels too extreme in some cases and not extreme enough in others. 

For instance, you can join a random game, enter a stranger's star system, fly to their base, and just start deleting shit. Walls, floors, windows, stairs, pretty much everything they've built. Which is weird! I understand if you've crewed up with friends you would be free to delete things from their bases, but a stranger joining you and then destroying your work seems a little out there. Maybe if you had to at least shoot a wall repeatedly to destroy it, or bombard it with space rockets, but simply using the construction tools to erase another player's stuff—it's a bizarre design choice.

I wanted to try it, though. I landed at a player's base with intention of being an evil No Man's Sky griefer. I was going to just start deleting stuff to see how they'd handle it.

But they were so nice. They greeted me and we chatted a while and I was just staring at the base thinking, "Delete something! Do it! Be a horrible bastard." Within a few minutes I was helping them gather carbon so they could actually build more. Clearly, I'm not made of the cold-hearted stuff that lets you just ruin someone's base. Not while they're standing there watching, at least.

I joined another session and saw a player's base on one planet and the player on another. Perfect. Some privacy to be a real griefer. I sped over, landed at their base, and completely deleted everything. Okay, to be honest, I deleted one light they'd placed on their wall.

Then I fled. It's perhaps not the most vicious pirate attack ever, and as a griefer maybe I'm just like a gnat buzzing around someone's ear, but surely this player will get back to their base and notice a lamp missing and briefly wonder what happened. Exactly as I planned! You got griefed.

Straight-up murder

I just have to do it. I have to kill someone. Preying on someone to survive surely, surely must involve cold-blooded murder. So, I just summoned the willpower and did it. I landed on a planet, ran over to someone, and shot them in the back of the head.

It was basically no fun, and kind of felt gross, and much as I hate being a criminal when another player is watching me, it was somehow worse that they were facing in the other direction. What's still worse is that I turned around and noticed they were in the midst of repairing their starter ship. They had probably been playing No Man's Sky for under an hour. Guilt immediately overwhelmed me.

They respawned and (presumably) recovered their gear from their grave (which I couldn't see, so I guess you can't loot someone after you kill them). I apologized, then transferred 20 Chromatic Metal into their inventory, then fled in shame.

Maybe ship-to-ship combat will leave me feeling less like a complete scumbag? Oh right, when I shoot at things I only blow up my own ship (which I remembered after firing rockets at someone else and thus blowing up my own ship).

So, murder isn't my bag, and multiplayer space combat isn't No Man's Sky's bag. What's left? Let's try theft.

I tried theft

You can definitely steal stuff. You can pick up and take any sort of movable technology any stranger puts down. Refiners, blueprint analyzers, beacons, save points, and so on. And you can take materials you find in those refiners, though you can't raid a player's storage locker. So, I spent a couple hours collecting what I could.

Most refiners I came across at bases are empty, which I guess isn't surprising. I tend to just stand there waiting when I'm using a refiner, then empty it completely, and I guess most others do too. I did find a couple refiners with material in them: in one case I stole 250 chromatic metal, and another had a couple hundred pure ferrite. I took the refiners, too. And save points. And whatever else I found. None of this is actually worth much (except the metal), and none of it is particularly difficult to replace. I was basically creating small headaches for nice people and wasting my own time to gain nothing.

I eventually returned to my own base and laid out my haul in front of me.

That's what a few hours of being a dick gets you in No Man's Sky (except that car, that was already mine). And it's not much, really. I figured it was time to retire from my life of pointless crime and mild mayhem, but like any scoundrel, I needed to pull off one last heist.

One last heist

I wanted my last job to be high-risk. I wanted to steal from someone while they were present at their base instead of on the other side of the solar system. I warped into a system and immediately heard a couple players discussing resources and refineries. And they were standing right in front of their base. Perfect.

I stood around suspiciously for a while as they worked and chatted with each other, then I sauntered into their base alone and found the only item inside, a save point. I pocketed it. A moment later, as I was headed to the exit with the save point in my inventory, one player asked the other, "When was the last time you saved?"

"It's been a little bit," the other replied. "I saved when I built that save point."

They were actually discussing the save point I had just stolen and was leaving their base with. The heist just got real. It kicked into higher gear when one player entered the base to try to use the save point I was walking out with in my backpack.

Okay, it technically didn't kick into any gear, high or low, but it was pretty funny as they discovered their save point was suddenly missing. You can watch my daring heist below, or here on YouTube, and I'd suggest both sound (so you can hear them talk) and full-screen (so you can see what I'm typing to them in text chat). They were good sports.

As I headed back to my singleplayer lifestyle to retire, I noticed that my teleporter now lists the random players' games I invaded as destinations. Presumably if I can use my teleporter to visit their planet bases, they can do the same and visit me? I wonder if I'll be working on my base some day and someone will come through to reclaim their stolen save point. 

I'll be ready if it happens. I've got plenty to spare.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.