No Man's Sky: 10 burning questions, answered

It's almost upon us, the long-awaited, highly anticipated space exploration game from Hello Games that will contain an entire universe but only take up 6 GB of space. Since it's gone gold, and we don't expect any further delays (though you never know), we thought it might be a good time to recap everything we know about No Man's Sky.

How big is the universe in No Man's Sky?

It's sorta big, actually. It will contain 18 quintillion (18,446,744,073,709,551,616, to be precise) procedurally generated planets. That means it'd take a single player roughly 500 billion years to visit each planet in No Man's Sky, which will be a bit tough considering our real universe will mostly likely end about 5 billion years from now.

In fact, even the combined efforts of all of the game's players will only be able to explore a tiny fraction of that massive universe. Most of it will simply remain undiscovered and unseen. In a universe that big, expect to spend a lot of time alone. You will be able to see the location of your friends on the galactic map, but it probably won't do you much good. It's more than likely that they'll simply be too far away from you to ever reach them.

Which brings us to our next question:

Is No Man's Sky a single-player or multiplayer game?

This isn't that simple to answer completely, largely because Sean Murray of Hello Games, creator of No Man's Sky, has been a bit vague about it himself.

The answer, ultimately, is that it's a bit of both. First, the chances of ever running into another player in a universe this huge are extremely slim. Even if 100 players landed on the same planet at the same time, they wouldn't instantly be able to find each other: it's important to remember that No Man's Sky's planets are the size of real planets.

Take our own planet. If there were 100 people on Earth, the odds of any two of them ever meeting aren't great, even if they wandered around on the surface for years. The same principle applies to No Man's Sky.

That doesn't mean that players will never meet one another, but even if they do, Murray made it clear in an interview with Game Informer that No Man's Sky definitely isn't an MMO. It's not designed to have a bunch of players all in the same place at the same time, playing alongside each other. However, the game is prepared in the unlikely event that you do come into contact with another player, due to a personal 'lobby' that surrounds each player like a bubble.

"What we can do is, like many games that you have at the moment, where you are flying around with an open lobby," Murray said. "People are coming into that lobby and leaving it—like if you play Watch Dogs or something like that. Effectively, we have players joining your discrete space. We're not trying to make an MMO where you can play with literally 60,000 people on screen."

Essentially, think of No Man's Sky as a single-player game that another player might—probably won't, but might—arrive in at some point.

If I do run into another player, how will I know?

This is the tragic part. On the slim chance you do actually come across another player, you might not even notice. In-game, other player ships won't be tagged with a player's name or any other indicator that lets you know they're a human pilot and not an AI. So you two could just buzz right by each other and never know you were each passing another human being. How sad is that?

However, Murray said player models will look different than anything else in the game, so if you do meet another player walking on the surface of a planet they should at least stand out. And, seeing another player will effectively be the only way anyone will know what players look like, since it's a first-person game and you can't look at yourself. Not that spotting another player will answer all our questions, though:

"You effectively see their suit actually," Murray said. "So you won't know what's inside. It still won't answer for people whether you are an alien or whether you are a human or what you look like."

Can I play offline?

Yes. No Man's Sky will be playable offline, though your discoveries won't be shared with others until you connect to the game's server. Likewise, you won't be able to view the discoveries of others unless you connect. And, as you'd expect, the very slim chance of encountering another player will drop to absolute zero.

So I'm in huge universe, mostly alone. What will I do?

Like other space games such as Elite: Dangerous, you'll need to make money, and some of that can come from exploring a few of those 18 quintillion planets.

“In terms of exploring," Murray told us, "you need to have an upgraded suit to be able to survive in toxic environments and various different types of liquid. You need an upgraded ship so that you can have a bigger hyperdrive and travel to more far-flung places. For all of these things you need money—and you can earn that money as an explorer by exploring. So there’s a core loop there."

Some planets—we don't know what percentage—will have alien lifeforms on it, which are also procedurally generated and animated. During a hands-on event (on a PlayStation build) I got to explore a few planets and discover several different types of creatures, including what appeared to be some sort of alien Yeti-rabbit. Discovering creatures earns you money, too.

You won't be surprised to learn that you can also earn money by mining both asteroids and planets, a tradition in space games. Asteroids can be blasted as you fly by and their minerals can be scooped up in your ship. On the surface of a planet, a mining tool will let you blast rocks, crystals, and even reveal caves containing resources, which you can sell or craft into products for sale or trade. We don't know a heck of a lot about crafting yet, aside from the basics. During my hands-on session, I only used resources to make fuel and repair my space suit.

There's also combat. Some alien creatures are hostile, and will attack you. Alternately, you can also attack non-hostile creatures, though planets are guarded by patrolling robots that will attack you if you start doing too much damage. There's space combat as well, as you'll encounter space pirates in your travels across the universe.

Can I leave my mark on the planets I visit?

In some ways you can. If you discover a planet or a creature, you can name it and add it to the galactic index. It will bear that name forever (or at least until the universe ends) and other players coming across it will know that you discovered it first.

You won't really be able to leave a physical mark on the game, however, at least not on the universe at large. As you travel to new planets, they are generated around you, and when you leave them, they degenerate. So, if you use a mining tool to blast a section of a planet, perhaps to draw a giant penis on the ground (I will just assume that is what you will do), once you leave that planet and fly away, the game will once again disassemble the planet behind you.

These types of changes (digging caves, drawing dongs) will not be visible to other players if they happen to visit that planet. As Murray told Game Zone:

 “Changes the player makes are saved locally,” Murray explained. “So if you start destructing the terrain, that’s saved on your own machine. And if you try and make -- what we would consider -- really significant [changes], some of those [changes] are stored on the server, along with the discoveries that you make. But in general, a lot of what you’re doing is considered insignificant. If you kill a creature, we scratch that, we save that that’s happened, but we don’t feel the need to like, kill that creature for everybody.” 

So it sounds like you'll be able revisit and view the dongs you've drawn, even if no one else can see them.

Note: this answer has been revised to reflect that some changes to planets will remain locally.

Is there intelligent life in No Man's Sky?

Yes. You'll encounter intelligent aliens in buildings and outposts on the surface of some planets, as well as in space stations in orbit. Naturally, you won't be able to speak their language, at least not at first, and picking a response during a conversation will begin with some guesswork. Guess wrong, and you may anger them.

But the more encounters you have with a particular alien species, the more of their language you'll learn. You can also pick up the language by finding and examining monoliths on the surface of some planets. The better you become at communicating, the stronger your relationship will become with these alien factions, and the more lucrative your trading will be.

What sort of missions and quests will there be?

There won't be traditional quests or missions in No Man's Sky, according to Sean Murray. When I spoke to him in March, he talked about the unconvincing nature of NPCs in games in general:

"They sit outside their shop, day and night, it doesn't seem to matter, they don't seem to be aware of what's going on. You will come up to them and you will be drenched in blood and they will still just talk to cheerily to you, you know?"

The idea of fetch quests in a game that wants you to keep moving onto new worlds, rather than returning to ones you've already seen, just didn't seem to fit. Instead, aliens will trade with you, and give you new technology, rather than send you on repetitive errands to—as Murray put it—fetch "space chickens."

“It would be so easy for us to do [fetch quests] but it feels like such a wasted opportunity and it feels like that's kind of something that other games do far better, that suits other games far more," Murray told me. "And it's never something that I have personally super-enjoyed or looked forward to.”

Will there be DLC?

When I asked Sean Murray about his post-launch agenda, he said there weren't plans for DLC, but Hello Games would continue to update No Man's Sky after release.

"There's things, post-release, that would be really exciting for the game that we could see how people were playing and iterate on that," he told me. "This is definitely a game for updates. And actually, content-wise, DLC is less applicable."

In fact, the first update is already being worked on, before the game has even come out.

Is there a story?

There is no real story. Like Luke Skywalker entering that gross tree during the boring part of The Empire Strikes Back, the only story you'll find in No Man's Sky is the one you bring in with you.

There is world-building and lore, however: there will be a consistency to the alien languages that you'll learn to recognize, as well as to the design of the buildings and ships of each alien race, which should help the universe, even a massive and procedurally generated one, feel not entirely random.

No Man's Sky is set to release on August 9.

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.