No Man's Sky and VR are the perfect match

We found out last week that No Man's Sky VR is coming this summer as part of the Beyond expansion. This is great news for anyone who already owns the space exploration game and has a VR headsest: No Man's Sky VR is a free update, just like every other expansion released so far. There's no need to buy a new copy of the game: if you own No Man's Sky, you'll soon own the VR version of it too.

There's no reason to even start over from the beginning (unless you want to). When No Man's Sky VR arrives with Beyond, you'll be able to jump right into your current save file where you left off, only now you'll be able to use a VR headset. You can visit your existing base and all your favorite planets without missing a beat. You'll also be able to play co-op with friends—even if they don't have VR headsets of their own.

And there's more good news: I tried No Man's Sky in VR at the Game Developers Conference last month, and it's fantastic.

I wasn't stunned when I first put on a VR headset in No Man's Sky and stepped onto an alien world. My mouth didn't drop open, I wasn't frozen in awe and wonder, and it wasn't jarring or shocking to suddenly be seeing the game in a whole new way.

I mean this as a compliment. No Man's Sky is such a great fit for VR that suddenly experiencing it in virtual reality felt completely natural to me. The key to tricking your brain in VR, I've found, is for the experience to feel as intuitive and normal as possible. Even though work on No Man's Sky VR isn't yet done, I already felt perfectly at home inside it. Whatever voodoo is required to make a game feel just right in VR, Hello Games seems to have nailed it.

I didn't take long to get used to the controls. To use the mining laser you reach over your shoulder, as if it's holstered there John McClane style, and squeeze the grips. Menus can be accessed by holding up your hand in front of your face, which brings up a small display which can then be selected with the finger of your other hand. Climbing into a spaceship or exocraft is done via gesture: reach one hand out to it, squeeze the controller's grip, and pull your hand back toward yourself. These motions and controls are the kind you only need to do once, and then you've just got it. They're natural and intuitive.

I spawned a Roamer, the four-wheeled buggy, climbed inside, and went speeding over the landscape, zipping up hills and then feeling my stomach drop out as I plunged into a valley. If felt great driving, even at high speeds over procedurally generated terrain. Climbing out of vehicles is fun and intuitive too: I just looked to my left, saw a lever, grabbed it, and pulled it up, which lifted the cockpit window and deposited me back on the planet.

Maybe the coolest part was using the terrain tools, the manipulator that lets you tunnel through the planet's surface or mold it into shapes. Pointing the gun at the ground in front of me and then instantly raising a towering spire of rock, it's just cool. I'm not much of a base-builder or terrain molder in my own game, but it's hard not to feel the magic of changing the face of the world by simply pointing at it and moving your arm.

As you'd expect, flying a spaceship around is the highlight of No Man's Sky in VR, though I did have some issues steering. Maybe I'm just used to having more pinpoint control using the mouse, but moving the virtual flightstick around felt a bit sluggish to me. Still, the work on NMS VR isn't done, so hopefully it will feel more responsive when the update arrives this summer.

After cruising through space for a bit, shooting asteroids and admiring the planet I was standing on a few minutes earlier, I flew to the nearest space station and walked around using normal locomotion rather than teleportation. That felt great too, smooth and fluid in a way a lot of VR games haven't seemed to master. As another nice little surprise, I noticed the alien NPCs were actually walking around the space station themselves. After a few years of seeing hundreds of Korvax, Gek, and Vy'keen either sitting or standing motionless, it was downright delightful to see them striding around and it made the station feel dynamic and alive.

When Beyond arrives this summer, I don't think it'll be a case of me playing No Man's Sky exclusively in VR, or even mostly in VR. At the core of the game there's just too much inventory management, and even though NMS VR handles it well, and it's easy to pull up the menus, cycle through them, and make your selections, the last thing I want to do in VR is spend half my time poking around menu screens. 

But I am going to fly around in creative mode a lot. I'm going to revisit all my favorite planets and experience them again in VR. I'm definitely going to drive that Roamer around again, I'm going to pilot my submarine around and stare at some procedural fish, and I can't wait to take the hovering Nomad for a spin, too. As a way to experience the boundless exploration of a beautiful procedural universe, I honestly have a hard time imagining a better fit for VR than No Man's Sky.

Sure, just yesterday Wes says Stormland is shaping up to be the best VR game of 2019. Well, fine. I guess I'll just say No Man's Sky is shaping up to be the best VR game of 2016, then. If you're a fan of No Man's Sky and own a VR headset, you should be as excited as I am. If you don't own a headset, this might be the excuse you've been looking for to get one.