No Man's Sky is not a horror game, but I'm feeling a palpable sense of fear and dread right now. I'm in an underground network of caves, surrounded by plants that emit toxic gas, and I don't know how to get out. There's no breathable atmosphere on this planet whatsoever. My life support is nearly depleted. I have barely any resources for crafting and no terrain manipulator addon for my multi-tool to dig my way out. But even if I did get back to the surface, I'd still have to deal with the biggest problem of all: Right next to me, wedged in between the seven-foot-high ceilings of this dead-end underground tunnel, is my spaceship.
Don't even ask how I got it stuck there.
Up shit creek without a terrain manipulator
When I first see Tabielde on my scanner, the small, grey planet doesn't look all that interesting. It is on the outer edge of the Afayenni solar system I just discovered. It looks bleak and has no valuable minerals other than a double helping of Pure Ferrite. But then I notice its classification as a "Forsaken" planet. Never having seen that descriptor before, I figure I'd be doing the Explorer's Guild a massive disservice by not checking it out. I just never imagined that Tabielde would almost become my tomb—and all because I'm a grade-A dumbass.
When my ship touches down on its surface, I realize that "Forsaken" is just a flowery way to describe this planet as barren. No flora, no fauna, and no atmosphere. Just a lot of Ferrite, angry robot Sentients, and these glowing orbs that are too bright to stare directly at. Each step costs me an alarming amount of life support, which makes moving very far from my ship impossible. I touch down, take one look around, and then decide this place sucks. Back into my ship I go.
But just as I am taking off and about to leave this barren, boring rock some billion light years from the Galactic center, I see a valley that looks far from natural—almost like it has been hand-carved. I decide to pilot my ship into it to get a closer look. After a few seconds of flying through it, the valley takes a sharp turn and I follow without thinking. Instead of continuing onward, though, the valley immediately nose-dives into a cave. Before I can even think to pull up, my ship enters into it. Oh shit, I think. You can fly underground?
Yes you can. And no, I wouldn't advise it.
For a few seconds, I think things might be ok. The ambient light from outside makes me believe there might be an exit nearby that I could smoothly fly out of. Instead, the tunnel instantly tightens around me. I begin banging wildly against the sides of the cave as the last bit of light disappears and leaves me in total darkness with only the damage indicator revealing that I have just clumsily scraped a wall. Then another, and another. This continues for seconds until my ship becomes so wedged that when I switch to the third-person camera it clips through the level geometry and shows me the impossible emptiness of this planet's core. I am fucked.
Almost a minute passes as I wrestle with the controls to try and free my ship in hopes of turning around and flying out the way I came. But I am stuck and there is nothing I can do. With only one thing left try, I initiate the landing sequence. To my surprise, the ship stops clipping through the geometry and successfully lands. I hop out and flick on my torch. I am in a claustrophobic section of cave with terrifyingly low ceilings and stalagmites everywhere.
Almost immediately I resign myself to my fate. I am going to die in here and have to load an old save. I do what anyone would do in this situation and take some funny pictures and wander around a bit, waiting for the inevitable. Seconds tick by and my life support is nearly depleted. At the same time, I alt-tab out of the game while paused to tell our own intrepid No Man's Sky explorer Chris Livingston about my predicament. "You can't just dig your way out?" he asks.
I explain how severely screwed I am: My ship's launch thrusters are depleted and would need recharging, I have no terrain manipulator tool on my gun and would need to build one, and my life support is nearly gone and I only have a little bit of oxygen left in my inventory.
About ten minutes earlier, I had exchanged my multi-tool with an NPC because theirs was slightly better at mining. The tradeoff was that this new tool didn't have a terrain manipulator installed. I had intended to replace it immediately but then, like an idiot, gotten into my starship and blasted off to explore Tabielde. Funny how that happens.
But then, just as I am about to willfully let the rest of my oxygen run out, I have a terrible epiphany: When I hopped out of the ship, No Man's Sky triggered an autosave. If I die now, I will simply respawn to five minutes earlier—trapped in this cave for eternity until I load a much older save and lose up to an hour of progress. That will not do. I have to survive.
I switch on my recording software to keep a record of my valiant attempt and set off into the darkness of the caves, hoping to find the surface. My descent was so chaotic that I have no idea which way to go. As I pick my way around the deadly toxic-spewing plants, the cave begins to widen. Suddenly, the path I follow drops into a vastly larger and more oval-shaped tunnel—the exact unnatural shape of the valley that first caught my eye and led to this whole mess. Am I closer to the surface than I think?
Not second-guessing which direction I should go, I turn right and follow the tunnel. At this point, my oxygen is down to 35 percent and dropping. If I want to survive, I'll need to find oxygen soon. As I trace a path along the bottom of this extremely large, oval-shaped tunnel, I spy a red glow in the distance that almost takes my breath away. It's an 'oxygen rich plant.' My life support systems have already dropped to 20 percent at this point, but the two plants give me 45 units of oxygen—more than enough to keep me breathing for a bit.
As I continue moving onward (with no idea of whether I am headed to the surface) I find another oxygen rich plant. In that moment, I see a smaller glimmer of hope: I might just have enough oxygen to find everything I need and escape. The tunnel turns gently up ahead and I see a sliver of night sky. I run forward and, after a 30-second jog, step out into a night sky bookended by the ridges of the valley. I feel free, but at the same time I know my mission is only just beginning.
The great escape
Several meters from the mouth of the cave I find exactly what I need: blue di-hydrogen crystals. It is more than enough to craft the terrain manipulator and launch fuel I need to actually escape. At this point, I am pretty overwhelmed and make the mistake of thinking I need the carbon from a nearby crystal formation. I move toward it but then see a sudden red question mark indicator on my HUD noting I've been spotted by the highly aggressive Sentients that patrol this forsaken world. I turn to see one at the crest of a slope to my left and sprint toward it to hide myself behind the steep slope of the valley.
Great. Now I not only have to deal with my rapidly declining life support but also sentient machines that will alert impossibly tough reinforcements if they spot me. I take a few minutes to catch my breath in the menus and chart out exactly what resources I need.
In order to survive, I'll need to find:
- 1 di-hydrogen jelly requiring 40 di-hydrogen (for the terrain manipulator)
- 2 carbon nanotubes requiring 50 carbon each (for the terrain manipulator)
- 1 metal plating requiring 50 ferrite (for the launch fuel)
- 25 di-hydrogen (for the launch fuel)
And that isn't including any extra carbon or ferrite to keep my multi-tool's harvester and terrain manipulator running. Oh, and enough oxygen to survive the whole ordeal. And that is assuming my ship is close enough to the surface that I can even dig the damn thing out. Who knows how deep down I flew in my panic? It's an enormous challenge that I know I probably won't survive even though I've come so far.
Once I am squared away (and realized my error in thinking I needed more carbon), I harvest the rest of the di-hydrogen crystals and assemble my terrain manipulator. When I install the addon onto my multi-tool, I realize it already comes fully charged—I won't need to waste precious oxygen harvesting ferrite. Thank god.
It's now time to dig my ship out.
With the Sentient nearby, I quickly jetpack up the opposite slope and run out of sight before it notices me. I am now out of the valley and on the flat, rolling surface of Tabielde. I am so close to freedom. My life support is low but I manage to find another oxygen rich plant to harvest to keep me relatively safe from asphyxiation—but other Sentients are everywhere too.
A squad of NPC ships flies overhead and I turn up to watch them pass, knowing there is no way to signal them to come to my rescue. I wish I could fully describe the inescapable feeling of loneliness I have in this moment, watching these three ships pass by while a kilometer below them I am slowly dying.
I run along the surface of Tabielde following the on-screen icon indicating the location of my ship and once I am roughly above it I mentally prepare myself for the dig. At this point, I still have no idea how deep underground it might be. I begin carving a hole out of the earth with my terrain manipulator. It'll need to be quite large to fit my ship, but I figure I can dig first and worry about the dimensions later.
After evaporating a few meters of earth, the terrain manipulator stops working even though its still charged. What the hell? My heart sinks. Is there some kind of limit to how far I can dig? Am I stuck on the surface? Have I come so far only to die because of arbitrary game systems? Not willing to quit, I begin pointing the manipulator at nearby terrain desperate to see if I can get below this invisible barrier. Far to the left of my initial hole, I punch through into a cavern and my heart leaps for joy. I drop in and land right next to my ship. It wasn't kilometers below the surface like I had feared. I can't tell you how relieved I am.
Buy why couldn't I dig it out? Experimenting with the manipulator a bit more, I realize that No Man's Sky prevents me from deleting terrain near my ship, which I guess makes sense. But how am I supposed to fly it out? I decide to not overwhelm myself thinking about it. First I have to finish digging the hole.
A few minutes later and my terrain manipulator quits—its charge fully depleted. I have dug a reasonably-sized hole that I hope is big enough. The only problem is instead of being right above my ship it is off to the side by a few meters. If I hop in and waste half of my launch fuel taking off only to realize I am still stuck and can't move, my desperate rescue will be over. I'll be trapped on Tabielde, stuck in an infinite save loop of agony for the rest of my days.
My life support is at 60 percent but I have no oxygen left to recharge it. It's now or never, baby. I board my ship and craft the metal plating and then use that to make starship launch fuel. I load the fuel into my thrusters and then, with a little prayer, press the 'E' key.
There is a brief, sickening moment where the camera glitches out and I'm worried I'll be stuck clipping through the level geometry again but then—suddenly—I am free. My ship sails gracefully above the surface of Tabielde, its moon-like plains fading into distant blackness. I exhale sharply and realize I have been unintentionally holding my breath. Maybe the constant strain of my life support was weighing on my more than I realized. But it doesn't matter anymore. I point my ship's nose to the sky and punch the accelerator, leaving this forsaken planet behind me.
No Man's Sky's bothersome survival systems used to annoy me. They always felt like a chore standing between me and whatever mysteries were waiting for me in this procedurally generated galaxy. But on Tabielde, these systems (and my own sheer stupidity) came together in perfect concert to create one of the most stressful and exhilarating survival game experience I've ever had. It was a like walking a constant tightrope where even the smallest bump could have ruined the tension and sent me plummeting into ruin.
If you ever find Tabielde on your travels, stay the hell away from its valleys.