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How to Play No Man's Sky: A Detailed Breakdown

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Hello Games' ambitious sci-fi adventure has proven difficult to understand. Here is our most comprehensive explanation yet.

See Also: No Man’s Sky Interview: People Want Crazy, Innovative Games

Open your star map in No Man's Sky and you will be presented with a line that plots the quickest route from your current location to the centre of the universe. This, says game creator Sean Murray, is the closest thing that you'll get to a traditional objective. Enter into the marvellous white light at the epicentre of everything and tell your friends that, technically, you have completed the game.

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Now Playing: What Do You Actually Do in No Man's Sky?

But you'll probably not make it. At the time of writing, No Man's Sky features a universe so implausibly vast that it will take "hundreds of hours" to get to the end of that line.

All players begin their quest at the universe's edge, each on their own planet dotted somewhere along the perimeter. By the most recent calculations, there are roughly 18 quintillion planets in No Man's Sky (that's 18,000,000,000,000,000,000--or 18 billion billion). The game’s world is actually a shared universe, with players connected online, much like how it works in Destiny or World of Warcraft. But No Man’s Sky is so unfathomably huge that it’s unlikely that you’ll ever meet another player. The chance of encountering a friend at some stage is essentially zero. (If you do find a planet once touched by another player, apparently you'll know, though Murray wouldn't offer details.)

"So 99.9 percent of these star systems will never be visited," says Murray. "That's either quite beautiful or seriously depressing."

This also means you won't be able to find a guide online, or watch a Let's Play to help you along. But as you progress, visiting and departing various planets and star systems, you will begin to slowly upgrade your ship and equipment, eventually to a stage where you can access high-end features such a mini-jumps and hyper drives. That makes your mission a little less daunting.

But still, unlikely.

"The centre is a really long way away," says Murray. "Like, really long."

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No Man's Sky Is a Game of Survival

* It's certain you'll encounter danger. Many planets are hazardous by default. Some too hot, some too cold, others radioactive or toxic. As you leave your ship and explore such worlds, your thermal protection shields will deplete until you find cover, either in caves or outposts, etc. If your thermal protection bar depletes, your health will begin to deteriorate. You can upgrade your thermal shields as the game progresses, but at the outset, you will be severely at risk against the elements.

* Getting lost will be a major challenge. Careless players will lose their bearings and die before they can find their ship again. "Generally, you won't want to wander off into the unknown. What you'll want to do is know your surroundings a bit. Know where you can catch your breath, plot your course, and maybe think a bit before you venture out into the freezing cold," cautions Murray.

* You will also encounter law enforcement, and much like in Grand Theft Auto, there is a wanted level that ascends from one to five stars. Plundering too many of a planet's minerals will alert drones and sentinels--small security bots that will engage unless your kleptomania is kept to a minimum. In my playthrough, I broke into a factory with a shielded door, sounding an alarm, which if memory serves earned me a two-star wanted level. By a stroke of luck I accessed the factory core to switch off the alarm. As your crime notoriety increases, the music--composed by post-rock group 65daysofstatic--dynamically builds.

* The law must be respected in deep space too. A two-star wanted level will summon police vehicles, while Murray says a five-star level will bring in freighters carrying police ships. "It looks quite cool, but I die every time," he adds.

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No Man's Sky is a Game of Exploration

* Due to the natural hazards of each planet, players will benefit by observing their surroundings carefully. Finding caves and other areas to shield them from extreme temperatures, for example, is crucial.

* Binoculars allow you to look in the distance and mark key objects on your radar, similar to the tagging system in Metal Gear Solid V.

* Waypoints and beacons, if found, will give you a wider view of your surroundings, much like the synchronisation swoops in Assassin's Creed.

* Press down on the d-pad to launch a scan across the terrain, which will highlight any minerals, metals, and other elements that are in your vicinity. You can also scan new creatures Metroid Prime-style, and if you're the first to discover a new creature, you can name it. (There was no profanity filter during my playthrough, but expect one.)

* The majority of your surroundings are destructible, and often it's strategically advantageous to blast holes in the planet. Opening up the floor will sometimes reveal caves and vast catacombs beneath you (more shelter). Shooting plutonium crystals, meanwhile, will break free some of the element to take with you, but also triggers a wanted level. Metal doors can be blown open with enough sustained force; this triggers a two-star wanted level, at least.

* Each planet is a real spherical body; you could walk in a straight line around each planet and return to the spot you started from. Planets also orbit a light source, which is how night and day cycles are created.

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No Man's Sky Is a Game of Upgrades and Scavenging

* At the heart of the game's RPG system is the atomic resources index, which essentially mixes real elements from our periodic table with fictional ones. Discovering these elements, and sometimes mixing them together, allows you to create consumables for trading or technologies that will help you on your mission to the universe core.

* There are three main physical entities that you can upgrade: your weapon, your suit, and your ship. Each of these will have an individual capacity for other elements and technologies that you can carry (for convenience sake, just imagine they all come with a carrier bag). The suit in my demo, for example, had about ten free spaces, which I used to pocket some sulphur and plutonium.

* Weapons are customisable, meaning they can adapt to a role that best suits each player's taste. Murray: "If I am a trader, for instance, I might have my weapon very much focused towards mining. A survivalist may customise it completely differently."

* Ships can be upgraded with technologies for boost drives, mini-jump drives, and so on, which are powered by resources that are acquired by mining asteroids.

* Tech blueprints, product blueprints, and scrap parts can be scavenged from crashed ships, factories, and so on. You can install these blueprints in your gun, suit, or ship.

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No Man's Sky is a Game of Civilization

* An unknown number of races and factions exist in this universe, and members of each will speak to you in their own language. The text is gobbledegook at first, which means that decision-tree conversations can only commence if you make wild guesses.

* However, dotted across each planet are monoliths. These giant tablets with alien calligraphy function like the Rosetta Stone. Discovering them will further increase your language skills, meaning that more of each race's speech text will be translated into English. At some point you will be able to make calculated guesses about what each faction representative is saying to you ("Can XXX XX offering XX XXX technology?"), and later your conversations will be fluent.

* Monoliths also teach you some lore about each race. Additionally, sleeping in front of them will restore your health.

* Each race has its own technologies, such as different types of ships and suits. The only creature I encountered appeared to be an android, and my guess is that it was in awe of my presence.

* When conversing, choosing the right option can make races happy. Frequent interactions can raise your reputation within each faction. Friendly factions can open up trading options, and even offer items such as upgraded weapons. The races who you befriend will help you in their own specialised field--one could be skilled in the sciences, for example, meaning your bond will increase some of your tech skills.

* Players have a standing with each of the races, who have their own relationships and rivalries with each other, much like in Civilization.

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No Man's Sky Is a Game of Spacefaring

* Flying out from a planet's atmosphere will take you into space, with multiple constellations of stars in front of you. You can drive to any of them.

* You can also see trade routes between planets, and travelling along these lines allows you to intercept freighters carrying goods. If you choose, your ship can shoot at the freighters to break free cargo to collect, but this triggers a wanted level.

* As you fly towards planets, you're given calculations on how long it'll take to enter the atmosphere.

* Befriending races that possess strong science skills can help you discover more advanced space ships. Resource gathering and trading can also help you acquire technologies such as a boost drive, hyper-drive, and a mini-jump drive, which are powered from other minerals you find.

* You can find and enter space stations. The interior that I saw was very Halo in terms of aesthetics, with basic panels and bare metal walls and flooring. These stations act as save points and trade areas. Some also have small windows, which allow you to observe planets floating by.

* When on planets, you can create an EMP device by mixing silicon and plutonium. With this placed on a docking computer, you can call your ship. Or you can go find it.

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No Man's Sky is Months Away From Release

It ships June 21 on PlayStation 4 and PC across the US, and on June 24 in the UK. It is very likely the game will support PlayStation VR.

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Rob Crossley

Rob Crossley was GameSpot's UK Editor between 2014 and 2016.

No Man's Sky

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