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Feature Article

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

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.

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.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email


Rob Crossley

Rob Crossley was GameSpot's UK Editor between 2014 and 2016.
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363 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for xxmavr1kxx

Well the first/second paragraph is wrong.

People will reach the center. Although the one guy did it in 30 hours, I htink the official response was 40 hours it should take the average person who's goal is making the center and not get side tracked.

Avatar image for dlaney34

I wish i was excited about this. But it just seems to be missing something... Something really important. (a story maybe).

Avatar image for AloeVera4

This is the game "Stranded Deep" but set in space. Meh

Avatar image for snugglebear

This sounds like a good game to just chill to. Like how you could just zen out with Minecraft, in spite of the zombies and stuff.

Avatar image for geojf3

This reminds me of a game from the 80's: Star Flight.

Avatar image for kalarro

Ok, the... metagame sounds awesome. But what is actually the gameplay? Do you fight? Do you just survive?

Avatar image for deactivated-5ca532262d747

@kalarro: they refuse to tell us.

Avatar image for jobs

I'm really on the fence with this title.

When I first heard about it, I was hit by the hype train. Hard. After a while, it faded, as no info was given out, and all we saw was the same generic videos of flying around, discovering things.

After reading this article, realizing what this game offers, besides exploration, I am starting to feel the hype building inside me again. I am cautious though, but hopeful.

This title is bloody PERFECT for a VR setup as well.

Avatar image for billibob0

It is interesting to read a lot of these comments and to appreciate the cross section of gamers today. As an older gamer (30+) I can easily appreciate what this game is trying to this type of solo concept is all that was available in the 80's and 90's (to an extent the 00's).

PvP and multiplayer was a format of gaming that could only be achieved through split screen or couch co-op and I have found that those who struggle with the concept of a game with out PvP or multiplayer tend to be a younger breed of gamer. Which leads to an interesting realisation that younger gamers do not have much exposure or appreciation to the solo focused format that was the norm in the past.

Personally, I like the multiplayer format of gaming and being online with friends; but this format will also be a breath of fresh air to gaming. For those who want/expect/demand more from this game...just chill and wait for the Star Citizen launch. There are plenty of other games out there, this one is just going to be a little more will survive...I promise.

Avatar image for Exquisite

This is the most amazing concept in gaming I can remember... a galaxy scale of procedurally generated star systems to explore. Like other commenters, I'm still not completely sold on the gameplay. It won't really matter how many billions of worlds there are if after one or two hundred stops, you've already kind of "seen it all" (oh, another blue planet with dog sized quadripeds with slightly different stripes than I saw on that other planet last week).

Still, this is the only game I've been hyped about in many years, if only for its audacious concept. I think it will be worth buying just to support a new (and inevitable) precedural generation genre of gaming.

Avatar image for prime_pm

Well I guess I'll be touching myself tonight.

Avatar image for wilsondiabetes

@prime_pm: Why?

Avatar image for jasonb520

The more i learn about this game the more i like it. Language immersion is cool but seems like it could also be frustrating, but knowing that its a shared universe and there is a possibility to run into friends also playing the game is neat concept even as impossible the odds. Ill still try though. I could lose weeks of my life playing this game

Avatar image for hollywood1

Just pre-ordered through AMAZON only $47 (with their $2.8 tax or whatever it comes to $50) but FREE shipping AND you get pre-order bonuses of an upgraded ship to start with. Stoked. lol. But now comes the long drawn out wait until June. :(

Avatar image for Reuwsaat

I can see this wanted stuff getting old really really quick, but aside from t, it might be indeed a great game.

Avatar image for KiMiK1


No you can't see, you can only wait for the game to come out, wait for reviews and play it, THEN you can see if it gets old ;)

Avatar image for Reuwsaat

@KiMiK1: Over 20 years of gaming can get you pretty sharp on assumptions :) We'll see if I'm wrong soon enough

Avatar image for ditronus

With no crafting or survival system or character upgrades and no cooperative/pvp action...

It honestly sounds like it will be fun for 30 hours and then drop off.

Avatar image for KiMiK1


But there is crafting, survival and character upgrades, as for coop/pvp this is simply more of a single player game, like dark souls.

Have you been living under a rock?

Avatar image for naomeh

@ditronus: Couldn't have said it better than myself! It's a shame. It looks so pretty.

(I wouldn't even give it 30 hours. You've more patience than I do!)

Avatar image for Romayo83

I give them huge props for trying something a little different compared to almost all titles released lately. No X1? Come on....

Avatar image for hollywood1

@Romayo83: Its a timed exclusive kinda like Tomb Raider on X1.

Avatar image for Romayo83

@hollywood1: Really where did you read that?

Avatar image for bioswat

So.. no co-op play with friend?
Sure, I get all this thing will SUPER-BILLIONS-OF-BILLIONS of planet and it's really crazy, but what's the point in upgrading yourself, planets and other things if you can't even share it with or help to your friend?

Avatar image for KiMiK1


Ever heard of this thing called single player games and having fun on your own?

Avatar image for bioswat

@KiMiK1: Ever heard of a thing called "reading"? It says that players will play on a server but won't be able to find each one. So what's the point in online? But why do I tell you this, you can't ever read

Avatar image for Purpledust

@bioswat: LOOOOOLLLLL (you re an audacious analphabet then) Yes, talking to you bioswat. still lmao

Avatar image for hollywood1

@bioswat: lolol

Avatar image for dantas

This is a must buy. I wish i had the time to play all the game i got.

Avatar image for phili878

To the author: Planets don't float, they orbit (around suns as they accelerate so fast towards them, that they keep sling shooting around them, thus creating orbits). Earth does not float, we keep accelerating towards the sun but keep missing it, thus, we orbit around it because the sun's gravity pulls again towards it and yet again, we sling shot around it again. Glad to help!

Avatar image for Purpledust

@phili878: wow you're a real scientist. only thing is... earth is flat. Get your facts right.

Avatar image for T-ESI

@phili878: "Free-floating planets" is a valid term. See "Rogue Planet". Not every planet orbits around a sun or brown dwarf. Some have been ejected from the solar system or were never bound in the first place and orbit freely around the galaxy.

Avatar image for phili878

@T-ESI: You can only float on water or on air, and the vacuum of space is neither...In regards of the free-floating planet, that is just some term that some like to use in a wrong way. In any case, a planet that is ejected in from a solar system, or a neutron star for instance that moves around freely killing other solar systems, is still not floating... the term floating is wrong, but I can understand why some people like to use it, the term orbit or move I guess doesn't sit well when we talk about planets.

Avatar image for meta_sentinel

It will be about you trying to find your friend(s) through planning and patience then taking your fleet to the center of the universe together.

Avatar image for javalino

Now, reading this article , i know for sure!!! this game will be a FLOP !!!! will sell 300k on PC 200k on PS4. Its seems boring from start to finish. Why cant i destroy all words ?? kill civilizations! make an amry !!! make alliances with others players!

Avatar image for Purpledust

@javalino: yeaaaah.... you want to kill all civilizations? Good f-in luck boy. this place is huge.

Avatar image for KiMiK1


500k is a success for such a small team and a mainly single player game.

You can go and do all that multiplayer stuff in every other game that exists, online PvP overdone and always turns into a cesspool of trolls that ruin the fun of the game.

Avatar image for phili878

@javalino: because this game is a single player exploration type of game... whether it will be good or not, who knows at this point. Them being a tiny studio, I have my doubts tbh, but then again, look at the crap big studios produce these days.

Avatar image for Stesilaus

Meh. It's "Starbound" with 3D graphics. :-P

Avatar image for Purpledust

@Stesilaus: says the "Meh guy"

Avatar image for Stesilaus

@Purpledust: I'm just kidding, though. I'm really keen to see how "No Man's Sky" turns out.

Avatar image for T-ESI

@Stesilaus: But you don't really get to fly and fight in ships in Starbound. But I don't mind Starbound, so I'll likely like this game.

Avatar image for Bond_Villain

sounds like a big game

Avatar image for zyxahn

If it isn't an MMO then what is the main objective of the game. When I put the game on what am I playing for, besides exploring and conquering a bunch of planets ??? If getting to the center of the universe is the goal then why am I going there. To fight a boss and rule the universe ???

Avatar image for fxzero

@zyxahn: The point of the game is exploration. It's not the end goal that is important, it is the journey. It is the feeling of finding something new, that no one else had seen before. You're going there to discover what is there and to say that you did it if anything. I play a game to play it, and enjoy the game-play. What else would you play a game for?

Avatar image for Leeric420

It seems most peoples complaints about this game are because they are assuming facts about the game that are untrue.

Avatar image for nomailx

Devs: "We could have done more, but we decided to do less"... "This could have been the biggest MMO ever, but at one moment, we sat and decided to remove any multiplayer elements, and make it a boring single player game just for the spirit of it". "We prefer to do less, while we can do more. That's totally a choice".

Honest Version: Sure we'd like to make it an MMO but guess what! we don't have the funds, the servers, neither the means. But honesty would make us look like idots so we rather say things like "hey! We chose to make this a Single Player Immersive Game!" than say "We're a bunch of losers with no money so, Single Player only guys".

Avatar image for KiMiK1


Stop making things up, the devs never said that, quite the contrary, all alongf they have been saying its not an MMO, they don't want to make an MMO, they don't like PvP, its mainly a single player game.

They have done a TON of work to make this possible, go play some other games if you want PvP, there's plenty of that.

Avatar image for Brazucass

@nomailx: Devs decided it wouldnt be a multiplayer game since day one of the project. I saw it on an interview. What you mentioned were other elements of the game.

Avatar image for nomailx

A Single Player Game, in a Single Player World, without any Multiplayer elements. Terrible waste.