Preview: No Man's Sky in VR Promises a Galaxy Full of Possibilities, with Friends

After years of requests, No Man’s Sky is coming to VR this Summer. With a massive procedurally generated galaxy to explore and a range of ways to play, the scale of No Man’s Sky is something that hasn’t yet been seen in VR, while the ability to play with both VR and non-VR friends means there will be no shortage of people to explore with. I recently got to play No Man’s Sky in VR for the first time a came away with a feeling of immense possibilities in its huge world.

No Man’s Sky was a hugely polarizing game when it launched back in 2016. It was a game with massive ambition—an entire galaxy to explore with unique planets playing host to unique geography, plants, animals, and things to do. When the game launched though, there was a sense that developer Hello Games had promised more than they delivered, and reviews were mixed, to say the least.

Following the launch, the studio resolved to deliver a string of free updates to add features and bring more variety to the game. With new features like base building, new biomes, new mission types, multiplayer, and much more coming in the years since launch, the game has seen increasingly positive reviews from players.

Hello Games is currently in the process of developing its next major update, ‘Beyond’, which is planned for release this Summer. Beyond will include VR support for No Man’s Sky on Steam (Vive and Rift) and PSVR. It will also bring “radical new social and multiplayer” capabilities which “empowers players everywhere in the universe to meet and play together;” though the studio hasn’t detailed exactly what that all means just yet.

Hello Games says that VR support for No Man’s Sky is comprehensive, and VR players should expect to be able to do anything and everything that non-VR players can do. VR players and non-VR players can also play together, which is key because No Man’s Sky is sure to have a lasting player population that’s not dependent on VR users alone.

I recently experienced No Man’s Sky in VR using a Vive Pro for the first time. I was dropped onto a planet, and starred out as a vast desert landscape in front of me. Both of my hands were there in front of me, tracked by the Vive controllers as I’d expect from any native VR game. I was introduced to the game’s locomotion—which supports both teleportation and free-locomotion—and its controls, which allowed me to equip my Multi-tool and use functions like the Terrain Manipulator which can materialize walls of rock or dig a tunnel below my feet, all controlled with the movements of my controller.

The game’s interface, where you manage your inventory and more, appears as a floating window in front of you, and input is driven by a laser pointer that comes from your hand. Aside from being able to aim tools easily with motion input, the controls and interface for No Man’s Sky VR feel quite clunky at this pre-release stage. The team at Hello Games warned that they haven’t spent much time on the controls for the Vive wands specifically just yet, but they expect to make this much smoother ahead of the Summer launch of the VR feature. The studio has said that they’re working to make the VR addition to the game feel like “a true VR experience rather than a port.”

Flying, however, was smooth and intuitive. I was able to hop into my Starship with a ‘point-and-pull’ gesture toward the ship which made me appear inside of the cockpit. Once inside, a virtual stick and throttle were waiting for me to grab. As I pushed the throttle forward my ship lifted off from the surface and I was able to easily skim across the planet.

From there I went nose-up to gain altitude and eventually pulled out of the planet’s atmosphere entirely; I looked out the side of my canopy and saw the planet grow ever more round before becoming a sphere behind me, which felt a little bit magical in VR.

Not far from the planet was a series of asteroids on which I got to test out my ship’s cannons. From there I made a Pulse Jump—a high speed leap for in-system travel—to a distant space station where I docked and hopped out of my ship. As I turned to look down the long tunnel from where I had flown in, I saw the opening terminate into a void of space, and in that moment I felt like there was a galaxy full of possibilities staring back at me.

The big question, I expect, is whether VR will add enough to No Man’s Sky that players will opt for the headset instead of the screen. VR is immersive, and often amazing, but it’s also still clunky, not nearly as high res as your monitor, and not as comfortable as not wearing something on your head. For VR to be more than a novelty in No Man’s Sky, it’ll need to bring enough to the game that players are willing to overcome that friction each time they play.

In my time in No Man’s Sky VR, I didn’t get the chance to play with anyone else, but it feels like exploring the game’s vast sandbox with friends is going to be a key allure. It isn’t clear how the upcoming No Man’s Sky ‘Online’ feature—which will launch at the same time as VR support—will change the game’s multiplayer functionality, but our understanding is that, presently, up to four players can play together at once in the same party, and it’s possible to see other players roaming around in the same place if you happen to cross paths.

While I was comfortable throughout my time playing, including while flying, I’m still curious to know if all aspects of the game will be widely comfortable. No Man’s Sky includes more means of locomotion like ground vehicles and swimming, which weren’t initially designed for VR. We don’t yet have many specifics on what comfort options will be available to VR players, so we’ll have to wait and see as we get closer to the update.

After playing No Man’s Sky in VR, I also got to speak briefly with Hello Games founder Sean Murray about the project. He told me that there’s a dedicated team in the studio that’s working on the VR features, and said that he’s personally a VR enthusiast who has been following developments in the industry for some time.

Murray also confirmed that players who already own No Man’s Sky will be able to play their existing saves seamlessly in VR. He also said that, as of now, the studio hasn’t added a way to uniquely identify VR players from non-VR players in the game from a visual standpoint, except that the arms of VR players will be animated by their motion controllers.

And while the studio is confirming support for No Man’s Sky VR on Steam (for the Vive and Rift), and PSVR, Murray wasn’t ready to say whether or not the Steam version would also officially support Windows VR headsets.

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