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A Deep Dive Into No Man's Sky's Strange 'Foundation' Update

I had no idea I would spend the vast majority of my Sunday playing No Man’s Sky, a game I have not touched in months, but Hello Games decided to spring the game’s biggest patch since launch upon its playerbase, the “Foundation” Update.

While promising that it would be a sign of larger things to come, Hello Games has dumped a lot into the Foundation patch, even if it’s just laying the groundwork for future updates. Chief among the additions are a new base-building mode, which has the ability to establish a “home planet” that you can travel to and from via a new teleporter system, allowing players to easily return to favorite planets/systems for the first time ever. And another significant addition is the ability to buy sprawling freighters, which allow for greater resource stacking and well…the ability to own a badass, enormous Star Destroyer, in effect. There are loads of quality of life improvements as well from quick menus to a photo mode, and it’s a lot to digest.

But after about a day, I think I’ve digested most of it. Which might be kind of a problem.

It’s not that the Foundation Update doesn’t add anything of significance to the game. It does, but like the launch version, you get the sense pretty quickly that you’ve seen and done most of the new stuff within the first few hours with little reason to press on after that.

Base-building is the most in-depth aspect of the new content, so we’ll start there. You can establish a base by scanning planets to find a “habitable base” that is more or less just a circular room that you can expand outward from there. Later, you can build a device that scans every planet for a habitable base so you can actually start to choose specific planets rather than dropping anchor on the first one you see.

That’s what I did, and I ended up on a rather blegh desert planet I wasn’t too fond of, but it allowed me to get my bearings with the new system.

The basics of base-building are that you want to build four rooms to start, and recruit four aliens to come work for you. I say “work for you,” but it’s more like slave labor because I don’t think you actually pay them anything, though they’re chipper all the same. You get two Geks, one for construction, one for farming, a Korvax for science stuff and a Vy’keen to build you weapon mods.

What I like about base-building is that it’s the closest thing the game has to an actual quest system, other than the super vague Atlas/Center of the Universe goals from the original game. They task you with finding certain items, which might be nearby, which might be on a completely different planet. It’s pretty basic stuff, activate this beacon, collect 50 of this mineral on a radioactive planet, and so on, but at least it’s goals, at least it’s objectives.

Hilariously, since No Man’s Sky is allergic to any sort of actual quest system, you will eventually have four people telling you to get four different materials or minerals with crazy names to the point where you might have to actually write yourself out-of-game notes to keep track of what you’re looking for and how to find it. I really don’t know why a simple objective checklist is so antithetic to the design philosophy here, but that’s clearly been shot out of the sky by the devs, despite the fact that it would make perfect sense here.

After a couple tiers of unlocks, you’ll realize there aren’t exactly tons of base-building options right now. Some of the decorations are pretty neat, but in 4-5 rooms you’ll have used most of them. Cubic rooms allow you to make custom shapes and I’m sure that some YouTubers will go wild with this and we’ll have some Fallout 4 settlement-type uber-creations online shortly. I was just content to hang a few guns and banners on the wall and call it a day.

I’m glad the teleport system exists, because this entire concept would fall apart without it, and I guess I’m willing to ignore that it totally breaks the lore of the game, able to transport you (and somehow your ship, too) potentially millions of lightyears back and forth across the galaxy in a few seconds. And for those wondering, it’s not really a huge deal to scrap an early base and move it to a better planet. You can refund most of your resources, and your employees will pop into existence as soon as you rebuild their stations. If you have some elaborately crafted base it will be a pain to rebuild it, but there aren’t all that many downsides if you’ve found a new planet or system that’s “the one.”

Near the end of the base-building missions, the cracks start to show, however. Like so much of the base game, it’s all pretty shallow. Get 50 of this underwater material, get 50 of that ice planet plant. Some of it feels especially artificial, like inserting new elements that can only be harvested with special gloves you have to craft or an upgraded mining laser. And what’s really the end goal here? A handful of new upgrades, and I suppose, farming. With farming, you can plant a variety of crops that give you consistent returns, which can be useful if you’re growing profitable Gravino Balls, but I’m still not quite sure what the point is of a quest to collect animal dung mineral in order to grow a plant that constantly produces more animal dung material. At the end of the rainbow after you finish all these little tasks it’s just…more rainbow, so I guess the plan is to wait once again for future updates.

The freighter-purchasing addition has the potential to be even more exciting on the surface, but in practice? I constantly feel like I’m missing something with the whole system. You can buy one for relatively cheap right off the bat, I think I paid 7 million for my first, badass-looking freighter with 13 inventory slots. That doesn’t seem like much but at least each slot stacks to 1000, better than the 500 of your ship or the 250 of your suit.

And yet, after that, it becomes clear the freighter system is just a simplified version of the ship system, with less models and no upgrades. Unlike ships, freighters have no actual upgrades for weapons or shields or mobility, only storage slots, and after seeing a couple dozen of them, there really aren’t that many cosmetic variants, even if a few of them do look really damn cool.

You can expand the interior of your freighter using a limited set of the tools pulled from the base-building system, and, weirdly, you can farm there too.  But essentially, other than being mini-mobile bases, with no combat or even piloting capabilities, freighters are more or less giant storage bins, but not even very good ones at that. This is where I really feel like I took a wrong turn somewhere, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to transfer items out of freighters into my ship or exosuit inventory, other than the absurdly convoluted process of summoning the freighter, flying in to dock, walking up three flights of stairs and personally talking to my captain to begin the transfer process. It’s enough to make you not want to store anything there at all given how exhausting it is to retrieve something from a freighter. You can be standing inside your freighter’s hangar and still not be able to use the materials stored in the freighter to craft an upgrade. It’s absurd. Perhaps freighters will become more relevant in time, but for now, they’re just too limited and obtuse to be terribly exciting or useful, as cool as they may look.

And, that’s it really, for the major stuff. There are some cool new things they’ve done with starfighting like bounties where you hunt down high value targets or rescue starships who will reward you with prizes after the fight. Things like the quick menu for refilling guns or drives is useful, and should have been in the game at launch. And I really do love the new photo mode.

However, there are still those zillion little things in place that will make you squirm. The letterboxing when you achieve a milestone or encounter a new alien that makes everything totally unusuable for ten seconds. The fact that dialogue crawls across the screen and there’s no way to speed it up. And there are larger structural problems in place too, like the fact that there still is no real goal to any of this, other than getting materials to help you hold more materials or earn materials faster. Or that there are still no great mysteries out there to uncover, and reaching the edge of a galaxy only to warp to a new one is a bootleg “New Game Plus” mode.

And a few things with this update seem to have gotten outright worse, if I’m being honest. No Man’s Sky is a game where you can never get truly “stuck,” but for reasons I can’t fathom, this update has dramatically reduced the amount of Plutonium that seems to spawn on planets. Plutonium can power pretty much everything in the game, but the one thing it’s irreplaceable for is your boost thrusters to get you off the ground on a planet. While previously Plutonium would spawn in random places, it would usually be around the edges of any major structured settlements, and it was always found in caves.

But now? At least in my experience, I’m seeing maybe 5% of the Plutonium I used to. This has resulted in really awkward situations as after I ran through my huge stockpile of the stuff from previous saves, I’m now desperately scavenging for it wherever I go. Once I almost got stranded on my home planet where the fuel is quite literally nowhere to be found, so I had to actually warp to a spaceport and buy it off incoming pilots 50 units at a time in order to make sure my ship could actually take off again once it set down on a planet. It’s absolutely bizarre, and I can’t imagine what inspired this change.

Like No Man’s Sky itself, my opinions of this update have been a rollercoaster. I wasn’t really impressed by the initial, vague announcement, but the full patch notes were pretty jaw-dropping. And while I really liked base-building for a while and buying my first freighter was a great feeling, after just a few hours it started to become clear that these new systems weren’t any less shallow than the rest of the game.

Everything added (Plutonium issues aside) is certainly an improvement, but I can see now why Hello Games is billing this as a rather small update compared to hopefully larger ones in the future. In some ways it seems huge, but once you start actually getting through what it has to offer, like always, you’ll be left wanting a whole lot more, not to mention there are still a ton of existing issues that still need to be fixed after all these months.

If you liked No Man’s Sky but inevitably grew bored of it, this is definitely an update to check out. If you truly hated the game with a fiery passion like so many on the internet seem to, then I don’t know if this is going to change your mind. I am willing to give this game second and third chances because I am genuinely curious to see what they do with it, and there’s a lot about it I like, but some magical life-giving update, this is not. If you own the game, give it a shot, but don’t go in expecting miracles.

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