Not content to disappear beyond the event horizon after July’s gigantic NEXT update, No Man’s Sky developers Hello Games are continuing to expand their galaxy-sized sandbox with yet another big addition: The Abyss.
Thalassophobes beware, as Abyss focuses on overhauling aquatic gameplay, which until now has been about as fascinating as donning a snorkel and a pair of diving fins and lying face down in a puddle. Expect to be able to build massive underwater habitats, delve into the eerie depths in a submarine and encounter all manner of biological terrors.
Bringing some context to your latest adventure are a set of stories with a tone quite different from what you may have come to expect from No Man’s Sky. Quests will task you with discovering the fate of the crew aboard a crashed freighter, as well as searching sunken ruins to find a “lost soul” who was trapped beneath the waves long ago.
Thanks to the selection of new resources, building parts and biome generation, Abyss does well to broaden the existing gameplay loop. Creating your dream underwater lab will keep you busy for hours, and the new submarine makes exploration satisfying and practical in much the same way the land-based vehicles do. Likewise, the chance to stumble across freighter wrecks and buried treasures on the ocean floor will ensure you’re well-rewarded for your exploratory endeavours.
There’s also been a refresh of the visual design. Underwater biomes are now much more diverse and interesting, with richer ecosystems creating untold varieties of flora and fauna to catalogue and gather resources from. Smaller details, such as plants which gently sway in the current, bubbles which trail from the rear of your submarine as you propel forwards, and fish which swim and scatter as you approach make the environments feel markedly less static. The overall result is an atmosphere that verges on replicating that of the excellent Subnautica, at times evoking that game’s palpable feeling of disquietude as you float through a vast expanse of ocean, not knowing what unspeakable monstrosities may lie beneath.
What I enjoyed most about Abyss came as a result of the reworked procedural generation. My first expedition on an ocean planet saw me happen upon a huge whale-like creature, with alarmingly large puckered lips and long, spindly legs dangling beneath its giant mass. This thing was seemingly on its way to the trendiest underwater nightclub this side of the galaxy, but I put an end to those plans after quickly mining it to death for resources. Sorry, buddy.
I continued to dive lower, where I discovered a peculiar-looking blob growing out of the ocean floor. As I approached, the tip of the blob opened, revealing a huge yellow eye that immediately began emitting some sort of beam which knocked a chunk off my health. The game categorised this creature as an “abyssal horror”. “Apt”, I thought, as I immediately fled the area in a desperate attempt to nuke the entire planet from orbit.
The only major gripes that blemish an otherwise impressive update are ones which persist from the main game. Character interactions continue to play out through dry text boxes, making attempts to weave a compelling narrative fall rather flat. There will also be times that you find yourself grinding for resources and succumbing to the inevitable fatigue that comes along with it. If you were put off by this in the main game, don’t expect Abyss to change your mind.
I was also disappointed at the lack of true underwater leviathans. I never came across anything beyond the dimensions of your average great white shark, meaning my masochistic desire to come face-to-face with a kraken remains unfulfilled.
Thematic updates are most certainly the way forward for No Man’s Sky. NEXT offered a breadth of content, but faltered in delivering depth to its individual systems. If Abyss is the first step on Hello Games’ journey to overcoming this, I’ll happily tag along for the ride.