This was originally going to be one of my weekly columns and was going to rebut some of the nasty things people have been saying about No Man’s Sky. If you’re clever enough to read the post title, then you’ve probably figured out why that isn’t happening.
In No Man’s Sky you hop from system to system. Along the way you visit these Atlas space stations where you get a bit of story text, an Atlas Stone, and a pointer to the next station. That pointer is important, because it’s the only way you’re going to find these rare Atlas stations in this sea of stars.
The Atlas stones are also important. You need ten of them to complete the main quest of the gameOr at least, the most central and obviously presented quest.. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you this. No, it just dumps this apparently useless object into your inventory without explanation. You don’t know you need it, but you do know it’s worth a small fortune. If you’ve been following the story of this game you’ve probably heard that the inventory system is excruciatingly limited and that you’re always starved for space to store things.
If you’ve played a videogame before, then you probably know that when you give a player a high-value object with no functional purpose as a quest reward, then the most likely thing they’ll do is sell it. Particularly if they’re starved for inventory space. And especially if you give them ten of the damn things. And especially especially if they don’t stack. That’s basically RPG shorthand for, “THESE THINGS ARE COMMON QUEST REWARDS. SELL THEM FOR MONEY!”
So at some point in a fit of frustration, after I’d heard the computer voice chirp NO FREE SLOTS IN INVENTORY one too many times, I sold a couple of Atlas stones to give myself some breathing room. The game was handing them out like Halloween candy, so I figured if they turned out to be important I could always get more later.
Then I got to Atlas station #11 and found I couldn’t complete the game because I was two stones short. I had to step away and find two more stones, and the game gave no clue how to do this. It didn’t really acknowledge my situation at all. The option to complete the quest was grayed out, and it that was it. It’s like it never occurred to the designers that players might do this Very Obvious and Highly Incentivized Thing.
I checked the guides online and found out you can buy Atlas Stones at the market. It took me a long time (many star-hops) to find any for sale. When I did, they were selling for about ten times what I sold them for. Note that this isn’t the case for most items in the game. Most things in No Man’s Sky seem to have their buy and sell prices within a few percentage points of each other. In the worst-case scenario, you might find the prices halved / doubled. But for some reason Atlas Stones are sold for a 1,000% markup. (Sold for 230k, bought back for 2.3 million.) That’s brutal and I don’t see a mechanical reason for price-gouging the player over this except to punish them for trying to make their inventory problems less maddening. But whatever. Once I bought the stones, I opened the map and looked for the waypoint to guide me back to the Atlas.
The waypoint was gone.
I didn’t even know it could vanish. I just accepted it as part of the interface. I’d never seen the map without a line pointing to the next Atlas system. But apparently the current waypoint is cleared when you arrive at an Atlas station, and using the station replaces it with a new one.
Keep in mind that the galaxy map is a three-dimensional field of indistinguishable dots that stretches on as far as you can see in every direction. I’d visited the Atlas Station the previous day and no longer had the slightest direction which way I’d gone when I left the station. I mean, why would I memorize a pattern of jumps? I expected to have the waypoint to guide me back!
I had the station in my history. I could scroll back to it, see what I’d named it, and review my discoveries there. But the interface provides no way to show you where the damn place was in this endless soup of floating dots.
The first answer people always give me to this puzzle is to visit Nada and Polo, who appear in a different kind of space station. But I didn’t have a waypoint to them either. I jumped randomly for a while until I found one of their hangouts, only to find out they no longer had any guidance for me. Because I’d already visited the final station, Nada no longer had the dialog option to point me to another one. I had everything I needed to complete the game except for the location of where to go.
But fine. It’s a game about space exploration. I can just explore space until I find another Atlas station, right? I don’t know how common they are, but the only thing left to do is look. So I loaded up my ship with fuel and set off.
And for the first couple of hours, this might have been kind of fun. I’d fly around, name some star systems, then stop and spend a couple of hours gathering up resources for the next load of fuel and the next big push.
I did this for four days. I’ve visited over 250 star systems since that last Atlas visit and I’m no closer to my goal than when I startedFor comparison, it only took me about 50 hops to get from the first planet to that last Atlas station.. I’ve still got these stupid Atlas Stones sucking up ten precious inventory slots and I’d love to be rid of them. I don’t even care about the planets I’m visiting anymore. I just want to turn in these stones and move on. I’ve put in the time – and then some – and I’d like to see the end of this journey for myself.
The whole time I’ve been saying, “I love this game, but the inventory system is horrible and I hate that you can’t re-visit old locations.” It figures that these two massive irritations would combine to break the game for me in the end. I’ve been one mouse-click away from finishing the game for five days and the only reason I can’t is because the travel system is so rudimentary it borders on prototype. In another game this might be forgivable, but in a game about navigating literally quintillions of stars, I think the tools for getting around need to be at least as robust as Skyrim.
This guide says to look for stars with the “blue arrow” around it, but I’ve scrolled around examining hundreds of stars and I’ve never seen that. I strongly suspect that the blue arrows don’t denote an Atlas system, but the waypoint you’re given. (Which I no longer have.) Also note in that post that you can see a few comments from other people in my predicament.
There’s also the feature to “search for local discoveries” on the starmap. Supposedly it will show you what systems have been visited by you and other players. That might help narrow the search. But the button doesn’t seem to do anything for me. I press it. I hold it down. I wait. There’s no sound. No animation. Nothing to indicate the game is working or thinking or waiting for information from the server. I’m not convinced this button actually does anything on the PC.
After doing hundreds of fruitless, frustrating warps, I just started scanning the galaxy map, hoping that Atlas systems would be labeled. I could click on a new star about once every three secondsThe interface isn’t particularly snappy, and you have to wait for the fancy-pants popup to fill in to see the properties of the star.. I did this for over an hour. Even allowing for taking breaks, I must have scanned well over a thousand stars. Either you can’t identify Atlas systems without a waypoint, or they’re incredibly rare.
Maybe Atlas systems aren’t listed as such until you discover them. Maybe Atlas systems don’t even appear on the map unless you know about them. Maybe Atlas systems just become “regular systems” and the stations are hidden from you if you’re not following an Atlas waypoint. Maybe – as some other people in my predicament have mused – the Atlas stations vanish forever and you can never complete the game. We don’t know. The game is too clever to do anything so crass as to explain its own mechanics.
The game is broken for me. I don’t want to move on to the galactic core with these stupid stones sucking up so much inventory space. Also, completing the game gives you a tool to make the trip to the core easierYou can reportedly see black holes from the starmap. so I really don’t want to start that trip without finishing the Atlas business first. I certainly don’t want to sell all the stones when I’d have to buy them back at a 10× markup. Yes, I could just watch it on YouTube. I could also have saved myself $60 and just watched someone else play through the entire game on YouTube. The point is that after putting in all this damn effort I really did want to complete this task for myself.
Navigation is entirely visual, so you can’t just go online and look up locations by coordinates. There aren’t any cheats to help me. There aren’t any mods that can help. You can’t search for things by name or region, or indeed do any searching at all. The interface doesn’t even give you a way to start overNot that I would consider starting over after playing for 110 hours to be an acceptable solution.. The game manages the saves for you by alternating auto-saves between two slots, so there’s no way to revert to a save from yesterday or even a few hours ago.
The shame of it is, up until now I’ve been an enthusiastic apologist for this game. While everyone else was sneering that “There’s nothing to do!”, I was having fun and exploring like crazyAlso, the claim that there is “nothing to do” is not REMOTELY true. Okay, most of the things you do are flawed, but they EXIST.. But it’s pretty hard to defend a game that falls apart like this when there are about a dozen really simple ways to fix it. It’s not like I did something exotic and strange. I made a pretty understandable mistake and now I’m stuck. And I think I’ve put more hours into looking for a solution than most would.
This is the worst failure state I’ve ever seen in a game. A bad situation is where a crash might cost you half an hour of progress. A terrible one is when a blocked quest or glitch would force you to revert to a very old save from much earlier in the story. I suppose in catastrophic circumstances you might have to start a new game. This is the first game I’ve ever encountered where seemingly innocuous actions could keep you from ever completing the game ever.
Note that I’m not complaining about “just one bug”. This entire stupid mess is the culmination of many frustrating design decisions:
- If inventory management wasn’t miserable and irritating to the point of ruining the game, then I wouldn’t have been so quick to sell those Atlas Stones.
- If the game offered a way to create a waypoint from your travel history, I would have been able to return to the Atlas Station with no problem.
- If Nada’s dialog to find the next station didn’t vanish the moment you actually needed it, I’d be able to get back on the path that way.
- If the save system allowed you to make your own saves, then I could have gone back to the save I certainly would have made when I arrived at the final Atlas station.
- If the map view showed a trail of where you’d been, then I could have re-traced my steps.
- If the “scan for local discoveries” feature actually did something, then maybe it would help me. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it work.
- If the game wasn’t so coy about explaining its systems I would know if all this searching was a valid solution or a complete waste of time.
- If the game had some sort of “new game” feature then it wouldn’t be so inexcusable to be cut off from the resolution to such a major piece of content, but as it stands this one mistake means I’ll never finish the Atlas journey.
So that’s my experience with No Man’s Sky: A long string of frustrations and failures that wasted my time, sucked the fun out of an incredible and unique experience, and angered me for days. The wonder and excitement of seeing all those fantastic worlds is muted by the fact that most of your time is spent not looking at the horizon, but screwing around with an inventory grid, wasting time in useless tedious space combat, and navigating a an obtuse map.
There’s amazing technology to be seen here, but No Man’s Sky seems intent on punishing you for trying to experience it.
EDIT: And now it looks like maybe I’ve been searching for nothing, because apparently Atlas stations vanish after you visit them?
 Or at least, the most central and obviously presented quest.
 For comparison, it only took me about 50 hops to get from the first planet to that last Atlas station.
 The interface isn’t particularly snappy, and you have to wait for the fancy-pants popup to fill in to see the properties of the star.
 You can reportedly see black holes from the starmap.
 Not that I would consider starting over after playing for 110 hours to be an acceptable solution.
 Also, the claim that there is “nothing to do” is not REMOTELY true. Okay, most of the things you do are flawed, but they EXIST.
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