THERE ARE SPOILERS CONCERNING TWO OF NO MAN’S SKY’S ENDINGS AHEAD. TURN BACK IF YOU WANT TO DISCOVER WHAT HAPPENS FOR YOURSELF.
Once No Man’s Sky released on PS4 on Aug. 9, the race for the center was on. Leading up to the game’s launch, Hello Games held that lofty goal in front of prospective players providing the driving force needed to explore the game’s impossibly large universe. After nearly two weeks, players are able to finally witness the magic moment for themselves (spoilers). Now that they know the truth of what awaited some 180,000 light years away, something has become evidently clear; It just isn’t as rewarding as many players had been hoping.
After nearly a hundred hours of hurtling through space in your Starship, learning languages and upgrading your Warp Drive along the way, you reach the center and are treated with a short, script-less scene. The center glows just in front of you, bright and mysterious, when suddenly the camera begins to pull back. It’s a reverse of the beginning, as No Man’s Sky rapidly pulls you away from the galaxy you’ve just poured so much of your life into. When it’s done, the camera pans to the side where a new light can be seen far off in the distance, a new center.
Just like you experienced 100 hours before, you are now flying towards an unknown planet, moving faster than your mind could’ve ever imagined until the screen goes dark. When it comes back to life a familiar event greets you. There you are, once more gazing into the sky as you find yourself crash-landed on some unknown planet. Your ship is damaged, as are most of your tools, but it’s time to set out once again.
If you’re feeling we’ve left something out, we assure you that we didn’t. That’s all you get when you finally make your way through countless star systems after crafting so many Warp Cells that you lost count days ago. Just the theme playing as you’re flown to yet another beginning.
To be honest, I would’ve possibly enjoyed this ending much more if I hadn’t already experience the Atlas Path ending. Being transported to an alternate dimension only to do it all over seems almost fitting for an adventure as serene and tough to describe. It doesn’t tell you anything, and maybe someone out there can argue that, “That’s the point.” But the Atlas ending actually provides some insight into the universe and its galaxies. It helps you figure out your place among all the random chaos that procedurally generates around you. It ties things together in 20 to 30 hours, in a way that makes the 100 hour trek to the center seem almost pointless.
Following the path of Atlas depicts the thoughts of a seemingly omniscient force. This glowing orb in the sky can be read about on different Monoliths and within terminal messages. Some see it as a deity, others as a scourge, yet all agree that it is a great being. That great being is interested in you enough to call out to you and invite you to follow a path of enlightenment. What at first seems like a stern, almost evil voice, eventually opens up to be wise and illuminating. It asks for your commitment because there is no turning back from its end goal. It is stern because you must not waver if you want to see its end.
In order to see the end, you have to actually experience what No Man’s Sky has to offer. You need to reach milestones, and those are obtained by learning about and interacting with your surroundings. Something that the path to the center doesn’t require at all. You can simply gun it straight there if you’d like, ignoring everything that has been beautifully built around you.
When you do reach that end, you come face to face with your destiny. You are to become something more in No Man’s Sky, not just a wandering explorer. From you, a new galaxy is birthed, and someone else will have to make the same journey you made. Only this time, they’ll be wiser as they are full of all your knowledge. Your fate is to become a guiding light, always looking for new knowledge.
In many ways, the path of Atlas feels like a culmination of all of your efforts in No Man’s Sky. The dozens of hours devoted to seeking knowledge, holding onto relics that you may be tempted to sell, experiencing combat and new worlds, and listening to everything that Atlas itself teaches you all collide in the end. They all serve the purpose of helping you understand what Hello Games has built, and it’s a beautiful journey.
Yet, going back to the main goal of getting to the game’s center, you can’t help but be left at a loss. You just honed in on a singular target, intent on seeing the grand mystery of what awaits us, only to be greeted by a drastically watered down version of Atlas’s close. The investment of time and the sacrifice of ignoring what is possibly the best part of No Man’s Sky (experiencing the vast emptiness, yet finding your purpose within it), should lead to a bigger payoff. Something truly momentous and awe-inspiring, in a way that the 30 hour Atlas ending couldn’t compare to. Instead, we’re left wondering why we didn’t just follow the red orb in the sky and leave well enough alone.
When it all comes down to it, there’s a horrible lack of balancing in the “endgame.” All that time essentially equates to nothing as you’re given music and the opening scene played out in reverse. There is no eureka moment, no sense of closure on such a large quest, and no feeling of fulfillment. You’re just left stranded, yet again, looking for another reason to make the trek once more.