The experience delivered by VR is unbelievably difficult to convey. Right now, you’re reading this on a screen -- a 2D experience. You experience 3D games through this 2D window. VR is so much more than 3D. It is a physical presence which, in that moment you are experiencing it, convinces your brain is completely 100% real. In normal gaming, you may press E to interact with something. In VR, you physically reach out to interact with it. You can imagine my dilemma, then, when it came time to describe my VR experience in No Man’s Sky Beyond.
It is with this attempted forewarning that I begin this impressions piece. No matter how well I describe my experience, this article and accompanying screenshots simply will never come close to conveying the physical experience I felt in No Man’s Sky Beyond.
When Beyond released last Tuesday, the biggest new feature I was personally looking forward to most was the VR implementation. Indeed, for some time, I had thought the VR mode would be a separate smaller mode to the main game. Instead, joy of joys, the entirety of No Man’s Sky could be experienced in VR.
I’m playing No Man’s Sky Beyond with my HTC Vive, and the experience thus far has been incredible. There were some initial growing pains on release day, as VR was a bit finicky and server stability was a tad questionable, but with the expediency of Hello Games’ patches, each successive VR experience has become better and more enjoyable.
Such is the brilliance of VR in No Man’s Sky Beyond that I consistently play in VR for an hour or more per session. I have never spent that long in any other VR game. It is a testament to just how much fun I’m having.
The first thing which struck me was the sheer scale of everything. I’m not talking about the obvious large objects like planets and space stations. I’m talking about more mundane objects we take for granted in video games: trees. Walking up to a tree (done by either teleporting or smoothly walking by holding the left trigger on Vive) and physically craning my neck upwards to see its branches was absolutely captivating.
There was a tree, towering 20 feet above me. It was to scale, something a 2D monitor will never be able to accurately convey. I reached over my right shoulder, pressed the right grip button to equip my gun, and began to mine the tree for carbon. Mining is unbelievably accurate in VR, due to the fact that you can simply point at exactly what you want. The easiest way I can describe its ease and accuracy is by comparing it to the difference between a controller and a mouse.
My friend then joined me and I waved to him. This is a very natural motion to do in real life, but games have conditioned us to select the proper emote. In VR, I simply waved. Again, this might seem slightly absurd to focus on something so minute as emoting, but such is the immersion afforded by VR. You don’t really need to think. You just do. Want to crouch? No need to hit a button. Just crouch down. Want to wave to your friend? No need to go hunting for the correct emote. Simply hold out your arm and wave.
Of course, moving around and emoting is one thing, but interacting with the game mechanics is another. Fortunately, I found the VR controls in No Man’s Sky Beyond to be easy to learn. To access my inventory, I used my right hand to point at my left wrist and selected my inventory. It was displayed nicely, like some futuristic holographic smart watch. I found it rather intuitive to navigate my various inventories, discard items, and craft new items.
Finally, I was able to fix my ship and get ready for my first flight. Of all the controls in No Man’s Sky Beyond, flight may be the one which requires some getting used to. That’s not to say it’s difficult. But like every new control scheme, you’ll need some time to become accustomed to it.
These first few flights were thrilling and slightly panic inducing as I learned the controls. But now, they feel natural to me. You use your left hand for the throttle, and the right hand as a joystick. The sense of speed while flying is very real in VR, and I now love flying around with my ship.
I’ve spent roughly a third of my time in No Man’s Sky Beyond playing in VR. This genuinely surprised me when I did the math. I realized a few days ago that I was having memories of No Man’s Sky Beyond. These weren’t memories you might have of playing a game, mind you. These were real memories akin to those you get when you visit a real location.
I remember finding my first crashed freighter and being awestruck by the sheer size of it as I explored it. I remember finding my first space station, looking above me through my cockpit as I marveled at how massive it was in the vastness of space, the nearby star illuminating the station’s red face. I remember swimming underwater, finding all sorts of underwater creatures to add to my Discoveries page.
These were real memories of a place I had physically visited. So visceral were they that I realized this was the true lasting impact of No Man’s Sky Beyond. Before the Beyond update, No Man’s Sky was an amazing game I loved playing with my friends. But because of VR, No Man’s Sky is a real place I can physically visit. It’s a real planet, a real solar system, a real galaxy I can explore. This is the power of VR.