If you’re a placid, peaceful player, it may be easy to pass on Outlaws, the new No Man’s Sky update targeted toward the rogues and rascals of the galaxy. If you prefer to roam across planets, building up bases or hunting down fragments of lore, developer Hello Games is happy to let you keep doing that. But Outlaws enables a whole new style of play, which turns the player’s Traveller into an under-the-radar smuggler who can pick up dangerous missions and carry illegal supplies across monitored borders in the galaxy.
This is a pretty archetypal sci-fi fantasy, and there are times where it works very well in No Man’s Sky. There’s a lot of joy in plotting out a supply run, ping-ponging between stations, submitting fraudulent passports to hide my footwork, and stopping Sentinel scans from detecting the high-value goods I have packed in the back of my little ship. If I do everything right (or if I’m just lucky) I don’t get into any sort of conflict. If I’m less fortunate, I may have to pay a bribe, give up some of my cargo, or get into a dogfight.
Space combat is smoother in Outlaws; the ability to lock on to my opponents means that I no longer spin in circles in space, chasing an enemy that is always just on the edge of my peripheral version. Add in the new Squadrons feature, and I have the ability to call a pair of bros to my side. What’s more, I can spend more nanites to expand my Squadron. Therefore, if the authorities hunt me down, I can fight back. It’s not easy, as the Sentinels are a relentless and numerous foe — but it can save millions of units on cargo.
If there’s one complaint I have about Outlaws, it’s that the expansion just doesn’t feel pirate-y enough. There’s a sense of wild abandon and adventure that comes with the idea of a pirate expansion. Pirates are unchained, pursuing freedom and treasure above following the petty laws of society. But No Man’s Sky is a quieter kind of game; I feel more like I’m doing paperwork at the space DMV than flipping off the space feds as I do a warp jump out of there with my ship full of illicit goods.
In a strange way, I don’t really mind that the pirate fantasy of Outlaws is incomplete. This is partially because I love smuggling, and partially because this is Hello Games. The developer has earned its fans’ trust by consistently updating the game and adding more layers of sophistication and complexity. Even if you don’t travel to these villainous crime systems, Outlaws complements the dozens of other tiny updates that have brought No Man’s Sky in space. There are planetary dogfights now, which differ greatly from battles in the wide-open vacuum of space. As I travel across the surface of planets, I see freighters warping into the systems. I travel with a little Sentinel by my side, and protect my Settlement from waves of hostile, newly adapted Sentinel attackers.
I have no doubt that Outlaws is just the start of a more illicit way to role-play in No Man’s Sky; it’s not quite complete, but it is solid fun as of now (and more importantly, it’s functional). I just want a little more yar har and rum in my pirate fantasy. And as always, I’m willing to wait to see how Hello Games iterates on what it’s already built.