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No Man’s Sky’s Sentinel update disrupted my quiet space life

If you find yourself in the Euclid Galaxy, I would not recommend visiting Sec Talu. It’s a little green planet found in the Pisyslf system riddled with toxic air and acid rain. I spent the majority of the new update to No Man’s Sky on this planet, and I would frankly like to forget it. After completing the main mission of the Sentinel update, I left Sec Talu feeling a little empty and horrified by what happened on that corrosive planet.

Recently, No Man’s Sky released its first major patch of 2022 with its Sentinel update. This brought large changes and new items for players to get their hands on, mainly focusing on the robotic antagonists called the Sentinels, new guns and modifications, and the Minotaur mech suit. The update added much-needed improvements for the on-the-ground combat against the Sentinels, but these improvements really only highlight how weak the gunplay is in this game.

After spending many hours trying out this new content, I felt uneasy about the ramifications of the violence I witnessed in the game.

Attack of the Sentinels

When starting the new update, players will be asked to go to their settlement in order to quell a Sentinel attack. This will kick off the main questline that will eventually give the player their very own Sentinel drone companion. With the player’s help, this little drone breaks off from the hive mind of the Sentinels and finds its own independence. Along the way, players go toe-to-toe with swarms of Sentinels. This is where things get a little messy.

I first touched down on Sec Talu in search of a Sentinel Pillar, a new construct added to the game in the update, hoping that this would only take a couple minutes out of my day. Before the update, planet-side combat was rather breezy. Sentinels would fly around and you would have to just shoot them with your gun with very little concern of threat. This has changed. In-between the large plants filling to the brim with noxious gas and the Sentinel Pillar, I found a large horde of Sentinels, many of them with specialized talents.

The Traveler faces off against Sentinel drones in No Man's Sky.

These new Sentinels add variety and strategy to the game’s combat. Now there are drones that will heal other Sentinels, and some will summon reinforcements if left untouched. Choosing the order in which to kill these drones is now vital to a successful combat experience.

After the third wave of Sentinels, I realized that I was in a losing battle. Fighting the drones in an open field was no longer a viable strategy. Once the acid storm came, I knew it was time to find a new battlefield. While sprinting away from the Pillar and getting pelted by lasers from the Sentinels, I lucked out and fell into a hole in the ground, which was actually the mouth of a cave. This gave me a quick respite from the Sentinels and a chance to repair my exosuit, which was on the verge of failing due to the number of toxins in the air.

But now I was in a dead-end, with the Sentinels pouring through my only exit in order to kill me.

Tools of the trade

While the update adds plenty of new enemy types and weaponry to the game, the basic functions of the gunplay go relatively unchanged, and that is not a good thing. Gunplay in No Man’s Sky could be described, very generously, as passable. It was enough to get by when the player would occasionally find themselves against a threat planet-side. With the update focusing on combat, I couldn’t help but see how weak this aspect of the game actually is.

Guns don’t feel truly impactful, as the kinetic action of hitting a Sentinel isn’t quite satisfying. The third-person view can obscure the small drones, making it harder to aim, and the first-person view significantly hinders your spatial awareness, which can be devastating on a planet that has mixed elevation. If you are like me and prefer to play with a controller, I would advise you to pray that you will shoot the drone that you actually want to hit. The overly generous aim assist will practically guarantee that you will hit a Sentinel, but when they clump together, there is no way to make sure that you hit the repair drone, and not one of the basic ones.

A Minotaur mech faces off against the Sentinels in No Man's Sky.

Halfway through the questline, I returned once again to that blighted planet, Sec Talu. Walking past the poisonous flora and fauna that unfortunately reside in this hellscape, I returned to the Sentinel Pillar, but this time I brought backup. With a press of a button, my Minotaur mech suit drops out of the sky, shining brightly with all the new add-ons I have acquired. A new A.I. program has been outfitted to the mech and can act independently from me, which gave me enough of an edge to decimate the swarm of drones.

The Sentinel update makes the Minotaur mech suit a more viable option to bring along when exploring the galaxy. Before the update, I found the mech to be more cumbersome than it was worth. Now it has improved mobility and combat prowess, making much of the combat more manageable. Eventually, along with a swarm of Sentinels, the Sentinel Walker will appear, as well as the newly added Sentinel mech.

The Sentinel update feels like a Band-Aid over a deep bleeding, gash.

When these two enemy types joined the fray, I almost had a genuinely fun experience. I had flashes back to my days of playing MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, with massive mechanical monstrosities mashing against each other for robotic supremacy. However, that moment was fleeting as the conflict basically devolved into shooting mindlessly at the enemy until they exploded. My Minotaur mech had more health and defense than any other Sentinel types on the field, and despite their numbers, I never felt overwhelmed. It was a war of attrition where I had enough resources to never lose.

The Sentinel Pillar was finally free from the drones’ presence and I could access the terminal and claim my rewards. After collecting a Pristine Walker Brain from the remains of the Sentinel Walker, I looked up and saw the battlefield. It was in absolute ruin. The ballistic blasts from both my Minotaur mech and the horde of Sentinel drones created a plethora of craters in this once untouched landscape. A “forest” of large fungi that was east of the Pillar was now completely destroyed due to the collateral damage of our conflict. Then I looked around for my Minotaur and found it ruthlessly killing any animal that got in its way. Sec Talu was always a hazardous planet, but now I had made it a cursed one.

A discovery of an asteroid larvae in No Man's Sky.

Violence in the galaxy

No Man’s Sky is a massive game. It gives players a lot of room to create their own pace and gameplay style. During my time with the game, I settled into the role of an explorer and base builder. I would travel the galaxy to find interesting planets that I would document and then perhaps make a base there. Ground combat was always in the game, but a player would have to actively look for it to find it.

This update shoved conflict and violence to the forefront and I felt uncomfortable with that. I play No Man’s Sky at a casual and peaceful pace. I do not look for battles. Most of the time, I avoid them altogether. I like to travel the stars and see what secrets and hidden moments I can find. After completing the Sentinels quest line, I felt like I left a scar on the planet of Sec Talu.

Perhaps the worst part is that I would be absolutely fine with the focus on gunplay and violence if any of it felt good and was actually fun. The improvements on combat in this update were both simultaneously very much needed, and showed that the basic framework of it still needs a complete overhaul. The Sentinel update feels like a Band-Aid over a deep, bleeding gash.

However, I can now once again return to a peaceful time in this galaxy. I have new tools and weapons, which are nice, but that I will only rarely use, and I can try and forget what damage and destruction I caused on that little green planet called Sec Talu.

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