Last month was my birthday. As has become my tradition, I took the day off, and this year I threw in the two days that followed as well for good measure. That gave me five long days of free time, and I used them wisely.

My friends, I played video games almost non-stop for those five days.

Oh sure, I took breaks to go to the bathroom. To eat. I even got dressed once and went to an MWA Frederick Chapter board meeting. And technically I spent a chunk of yesterday with Jennifer cleaning the house, so there wasn’t as much gaming.

I used to game a lot when I was younger. That was pretty much how I spent my free time. Get up, game, shower and go to work. Come home, game, go to bed. Considering most people replace the word “game” with “television,” I don’t feel too bad about it. Although granted, when I was younger I’d stay up all night playing games, which wasn’t entirely smart.

But in my later years here I haven’t gamed as much. Jennifer and I took on the Skyrim modding jag a couple of times, and played many hours, but it wasn’t me alone in my room gaming. So it felt a little weird, but I wasn’t going to stop. I had a mission, and well. . . it was my birthday. This is how I spend my birthdays. (Oh, side note: Jennifer totally got me an entry-level mechanical keyboard, and I already love the damn thing; fast, responsive typing, and a delicious “clickety click” sound with every keystroke).

When I planned this time off, I initially thought I’d roll back to the early 2000’s and break out the PS2 to play some Gran Turismo. I’ve got the nice joystick wheel setup and it would be sweet to go back to GT3, which I think was the best of those games. But I’d heard a ton about how No Man’s Sky had really improved things since their fragile launch, and decided to give it another whirl. I’d bought the game brand new and found it relaxing and mellow, but game play was a bit light back then. If I’d had a chance to make a recommendation to them, I’d have launched at $19.99 and had people pay for the big updates at another $9.99 a pop. But I didn’t have the anger most folks did, and I enjoyed what they were doing, even if I thought $60 was a bit steep for what we got in terms of game play.

They’ve really made it worth the money now.

The core game I remember is still there. Get your starship, fix the engines, start exploring your local planetary system (one thing I noted was the planetary system is still… weird. Like the planets are all super close to each other and big in the sky, but given the nature of space, I know this is a game trade off). Eventually get your hyperdrive and your fuel, and start exploring other star systems. Mine for minerals, get some better tech, rinse, repeat. Survive hostile environments, hostile plants, and the occasional hostile animal. That was about it.

Now we can build bases. We can buy freighters and frigates and send them on trade missions. There’s a new story line about someone called Artemis that I’m trying to save(?). There are planetary exo-vehicles you can build and tour a planet in. There’s sooooo much more going on and to do. I think I punched in over 60 hours of game time from Wednesday morning to Sunday evening.

New simple details make it far less tedious than it was at times. Teleporters that you can build at your base connect to every star system you’ve already visited, so you can freely go back and forth (and your current ship comes with you). You can own more than one star ship, too, although unless you remembered where you parked your ship, you won’t see it again until you get a freighter. Once you get a freighter, all the ships you own appear in the hold for you to switch between. Right now I have four. Two were crashed ships I “bought” (for zero dollars) when I didn’t know what I could do with them, and they showed up once I had a freighter. The other two are the original ship I started with and the latest one I upgraded to.

It’s still a more relaxing game, though. This is not a plot-driven game that pushes you through tasks. You pick and choose what you do. Mine for a while. Build for a while. Go on a mission for one of the aliens. Hell, just jump from system to system seeing what different planets have to offer. Right now I’m on a quest to upgrade my star ship to the best hauler I can get, something with 48 slots and all the goodies. And build a fine base with a beautiful tall tower. Then I want to buy the biggest, most badass freighter I can get, and a bunch of frigates, and take on some of these 3 star and up difficulty missions. Oh, and learn all the words of Vy’keen (I’m already over 200. . . the world I’m building my base on is FLOODED with language learning portals, I’ve never seen so many).

All of which to say is: if you want a contemplative game that isn’t all “bang, bang, do this mission” and is more of a weird blend of exploration and away mission style on your own exploring (with a little bit of bang, bang, kill the pirates in space thrown in), this game is what you wanted. Sure, it would be nice if the universe was populated with more diversity than the three races I’ve met, plus the travelers (myself included). But I’ve never been big on multi-player games where other players can kill you and take your stuff. This is more my speed.

Dust it off if you already own it. If you don’t, give it another look. Definitely a great way to spend my birthday vacation.

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