Space, the final frontier, a vast ocean of emptiness that encompasses the majority of our universe. It is a concept filled with so much wonder and mystery that we just began discovering the possibility of life on other planets. Despite this, two games give us a feeling of what it’s like to explore the macrocosm.
Our first game, Elite Dangerous, aims to be the closest to simulating space exploration. With a one-to-one replication of the Milky Way Galaxy, the game has finite space to explore, but the collective player base has yet to discover it all since its release. Our second game, No Man’s Sky creates its universe perpetually as players find more systems, planets, etc. Both games explore the depths of space but with a different vision and method to doing so. The million-dollar question though, which is the better game: Elite Dangerous or No Man’s Sky?
Point 1 – Story
Both Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky have open-ended ways of telling their story. Elite Dangerous has the player start in a defined set of systems to get their bearings until they rank up in any of the major ranks (Exploration, Trading, or Combat). While Elite Dangerous has a few suggestions on where they should go; ultimately, the player explores the universe with little guidance. Even when the player is on a mission, they must find the system referenced in the mission on the Galaxy Map, which requires its own level of acclamation.
No Man’s Sky follows the open-world (open-universe in this case) method of storytelling. It gives the player story quests that they can follow if they so chose. The player can also pick up additional missions when they go to a space station. No Man’s Sky will guide the player much more frequently and has an end goal to its story quests.
I’m giving the point to Elite Dangerous here. Its lore is fascinating, and it is ever-changing, even when the player is not online. This means that one section of the galaxy could have enemy aliens and colonies pop-up every so often. The player’s input is much more impactful as a result. No Man’s Sky has an engaging story but tells it traditionally. I’m usually not a fan of games that don’t tell their story in a contained manner, but Elite Dangerous manages it beautifully. Thus, the point goes to Elite Dangerous!
Point 2 – Visuals
I love No Man’s Sky’s visuals. With it having a more colorful style, it makes every new world feel alien to the player. Each planet has bustling life, exciting sites to see, and the sky is always wondrous. That said, it does fall short of Elite Dangerous’s jaw-dropping visuals. Pulling up to a neutron star in Elite Dangerous is a powerful, unforgettable feeling. I can’t remember the last time I ever found something as glorious and intimidating as a neutron star in Elite Dangerous. I could pick several other instances of aw and wonder, but I think I made my point. The visuals point goes to Elite Dangerous!
Point 3 – Gameplay
This one is a doozy, folks. The biggest thing that sets Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky apart is the fact that No Man’s Sky lets the player explore the planet on foot. Elite Dangerous does allow the player to land on a planet (with the Horizons expansion), but at the time of this writing (before the release of Elite Dangerous Odyssey), the player can only explore certain planets with an SRV (a futuristic all-terrain vehicle). If it were just for ground exploration, I would give the gameplay point to No Man’s Sky.
However, flight is another part of the gameplay in both Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky. I have a feeling I might ruffle some feathers here, but I’m not a fan of No Man Sky’s flight controls. It might be because I had to learn the ins and outs of flying a ship in Elite Dangerous, but it’s much more satisfying to fly a ship in Elite Dangerous. Due to No Man’s Sky’s superior ground controls and Elite Dangerous fulfilling flying through space, I will have to give both of them a point in the gameplay category.
Point 4 – Bang for your buck
Elite Dangerous’ base game has a friendlier asking price. While this sounds nice at first glance, to get the full experience, the player must also purchase the Horizons expansion. Once Elite Dangerous Odyssey releases, the player will need to purchase that too so the player can walk on planets and the like. While I didn’t mind buying the expansions for Elite Dangerous, there is also a fair bit of microtransactions (cosmetics, but they are still prevalent.)
No Man’s Sky is a full-priced game ($79.99CAD or $59.99US, or free to those that have XBOX GamePass)… and that’s it. There were no microtransactions to speak of in No Man’s Sky as far as I could tell. What’s more, No Man’s Sky keeps getting significant expansions added to it, at no extra cost to the player. With all of the expansions factored in, I would say No Man’s Sky is the more cost-effective game of the two. Thus the point goes to No Man’s Sky.
Part 5 – Multiplayer
Both games feature multiplayer capability. While it did not start this way for No Man’s Sky, they did add it in a few expansions ago. While enjoyable in its own right, Elite Dangerous’ multiplayer does feel more hands-off than No Man’s Sky. To find someone in Elite Dangerous, the player must get the system name, meet their friend either in that system, or meet them halfway. In No Man’s Sky, once the player acquires access to the Nexus, they can meet their friend there, then start their journey. Alternatively, one player can invite their friend, and they can join the player’s session. It is much more straightforward. The multiplayer point goes to No Man’s Sky.
Final Point – Lasting appeal
This is it, folks, it down to the wire! Which game has a more lasting impact? Another tough category, both Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky have elements that will stick with the player for a long time to come. When I boil it down, though, I recall my journey in Elite Dangerous far more than the one I had with No Man’s Sky. Playing Elite Dangerous is like riding a bicycle, challenging to learn, but once one knows how it sticks with them for a long time to come. For that reason, I have to give Elite Dangerous the final point, as it is burned into my soul.
While No Man’s Sky is worth playing and is a phenomenal game, I feel Elite Dangerous has a better feeling of satisfaction when mastering its controls. Both games are superb. If one is looking for a space simulator, then Elite Dangerous is the game to go for. Those looking for a more relaxed or arcade feeling open-universe game should give No Man’s Sky a chance. To me, though, I prefer Elite Dangerous overall.