Last week, No Man’s Sky received a surprise update, with a bunch of small quality of life improvements alongside the main event—Expedition 4: Emergence. It’s the latest in a series of smaller, and decidedly more focused missions that aim to unite the game’s community in search of a common goal. Emergence is noticeably different from its predecessors, with a strong narrative that spans its entire runtime. Oh, and it’s sandworm themed. Absolutely and completely obsessed with giant sandworms, to a hilariously over-the-top degree.
As you land on each of the alarmingly volatile planets curated by Hello Games as part of Expedition 4, you are often completely surrounded by giant worms. They blast out of the ground from behind you, arcing their huge bodies into the skies above while storms rage all around. Sandworms were added a while back, but they’re seriously dialed up here. It’s hard to walk 10 metres without a gargantuan worm erupting somewhere in the distance. Within minutes of starting, I found myself landing on planets named with worm puns, and littered with communication beacons that spewed ‘WORMS WORMS WORMS!’ in huge letters across the screen. After some time playing through Expedition 4, it was clear that the No Man’s Sky community had welcomed WormFest 2021 with open arms. I even happened upon a full-on cult at one point.
Because Expeditions are shared between all No Man’s Sky players, the usually sparse and lonely universe becomes hyper-populated and filled with players. I was approaching a desert planet on the hunt for some Cursed Dust, the food of choice for the discerning sandworm, when I happened upon a base constructed by another player. At first, it seemed little more than a landing pad connected to a teleporter. As I stepped out of my ship, I noticed a communicator beacon laying in the mouth of a small cave. Interacting with it triggered a message: ‘Cult of the Sandworm’. I was understandably curious.
A short way into the cave I found yet another message. ‘Follow the crystals’. Follow them I did, noticing that they were artificial crystals placed across the floor, and up onto the ceilings, a winding path of light leading me further and further into a series of twisting tunnels and caverns. Finally, I reached the end of the breadcrumb trail. There was a huge open space, some distance underground. The sounds of the storms that had welcomed me on my journey through the planet’s atmosphere were faint and distant, muffled by the hundreds of meters of rock sitting between me and the surface. Placed in the center of the cave was a huge, yawning mouth, the skeletal remains of a giant sandworm. Its body stretched and looped backwards, twisting into the darkness and out of sight. I flew up into its mouth and found one final message, what seemed to be the cult’s mantra: ‘We are all equal under the great worms.’ Expedition 4: Emergence was filled with special moments like this, many created by eager players that seemed more than happy to lean into the mission’s goofier themes.
Perhaps it’s easy to see how No Man’s Sky players have so quickly adopted the sandworms, devoting themselves to creating memes and small experiences in-game for others to find. There’s something of a worm-fever going around these days, what with Dune releasing the same week as Expedition 4, which in itself is filled with nods to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic. I encountered many Dune references, some left by other players clearly getting into the spirit of the season.
Expedition 4 is a meaty update, one that took me several hours and many hyperdrive jumps to complete. For all of this hard work I was offered a worthy reward, my very own sandworm egg. Upon hatching it immediately started rising towards the sky. This is when I realised that yes, I could ride on its back. There’s not much better than flying around an infinite galaxy on the back of a sandworm, and it’s something that could surely only happen in No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky has never really shied away from horror, even embracing it fully in 2019’s Abyss update which added aquatic horrors and a claustrophobic underwater setting. Emergence takes this further, throwing players onto some of the most hostile areas I’ve ever encountered in-game. Sandworm larvae hide underground, their barbed mouths peaking just above the surface, ready to strike. It’s at times terrifying, in other moments it leans into gross insect horror. I hadn’t expected to get such a great Halloween experience from No Man’s Sky, but it’s clear that Hello Games intended to celebrate the spooky season with all of the sci-fi camp that the game regularly offers.
Expeditions as a whole have been a refreshing update to the 5-year old game. They take place in a separate save slot entirely, giving players more freedom to experiment and embrace the main themes of each mission. Having mostly played the game in singleplayer since launch, I find Expeditions a great chance to team up with the community. Sometimes it’s just nice to see another player giving you a wave from the other side of a space station, or to see the trails of player starships as they fly around the planet you are standing on. Emergence suffered at times from the sheer volume of players all searching the same spot. Turns out having 50 players all flying ships, blasting worms and blowing up caves can be a real nightmare on the ol’ framerate. It’s good, wacky fun, elevated by a campy horror vibe and a community that continues to prove itself to be one of the most inventive of any in the gaming space. Even if things got a little ropey at times, Expedition 4: Emergence still managed to convince me, even if just for a second, that I wanted to turn in my starship and join the Cult of the Sandworm.
No Man’s Sky’s Expedition update is out now.