Imagine traveling across the surface of a planet pummeled by toxic rain. Your initial goal was to repair your ship’s engines so that you could leave the planet for good, but as you set out to find the materials you needed, the hazardous environment started picking away at your resources. Now, the usually relaxing treks in No Man’s Sky have become an everlasting war of attrition thanks to increased aggression from alien species and a much greater reliance on technology to keep you alive. That’s the dire, thrilling situation that survival mode introduces to the game.

Survival mode was introduced with the Foundation 1.1 update after the game’s initial release back in August. Available for free to all players, Foundation adds the long-awaited base-building functionality to the game as well as farming, the ability to make camp, and three entirely different methods of play.

The first two modes, Normal and Creative, focus on the more relaxed experience players have come to expect from No Man’s Sky. Normal is the original exploration experience where you don’t have to worry about much, but Creative recalls Minecraft’s creative mode. You can explore and build structures without any distractions. Survival mode, on the other hand, is a much more intense and challenging experience.

Like the base game, Survival starts you off on a planet with a few broken pieces of equipment and a partially charged multi-tool. Your crashed ship is a different story, though. One will almost always be located 10 to 15 minutes from your starting location regardless of the planet you start on.

You’ll almost always begin on a planet hosting extreme weather like a storm that escalates during a specific time of day, eating at your suit and supplies. Survival first greeted me with freezing temperatures followed by a planet covered in toxic rain that never let up. These may be frustrating at first, but as you learn to deal with them and properly manage your resources, you’ll be surprised how much they change the pace, and focus, of No Man’s Sky.

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Since hazardous conditions are abundant and the resources to keep your suit functioning are scarce, you’ll have to learn to operate out of caves and buildings to keep your hazard protection up, a mechanic previous negated with easy access to fundamental materials.

By dialing down the amount of available resources, Survival mode does a great job of bringing unused mechanics — and new mechanics like building — to life in a way that makes No Man’s Sky feel like a more satisfying experience. In almost every instance, I’ve almost died while playing Survival, and it’s been because of my own doing. For example, I’ve transferred the wrong materials to my ship or stood out in the cold for one second too long.

As a result, I’ve found myself playing No Mans Sky a lot slower than I usually would, specifically because I don’t want to regret a decision I made a few minutes later. Unfortunately, making the base game more difficult hasn’t really taken away from the usual tropes of No Man’s Sky’s repetitive gameplay loop. You’ll still farm resources, but under hazardous conditions. You’ll still tag creatures in your database, but they’ll probably attack you for doing so. And more importantly: You’ll still follow the same story loop, bringing you right back around to the beginning.

That said, Survival mode is certainly the only way I can see myself playing No Man’s Sky in the future; it’s immensely satisfying whenever I complete a specific objective. It makes you work for everything you want to achieve instead of simply relaxing your way into it with open arms. If you’re looking for a fresh take on the No Man’s Sky formula you might already be familiar with, Survival is worth a shot.

Photos via Nicholas Bashore

Nicholas is a writer and content creator in Knoxville. He frequently covers video games and other consumer electronics. When he's not writing for Inverse, you can usually find him tweeting about Star Wars or streaming on Twitch.