I wonder if Hello Games was listening to the #archaeogaming hashtag on Twitter over the past year when they decided to include archaeology in No Man’s Sky: NEXT (v1.5). Granted the game has had an archaeological feel since Day 1 (August 9, 2016), especially with strange ruins from another time/culture discoverable either by accident or by answering a math puzzle in an observatory.
According to the v1.5 NEXT patch notes, archaeology is now officially baked into the game: “Mission types have been expanded, with . . . archaeology . . . now available.” Players can also “find and excavate buried ruins with the Terrain Manipulator to unearth locked ancient treasures.” This last clause gave me pause because of the ethics involved in recovering “treasures”, hearkening back to the tired gaming trope of looting artifacts for cash or as collectibles. My first experience excavating buried ruins was, however, good.
In earlier versions of NMS one could activate a monument, monolith, or ruin for lore and new vocabulary. In NEXT, players can choose to “seek knowledge of the past.” Selecting this option activates a treasure chest icon, which can then be followed to a set of buried ruins. My walk was about 800m from the original ruins. It is as yet unclear if the buried ruins spawn upon making a choice at the first set of ruins, or if the buried ruins are always nearby. I will do a fieldwalking survey the next time I find one of these in order to answer the question.
As I had figured out on my own during my archaeological survey of Legacy Hub sites, I can use my Terrain Manipulator multitool as a shovel for excavation (old video below):
Using the Terrain Manipulator for in-game archaeology is now an official mechanic. When at a buried site, gold icons appear on the head-up display (HUD) to guide where you should dig. It’s an inexact science, but patience is rewarded by excavating (in my case) buried pavement and architecture along with a collectible, valuable resource: a gravatino ball. The fact that my reward for a successful excavation is not only architecture but also a non-cultural resource made me happy, and the archaeologist in me was not ethically compromised. If this is the case with all buried ruins, then NMS may be the first major video game to include archaeology that does not revolve around looting cultural artifacts.
I will post more on the archaeology mechanic in NMS as I encounter it. I need to find an official archaeology mission now, to see how that works for players.
—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming