Watching someone navigate the map in No Man's Sky's is like looking at a planetarium exhibit - solar systems meld into a point of light, groups of them become galactic clouds of purple and blue, those clouds shrink together into parts of a swirling space storm. But there's a large point of light that always stays distinct, a point to help you orient yourself in the blackness. That's the center of the universe, and it's No Man's Sky's ultimate goal post.
It's going to take a good long while for you to get there, though, due to the game's widely advertised size. When you start out, you'll be on the outskirts of the universe, systematically making your way through the universe by exploring and gathering resources that you can sell to fund your journey. How often you'll encounter other players is still fuzzy, since that depends on how players - when they finally get there - choose to play. "We don't know if [player paths] will form little spokes of a wheel towards the center, or if they'll spread out," says game director Sean Murray. "It will be interesting to see."
At the onset, you have one ship and one weapon to work with, though you can attach boosts to both that make them more effective tools to help you progress. If that sounds vague, it's because how you progress is up to you. No Man's Sky contains several loosely defined 'jobs' that help you gain resources, and which one you favor will change how the game is played. For instance, it's possible to passively explore any planet, going on foot in search of unknown species and points of interest (the latter of which will be topped with a mission marker after you scan the planet from orbit). Uploading that information to any nearby space stations earns you units, allowing you to purchase upgrades.
Alternatively, you can act as a trader. Most worlds have a trading post, and after gathering various minerals (in the form of big, colorful rocks poking out of the ground), you can sell them at these posts for a high price. Or, you can cut out the middleman and become a miner, destroying parts of the environment and gathering the resulting resources from the wreckage. During my demo, adding a power boost to a standard weapon made it strong enough to blast a hole through a stone the size of a two-story house.
The downside of that career path is that rampant demolition of the environment invites trouble from sentinels: floating robotic stewards who will hone in on destructive players and bring them to justice. An unlikely feature common with GTA comes into play here, as you have a five-star Wanted meter that fills up with the more territory and sentinels you damage, or animals you kill. Fill it all the way up, and a robot that looks like a tank on stilts will come after you. At that point, resetting to your ship and losing everything you collected since you left it is almost inevitable.
All this is ostensibly done in the name of reaching that light at the center of the universe. Murray says he expects some players to treat the game that way, trading and earning, mining and destroying, or exploring and learning as fast as they can to beat everyone else to the end. But he doesn't think everyone will want to beat feet to the finish line. "For some people, they'll put their pad down and say 'I've beaten No Man's Sky.' But for other people, there are good reasons why you would continue to play on."