Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially after the whole world cries out and laments a video game. A few thousand voices all contributing to some 'perfect picture' of how something should've gone? It's incredibly easy to slip into thinking a given team "F*cked up" if what they 'should have done' was so clearly 'right in front of them'.
Still, this thought process is applicable to No Man's Sky more than the rest, simply because Hello Games' planet-hopping extravaganza of lasers and jet-boosters is a fascinating case of what happens when an ambitious indie project gets given the marketing push of a triple-A release.
Over-promising interviews, TV show appearances, 'gameplay demos' sliced off the full build to show performance and features not possible at launch - all contributed to a game that immediately caught people off guard. And that was before they began picking apart what WAS there.
Just to be abundantly clear: I really love a lot of things about what No Man's Sky is, does and can potentially be given expanded DLC in the future. However, let's look back at what there is, and think about what could've been.
9. Give Us A Narrative Reason To Explore
[Black screen dotted with star systems. The camera slowly zooms forward as soft, orchestral music hangs in the background. A male voice crackles into life. It is fairly lighthearted in tone, and appears to be a diary entry. ]
"They said it couldn't be done. My parents certainly died trying, but what they left behind, what I know they left behind, I can use to get there. I think, no, I know I can do this. I can reach the centre of the galaxy."
That's it. That's all it needed - some sort of narrative propulsion other than "Here are things in front of you, go use them and figure it out." Because think about it: Other than when you first assemble a Warp Cell and hop into the Galaxy Map to see the 'Path to Centre of Galaxy' option, nothing whatsoever actually tells you what you're supposed to do or where to go.
Now, what narrative there is inside No Man's Sky centres around the notion of humanity's 'need' for exploration and charting unknown spaces, how fruitful or fruitless it can be, and precisely why we do it. All of these things could've been explored through diary entries, albeit textual to avoid having to record dialogue for hundreds of hours of game-time, but which would've allowed for a number of perspectives on exploration to emerge over time.
As for the thing I alluded to that was "left behind" in the opening monologue, I'd have a mysterious artefact that translates language - except our protagonist isn't fully aware of how it works. Instead, the artefact will pulsate and react to the specific 'Knowledge Stones' seen in the game, because No Man's Sky needed to...