As many players were hoping, the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase provided a first real look at the gameplay of Starfield. The anticipated open-world sci-fi role-playing game from Bethesda Game Studios was recently delayed to 2023, and fans have been hoping to get a true look at how it plays in action. Game Director Todd Howard obliged, and ended the showcase with demonstrations of multiple Starfield features that set our imagination racing.
We want Starfield to live up to its full potential, and features like customizing and flying your own spaceship are definitely exciting. However, there are also some issues we are concerned about and we hope that these get addressed before launch.
What we’re excited about
Character creation has a lot of depth
Character creation has been a staple of Bethesda’s RPGs for a long time. Recent games in the genre, such as Cyberpunk 2077, made a point to emphasize the depth of character creation options, and Bethesda is doing something similar for Starfield. Various body shapes, skin tones, hair, and even more minute details like how characters walk are all changeable to your heart’s content.
Beyond the aesthetics of your character, Starfield is also providing some appreciated variety in selecting character traits and a background. These influence your skills and how characters in the world interact with you. It seems like a step above what has been offered in past Bethesda games, and we’re eager to see what kind of builds players can come up with.
Building bases and hiring characters to look after them
Bethesda has toyed around with base-building features in past games. Yet, in Starfield it seems more ambitious, and it could provide a lot of value to the overall experience. Planting an outpost on almost any location on any planet gives those planets more meaning to the player. Massive resource generation may help to reduce the need to grind for materials, and we wonder about how outposts could tie into quests.
Most interestingly, players can hire NPC characters to take care of these outposts, which should make the social interactions in Starfield carry even more weight. Building outposts will still likely be one of many optional features in Starfield, but Bethesda is giving players more worthwhile reasons to engage with it than in past games. With large cities and a variety of NPCs, there should hopefully be a range of personalities that we can recruit for this process.
Creating a spaceship and getting a crew together
Many games in the sci-fi genre have let players loose in the vastness of space. Building, customizing, and flying a spaceship are core features in that fantasy, and the fact that Starfield is including these is fantastic. The demonstration displayed a lot of potential for crafting spaceships with genuine variety in terms of aesthetics, layout, and even more practical features like guns and shields.
Just like with building outposts, players will be able to hire their own crewmembers to travel the stars with. Knowing that your back is covered by NPCs you’ve hand-selected should add a wonderful layer of personality. Beyond just hiring them, we hope that there is more functionality to this mechanic. Can we assign crew members different roles that suit their unique skills? Will that impact how the ship functions? Building up a Mass Effect-style crew, albeit without the depth of personality, should be a key selling point for Starfield.
Flying and dogfighting in space
The only thing that beats customizing a spaceship and hiring a crew is flying it. The Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase gave us a look at gameplay of a player traveling in space. We saw short clips of a player flying near a large planet, through a cluster of asteroids, and docking at a space station.
Beyond simply flying, we also saw a good look at spaceship combat, which can be played from both first and third-person perspectives. In an interview with IGN, Howard mentioned that spaceship combat is inspired by games like MechWarrior and FTL: Faster Than Light, and he also noted that we can steal ships that we board.
It’s hard to say how extensive Starfield will be when it comes to features surrounding space traversal. Howard has confirmed that we won’t be able to seamlessly fly down to planets from space. Can we assume that traveling from one star system to another will also involve a transitional cutscene? No matter the answer, there’s still plenty to be excited about when it comes to Starfield’s spaceships.
The player character will not have a voice
In a separate Tweet after the showcase, Bethesda confirmed that the player character in Starfield will not have a voice. Bethesda has included voices for the player character in the past, but this was considered by some players to be a detriment to the overall dialogue system. It’s hard to know how your character will sound after selecting a conversation option, leading to situations where you sound snarky without meaning to.
Without a voice, Bethesda can save the development time that would have been spent recording every potential response with a voice actor and, instead, use it to flesh out a better variety of dialogue options. The game has over 200,000 lines of dialogue, so it seems like this is exactly what the studio is doing. In the long run, it could lead to a game with greater flexibility in how we converse with NPCs and how that affects crucial decision-making. Bethesda is touting that Starfield is using an evolved dialogue system loosely based on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The team is confident in this Starfield feature, and we think it has a chance of living up to its potential.
The potential of the modding scene
Mods have played a huge role in Bethesda RPGs. Bethesda has been very open to them, even going so far as to allow mods on consoles. The level of creativity on display with Bethesda mods is typically staggering. They can go from graphical overhauls all the way to player-made story quests and expansions.
With over 1,000 planets to explore, Starfield is set to be the biggest Bethesda game to date. Some players are justifiably concerned about many of the planets being nothing more than procedurally generated empty spaces. But, modding would resolve this issue and then some. These planets would provide a blank canvas for modders to create structures, cities, and huge quests with few limitations. Hopefully, that could even result in a multiplayer mod for some cooperative spaceship flying. It would be a goldmine for talented community creators, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
Crafting new guns and equipment
RPGs and crafting go hand in hand, and it’s nothing new for Bethesda either. We only got a brief glimpse of the crafting options available in the game, but they could add an extensive layer of depth. Weapon customization will likely be a large part of the appeal of crafting. Finding resources on unknown planets and using those to craft unique weapons would emphasize the feeling of player choice. The weapons we craft could be different from yours, and each one has a story behind it.
Howard was clear to point out that Starfield is about the player’s journey and how our decisions shape a more personal experience that is different for each player. Crafting could be a core component that contributes to that feeling.
What we’re worried about
The technical problems
We had hoped that Creation Engine 2 would elevate the technical aspects of Starfield far above previous Bethesda titles. It’s the first time the studio has used this new engine, and the generational leap in fidelity should hopefully lead to a more stable experience.
While the gameplay footage of Starfield certainly looks to be a step above past works from Bethesda, it also displayed some issues that made it clear why the game was delayed to next year. The framerate never feels entirely smooth or solid, textures and shadows exhibited a little pop-in, and human faces feel a bit lacking when it comes to expressive and believable animations. Bethesda games have a history of launching in a buggy state, and we’re concerned about this happening once again for Starfield.
Combat looks like it needs more polish
Combat had never been a strong suit of Bethesda games. The existence of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) in the Fallout games was a godsend. It let players bypass the need to spend too long with the regular shooting mechanics which never felt quite right. In a similar vein, the first-person melee combat of games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim left a lot to be desired.
From what we’ve seen of Starfield so far, combat seems to have been a much bigger focus. Real-time shooting from first and third-person views was abundant in the trailers. It looks far more functional than in past games from the developer. However, it still seems like a far cry from the precise and tight feel of a dedicated FPS like Doom or Wolfenstein. As of this moment, we don’t know whether Bethesda plans to implement a feature like VATS in Starfield. With that in mind, the combat needs to be rock solid as it’s something we’ll be engaging in for potentially hundreds of hours.
The game could be too large for its own good
Starfield’s presentation ended with the bombshell that players can land anywhere on more than 1,000 planets. That could have exciting ramifications for exploration, but it raises concerns too. Many of those planets are unlikely to feature hand-crafted cities, NPCs, and quests. Howard even mentioned the existence of rare “Goldilocks” planets that support life. Many planets will probably be emptier. And Bethesda has confirmed that it is using procedural generation to some degree with how these planets are created. That said, Bethesda has used elements of procedural generation in past games too, so this isn’t a deal-breaker.
In Howard’s interview with IGN, he explains that Starfield has four major cities. One of these is New Atlantis, which is being touted as the largest city ever made for a Bethesda game. Yet, four main cities in a game with over 1,000 planets does seem a bit worrying. Thankfully, Bethesda has made clear that Starfield will include more handcrafted content than any of its past titles. We think that finding the right balance between designed content versus procedurally generated exploration will be crucial to Starfield’s success.
The Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase finally gave us an extended look at the gameplay and systems we can expect from Starfield. There’s a lot to be excited about, but we remain cautiously optimistic about how it might all come together.
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