No pressure, Starfield. You’re Just The Next Game From Elder Scrolls And Fallout Developer Bethesda Game Studios, That Studio’s First New IP In Decades, And The Next Game To Release From Its Doors After What Turned Out To Be Fallout 76 quite disastrous. Try not to think about the weight of the studio’s reputation on your shoulders, or the weight of the expectations of every RPG fan on Earth. Now go impress everyone at Summer Game Fest!
Difficult concert. And yet, it was not just anticipation that led to Starfield’s extensive gameplay presentation at the Xbox and Bethesda show feeling a little lukewarm. There were valid concerns. The fight doesn’t feel like tangible progress. These scuttled little things moved across the floor like something out of a Gerry Anderson production. The graphical fidelity was just fine. And while we saw awesome facial animation, it was happening on faces that looked like they had heads trapped in a vice.
And that didn’t sour my opinion of Starfield at all, as technical details like expensive lighting effects, semi-convincing animations, or deft combat were never the preserve of this studio. Bethesda Game Studios is a story specialist.
Not the kind of story you’ll tell your grandkids, with a neat arc and punchy beats. What Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, and the Fallouts offered was a sprawling, highly personal, almost diarized saga that charted your simulated life in another world. Not every chapter was a ripper – “grandchildren, for a few weeks I searched crimson Nirnroot along the banks and brewed potions in my hut” – but all you did in the world, l extent of interactions, deepened the feeling that this was a real place. So when the big events happened, they felt significant. It wasn’t just a place name on a map, but a town whose inhabitants you knew quite well and whose geography was etched in your mind.
I don’t know about you, but that’s why I still play Skyrim. It’s because of the story I’ve been writing for myself for hundreds of hours since 2011. There’s really only one way to make combat fun in this game – building stealth archer, sneak attack headshots, ragdoll animations, move on to the next bandit – but the shallow melee and spell battles haven’t stopped me or anyone else from dedicating 11 years to it. So I see the meat and potato shootouts in Starfield’s Summer Game Fest presentation and I’m not perturbed.
This has always been Bethesda Game Studio’s problem at major conferences. These games simply cannot show their strongest attributes in a brief presentation, as they are of a genre that is making a name for itself and that you enjoy for many hours straight. Days. Decades, in the case of Morrowind and Daggerfall. You can’t show people what a deep world of lore and characters you’ve built in 15 minutes.
There are still mysteries in Skyrim that we’re trying to figure out now, and they’re not just speculative. The developers thought so. The people of Rorikstead all have soul gems in their homes and books of dark rituals, and some of them whisper dark secrets to each other, and no one knows why. Try selling that kind of slow-burning fun to an enthusiastic E3 crowd or a stream full of tired eyes looking for memorable moments.
Additionally, many of the issues we’ve seen in the Summer Game Fest gameplay have simple fixes. There was no crosshairs on the HUD during Starfield combat sequences, and everything Obsessive COD knows how important a hit indicator on your reticle is. Not to mention that extra “thwack” sound when you make contact, which seemed to be missing in the build we saw, but is by no means out of the realm of possibility by 2023. Niceties like this- These decide on a good return of arms.
Then, of course, there’s modding. It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have had much interest in Skyrim six months after that 11.11.11 release date had it not been for the cornucopia of texture packs, overhauls combat, UI fixes, companions, new quests, total conversions, armor, weapons, player houses, water overhauls, weather systems and reshapes the magic community from of its modding tools. Starfield will have full modding support, Todd Howard confirmed earlier this year, so we can expect a similar source of new stuff for him too.
Except this time we have brand new areas of the game to think about with modding potential. Build our own spaceships like Kerbal Space Program. Do basics, like in No Man’s Sky or Fallout 4 or Fallout 76, but hopefully much better. Whole planets of real estate. These give us a different range of interaction types to write our stories with, and mods can help us dig even deeper into them. If the combat really isn’t up to snuff, an amateur genius in the modding world will probably already be working on better hitboxes and animations 24 hours after release.
In fact, there’s really only one detail that worries me, and that I can’t brush off with fancy mod ideas: what Todd Howard mentioned about the size of the universe. A thousand planets, all explorable. This, to me, sounds terrible.
Partly because I’ve played No Man’s Sky enough to know that wandering around slightly different landscapes with little to do but harvest resources isn’t my thing. But more pertinently, because I’ve always thought Bethesda games were defined by open worlds small enough to become knowable.
With the honorable exception of the ridiculous empty lands of Daggerfall which last longer than present-day UK, the environments of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games still seem massive at first, but eventually become very familiar – each area is distinct and home to a few crucial memories. and history beats. I think we can call it now and say we won’t have distinct memories of a thousand planets in Starfield. I’m sure there will be parts of the game where the lore and universe building will be really rich, and you can even see that in the Summer Game Fest 2022 presentation itself, where different cities and populated areas present a variety of architecture, cultures and colors. pallets and technologies. But these hubs are going to feature on a few planets, right? Not a thousand of them.
Space games are about a lot of space, I understand. But I’m afraid Starfield’s starfield, mostly barren resource dumps, will lead to a watered-down feel next to the studio’s previous, cramped environments. Unless – listen, why don’t we all allocate a planet now, a thousand of us, and sign up to edit one each…