Starfield’s Ambitious Scale Is Worrisome

Following years of fervent rumors and speculation, Todd Howard announced Starfield during Bethesda’s E3 2018 conference. The first original IP developed by the prolific studio in over 25 years, Starfield is expected to redefine science fiction RPGs with unparalleled ambition, boasting considerable customization options and scale. I’m as intrigued by this game as any avid space opera fan. Still, this “unparalleled ambition” worries me.

Sunday’s gameplay footage ended with what Bethesda likely thought was a big bang (pun intended). Players can land anywhere on any planet in any solar system of their choice or, as Howard excitedly put it, “Over 100 systems. Over 1,000 planets. All open for you to explore.” On cue, the camera zoomed out, revealing countless nodes on an overwhelmingly extensive illustration of the universe. There’s much to do and see in Starfield, but will these experiences have depth?

This isn’t the first time a pitch of this size has overtaken the industry. In 2014, No Man’s Sky confidently showcased seamless interstellar travel, discoverable alien species, and a game world of galactic proportions – I’m talking more than 18 quintillion planets! Of course, this proved to be too cumbersome of a feature for designers and players alike. The psychedelic color palette was impressive, but as Matt Miller aptly put it, No Man’s Sky was “the most beautiful side mission.” Fast forward almost six years, and Hello Games’ astronomical adventure is going strong with substantial content expansions

So, what does the past tell us about the future? Well, for one, I wouldn’t go so far as to call Starfield “No Man’s Skyrim.” Even though Bethesda’s pedigree is riddled with prestigious awards, I can’t help but imagine those innumerable celestial bodies as uninspired, procedurally generated sandboxes. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises raised the bar for open-worlds chockful of gripping primary and secondary narratives. Starfield follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with various exciting, albeit conventional, mechanics like crafting, base/ship/avatar customization, and unlockable skills. I just hope it won’t also exhibit a quantity-over-quality loop. 

Starfield releases in early 2023, and I can’t wait to take down trigger-happy space pirates, jog around the overgrown cityscape of New Atlantis, and dismantle enemy cruisers along some fiery atmosphere. I’d prefer to keep my escapades within the confines of a single solar system. Although, I might just take Bethesda up on its offer and see what adventures await me beyond Constellation’s reach, even if I wind up flying through an infinitely empty void.

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