I’m back with more Starfield, because I’ve been playing nothing but Starfield.
At this point I have dumped about 24 hours into the game, which is a lot for me, yet other people will probably and inexplicably have two, three, or even five times that amount under their belts, making me wonder if I’ve been dragging my feet somehow or if other people are just loading the game and walking away.
I have not been on the main story line since the intro.
I heard from a third party source that I could get a cool new ship by joining with the Freestar Collective, so I went to Akila with Sam Coe (of the Akila Coes) as my companion (and Daughter Cora as a bonus) and started that quest. Little did I know that this was not a one-and-done, but a massive manhunt across several systems that I haven’t even finished, so I have yet to see the promised benefit from my association with the Rangers.
Parts of this mission so far were long. Like the time I had to go into a crystal mine to track down one of the Bad Guys; I swear that took the better part of an hour, although I didn’t officially time it. It really seemed like it took that long. I don’t consider this a bad thing, really, because that leg was eventful and memorable. Other parts of the mission took me to other locations, like the fabled Neon, the pleasure-palace built on top of an old deep-sea platform, and further progression forced me to run the Red Mile, a death race against natural and unnatural terrors.
I could have chosen a perk when starting that put me into the FC from the get-go, but I was concerned at the time that this would close off opportunities from other avenues. The good news is that the FC mission has taken up a lot of time so I am not “missing” other opportunities. The better news is that being a FC deputy has opened some doors in places. The best news is that if other faction memberships have this level of content behind them, then additional play-throughs will be not just a good idea, but mandatory.
Secrets and prizes
One mission that I did jump into was triggered by a slate I found from a body (somewhere) talking about a secret base tee hee. I had put this off while I was starting the FC quest line but I was reaching a point where certain encounters were getting too close for comfort, so I decided to go off and level up, find more gear, and generally live a little before returning to steamroll the opposition. This slate mission was one of those options, and I anticipated that I’d go in, kill some pirates or spacers, get some loot, and get back to the FC quest.
Oh boy did that miss the mark. This mission showcases how large Starfield is as a game, really, at least perceptually. The whole mission took place in one location, sure, but it was an entirely self-contained story with a surprise ending that I did not see coming, and now I am The Mantis.
Every now and then I stop all attempts to go for broke and just work on those missions I have collected against my will. Sometimes just being in proximity to people’s conversations hands you work, which I guess is kind of cool because it means you’ll never be without something to do, but it’s also maddening if you’re the kind of person who hates having a full quest log all the damn time.
These are actually some interesting missions because they’re not all about visiting a facility and killing pirates. One that appears early on (for everyone, I assume) is to help a scientist study a tree. You know what I’m talking about. Turns out no good deed goes unpunished, and I had to return to this guy several times for several stages of the quest. It was very light on action (if any), and was a nice break from all the shootouts.
One QoL feature that I really liked was taking a vague mission from the SSNN — the Settled Systems News Network. They asked for “any stories of interest” that they could report on, so I thought “OK, sure. Not exactly clear on how to get those, but I’ll keep the mission handy”. Well, after the intro situation to the Freestar faction, I hit up the SSNN on New Atlantis and chose a bunch of conversational options when telling them about my part in the event. Later, as I was walking around the city, I heard the SSNN broadcast — fully voiced-over — recounting exactly what I told them, in news report form. All of the convo choices were repeated as I relayed them, meaning that I made headlines in the game. Ultimately it’s a pretty small and inconsequential feature, but if you want to talk about immersion, there’s your immersion.
Building out, building up
Outpost building is one of the mysteriously black box features that Starfield offers (considering how little the game instructs us, there’s a lot of black box features). I threw down a harvester on the planet Olympus, but then forgot about it as it was literally just an outpost marker, a harvester, and a power source, but when on Akila I found a source of Aluminum and since I was just dicking around in the countryside visiting landmarks there, I thought I’d give the outpost system another shot.
This gameplay is my jam, hampered by the cost of admission. At its most basic, an outpost is a beacon that can be used to name the location so I can find it easier (easier is relative), land, and fast-travel to. The beacon defines the stupidly large area which encompasses the outpost, and I can build inside that zone.
There’s a lot that can go into an outpost. Obviously there’s building parts, meaning that I can build a hab, add a landing pad, and create a structure very similar to what I do in No Man’s Sky. Then I can furnish it, add storage boxes, and creating a nice, comfy living space. There’s also a need to power it all with solar, wind, or fuel-based generators. Each building has a power requirement, so I have to stay ahead of that curve by creating power-farms.
The real meat and potatoes is production. Some areas have underground resources, and for those a harvester must be placed within an outpost. Harvesters need power, natch, but they also need to send their resources somewhere; eventually their internal hoppers will fill and they will shut down until emptied (hi, Star Wars Galaxies!). In order to solve this, I can add large storage boxes and connect the output of harvesters. Sadly, I have yet to find a multi-resource area, meaning that one outpost harvests one mineral. The good news is that there are outpost buildings that will automatically transport items from one outpost to another, in both intra- and extra-system varieties. This means that I could set up a central hub that is sent all of the output from various other harvesting outposts and I don’t have to visit each one individually. I feel that Beths made this the means for actual outpost construction, as it takes a lot of resources to build just one installation, which also makes it a Catch-22: I need the resources to build the facilities that will harvest the resources. Sadly, it seems that the number of outposts we can construct is limited (which might be something that can be increased by skilling up, I don’t know), so outpost use must be meticulously planned and re-planned as circumstance dictates.
It’s not all solar radiation and alien fauna. A game of this size is a monumental development undertaking, and therefor bugs and glitches abound. Personally, I’m pretty easy going when there aren’t any show-stoppers. For example:
Companion Sarah must have some mad sunscreen, because she should be wearing a suit. While this gave me pause, it was not even close to a game breaking problem, so I just moved on. I’ve run into situations where NPCs just fall from the sky and start their pathing which, while weird, is also not a show-stopper. Other examples include interactable objects just flying off shelves when I approach, and the occasional dead-input when attempting to re-route power pips during piloting sequences. The only time a bug (or perceived bug) has bit me in the ass is when, in combat, attempts to boost out of the way don’t work ( I go nowhere), or when switching weapons using the “Q” radial menu refuses to actually switch.
The game has yet to receive a patch AFAIK, and my bugs and glitches haven’t interfered with mission critical situations, so I’m content with the overall experience with the game thus far.
As time goes on and I stop learning systems and start using systems, I start noticing things which are just plain irritating. The number one issue: inventory. Inventory is such an integral part of any RPG, yet it’s always the one that consistently drops the ball.
Here, there’s the personal inventory which is limited by carrying capacity (expandable through skills). There are also companion inventory which allows the NPCs who follow us to “carry our burdens”. Problem is that I can swap companions at The Lodge, and they each have their own vaults. If I give something to Sarah but am traveling with John, I’ll need to go back to Sarah to get what I gave her.
Then there’s ship inventories, plural. The largest is the cargo hold where you can add items, but it’s also where looted items from star ship debris is shunted. There’s the Captain’s Locker which is…I dunno, just an integrated storage area on the ship. Finally, there are boxes all over the place; I started putting items into a box in the basement of The Lodge just to keep it in the crafting room.
The problem, obviously, is that shit is strewn all over the Galaxy, and none of it is accessible except when its in my inventory. If I want to research, craft, or build an outpost, I need to have the items on my person. While it supports air-quotes immersion air-quotes, it’s a QoL let-down. Needless to say, I recently enabled the “infinite inventory” cheat because not having all the resources on my is really harshing my experience, man.
Maps. Man, Beths hates maps. New Atlantis is not too bad, but Akila City was designed by a platoon of blind monkeys on cocaine, and none of the shop signs are easy to discern. I appreciate that Beths wants us to learn to navigate the old fashioned way, but in the Far Future, you can’t tell me that there’s no GPS or ways to map-as-we-go.
Skills. Starfield uses the ol’ earn skill points as you level method, but that apparently wasn’t good enough so they added a “challenge” layer before that point actually counts towards something. After allocating a point to a skill, it provides requirements that must be fulfilled. For example, to get a level in security (lockpicking), five locks must be picked before the skill takes effect. This is really dumb, IMO. I picked a skill that increased my O2 levels by 10%, which required me to piss through my entire O2 tank 20 times.
Ad astra per aspera
For me, Starfield is a game I have always wanted, albeit at a scale I never knew I could have. It has elements of Starflight, the C64 game I used to play that was surprisingly advanced for its time and which I have wanted to replicate myself in full or in part for well over a decade now, and of course it also has everything that makes Skyrim and Fallout 4 such massive hits.
Still, Starfield isn’t on track to change the face of gaming forever. It’s the third in a series of game-styles that we have come to revere, which helps sell units but as the third of its kind, it iterates, but does not innovate. I guess for people like me who liked Skyrim, tolerated Fallout, but was always waiting for a full-blown sci-fi treatment, Starfield is a godsend. For everyone else, if you loved/liked/enjoyed either Skyrim or Fallout, Starfield is more of the same with a fresh coat of paint.
I think because of the marketing hype fueled by a new IP from Bethesda, people expected more, and that’s resulted in a lot of disappointment. To that I say that the blame lies in the assumption that everything has to break new ground. Starfield as a Bethesda game is great; as an adventure RPG, it’s pretty damn good; as a fulfillment of some personal dreams and aspirations regarding what a sci-fi RPG can be, it misses the mark because unless we are individually creating a game to our own specifications, nothing will live up to the ideas in our heads.
I think the adage “perfect is the enemy of the good” applies here. Starfield is good; it’s very good, IMO, but a lot of people were expecting perfect and that’s getting in the way of their enjoyment of what is an excellent implementation of a “Bethesda-like” RPG. Bugs and glitches are present, sure; it’s a video game, and no game is bug free. Bethesda games specifically don’t start well from cold so the game has nowhere to go but up from here.