You usually know what you’re in for when you jump into a Bethesda Game Studios title. The studio has built its reputation on open world RPGs that are designed around massive sandboxes with emergent systems, and that’s the framework they usually stick to. Of course, each new game brings about its own additions and improvements to the formula – some of which stick around, some of which don’t – and it looks like the upcoming Starfield is going to do that in a more significant way than any other BGS title has done in a while. As the developer’s first new IP in a long, long time, with its new setting and staggering scope, Starfield is promising to expand and improve upon the BGS RPG formula in a number of ways. Here, we’re going to talk about a few that have stood out to us so far, specifically in comparison to a couple of the studio’s most recent releases in Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.
SPACE FLIGHT AND COMBAT
Let’s start with the most obvious one first. Starfield is promising a massive space-faring adventure that’ll have you traveling the galaxy and visiting hundreds of different planets- which, of course, means that not just the size and scope of the game’s map, but how you’re traversing across it will be affected as well. Space flight and combat are going to be a core part of the Starfield experience, and the power management system that will be at the center of that experience promises to keep players actively engaged in a way that traversal across the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout doesn’t. Yes, fast travel is obviously still going to be a thing, but the aforementioned power management system combined with the ability to unlock upgrades and customization options for your ships to change up flight and combat in different ways promises to give traversal in Starfield a very different flavour.
EXPANDED BASE BUILDING
Fallout 4 introduced base building mechanics to the Bethesda Game Studios formula in a big way, and those mechanics made a return in Fallout 76 as well. So, too, will be the case in Starfield– but on a much, much wider scale, it seems (which seems to be the case with so much of this game). Based on what we’ve seen of the game so far, it looks like players will be able to plant their flags and begin building bases at any spot of their choosing across the hundreds of barren planets that will be scattered throughout Starfield’s galactic map, while it also seems like there’s going to be a greater range of options available when it comes to the actual building and customization. Building bases and recruiting people to manage those bases is obviously going to have plenty of similarities to Fallout 4 and 76’s own base building mechanics (the former in particular, being a single player RPG), just on a scale that’s likely to dwarf what BGS has done before in this area.
Interestingly enough, it’s not just bases you’ll be building in Starfield, because in addition to flying ships, the game will also allow you to build and customize your own. By definition, this is something that a Bethesda Game Studios title has never done before (there weren’t exactly too many spaceships in the post-nuclear wasteland of Fallout, after all), and it’s looking like an exciting addition. The range of options that will be available to players for building ships has looked impressive so far, as, by extension, has the degree of control and flexibility you will have in just what you can build. Based on what we’ve seen, it seems safe to say it’ll be a highlight of the experience.
BGS – like a great many other developers – has routinely used procedural generation for the development of its games, though it’s taken a much more prominent role in Starfield as compared to the likes of Fallout 4 or 76, or even many of the studio’s other before that. Though the developer says Starfield has more handcrafted content than any of its past titles, at the same time, the game’s massive world is also going to be filled with a large amount of procedurally generated content. Hundreds of planets will use that system to stitch together tiles and blocks of content and locations while you’re playing the game, which, by definition, means that those planets are going to be different to varying degrees for every player, and across every playthrough. As long as that doesn’t come at the cost of the quality of the game’s handcrafted content, that can potentially be a boon for Starfield.
Procedural generation often goes hand-in-hand with bland and repetitive environments in games, at least when it’s not used right, but Bethesda Game Studios is adamant that it’s not going to be the case here. From different biomes on planets to the unique flora and fauna you will encounter, Starfield is touting a great deal of variety in the sights and sounds it will present you with across its massive world. That, in fact, should also be a nice change of pace from Fallout. Given its post-apocalyptic setting, Fallout often tends to have its hands tied with how varied and distinct it can make its environments look – after all, there’s only so many ways you can go about showing the charred remains of a nuclear warzone – and though the series does nonetheless do an admirable job of crafting unique and memorable locations, Starfield should, at least on paper, elevate that to a whole another level.
CHARACTER BACKGROUNDS AND TRAITS
Something that BGS has drawn a fair bit of criticism for with its last couple of releases is how heavily they have de-emphasized the RPG mechanics that the studio has always been known for. Fallout 4, for instance, placed heavy restrictions on how much you could personalize the protagonist’s backstory and character. Thankfully, with Starfield, it looks like the pendulum is swinging back. There’s a long list of character backstories and traits that will be available to choose from while you’re creating your character in the space-faring RPG, and it looks like they’re going to alter the experience in a variety of different ways, not just in terms of, say, how characters in the world will behave around you, but also what kind of content will become available to you, or how you’ll be able to tackle different situations. Obviously, we’re not expecting an insane degree of freedom on the level of something like a pen-and-paper RPG, but it should still be a significant step up over the likes of Fallout 4 and 76.
NEW PROGRESSION SYSTEM
Beyond traits and backstories, Starfield will, of course, also allow players to further power up and customize their character in unique ways through the game’s progression and leveling systems, which are going to take a different form from what you’ll remember of Fallout 4 or 76’s respective perks systems. There will, of course, be some similarities- there will be multiple different skill trees, each with different categories of upgrades that you can unlock, while each upgrade will also have multiple tiers of unlocks. How that will be structured, however, and how you’ll go about advancing through those upgrade paths, is going to take on a much different form, primarily because a vast portion of the game’s upgrades will be tied to completing challenges.
Combat is often the weakest part in BGS’ games, whether you’re playing in first person and third person. Fallout 4, like other Fallout games before it, had the VATS system as a saving grace to make up for many of the combat’s biggest deficiencies, but of course, Fallout 76 ended up completely destroying VATS. With Starfield, however, the developer is promising big improvements where the combat is concerned. There will, of course, be no VATS – that’s a Fallout thing – but in addition to core improvements like smarter and more efficient AI and weapons with more impact that feel better to shoot, Starfield is also throwing in elements like low-gravity combat and being able to use a jetpack, which should lend a completely different flavour to firefights.
Bethesda tried something new with Fallout 4’s dialogue system, which replaced the voiceless protagonists of past BGS titles with a voiced one, and the first person conversations with long lists of options with conversations that resembled Mass Effect. With far fewer options available, however, the dialogue system in Fallout 4 was completely neutered. 76, at launch, was even worse, in spite of bringing dialogue lists back, given that all you were interacting with were robots and terminals, though starting with the Wastelanders expansion, BGS went back to its old-school dialogue system. That’s making a return in Starfield as well, which means you’re going to have a far greater pool of choices in how you want to respond to someone while interacting with them.
This is a small but interesting one nonetheless. Pickpocketing can be your bread-and-butter in BGS games, depending on how you choose to play, and while it will obviously be returning as a mechanic in Starfield, it’s going to take on a much different form. In Fallout 4, and virtually every other BGS game before it, the game would pause and go into a separate menu screen when you were pickpocketing someone. In Starfield, all of that will happen in real-time, which means you’ll be running a much higher risk of failing and getting caught.