Bethesda Game Studios finally took the covers off Starfield and went into great detail about its systems. The gunplay, the environments, the ship-building, crew management, procedurally generated worlds – it’s a lot to take in, and as director Todd Howard noted, it’s just scratching the surface. To say that Starfield is the biggest game of the year, just in terms of sheer scope and scale, wouldn’t be hyperbole.
Of course, there is a caveat for those playing on Xbox Series X/S. It’s locked to 30 frames per second regardless if you’re playing in 4K on the Series X or 1440p resolution on the Series S. There’s no 60 FPS support and no graphical option for, say, 1440p/60 FPS on the Series X or something. 30 FPS. Take it or leave it.
For some, the first response to any current-gen exclusive having a 30 FPS lock is – and this is just my general impression – shock, horror and maybe hints of disgust. I was disappointed to see titles like Gotham Knights and Redfall locked to 30 FPS, especially the latter since Arkane Austin promised a 60 FPS Performance Mode for launch. However, the same kind of response towards Starfield feels unwarranted.
Full disclosure: I’m that guy. While appreciating Skyrim for what it did for the open-world genre and fantasy RPGs, I couldn’t get into it. The sheer amount of details and content, the undying dedication of its fans regardless of all the re-releases, and how transformative the mods are can be appreciated, but it just isn’t for me. The same was the case with Fallout 4. Even though I played for about 62 hours, the overall experience was fine at the time and aged worse for me over the years.
I was prepared for Starfield to be unappealing, especially after last year’s showing, which dipped below 30 FPS at times. My expectations were pretty even for this year’s Showcase, but I didn’t expect Bethesda Game Studios to go into so much detail or for the game to run so well. Yes, even some frame drops were noticeable. Dare I say that many aspects looked fun, even if that one person hoarding sandwiches in their ship mildly disturbed me.
It’s also a testament to the complexity of the systems after telling everyone about ship customization, creating outposts, managing a crew, procedural generation, and so on that there was still so much more to behold. You can board ships and steal them or join parties. You can hail other ships for trade or attack them. Use different perks to gain the Adoring Fan from Oblivion as a companion (and maybe kill him on a remote planet with no witnesses), or constantly be assailed by bounty hunters wherever you go.
Weapon customization, procedurally generating activities and quests on planets, hand-crafted cities and quest chains in service of the story, mining, surveying wild creatures, power allocation to alter your ship’s performance, companions – there is a lot packed in, and all these systems are interconnected or feeding into others in complex, unimaginable ways. That’s even before considering the graphics, physics and AI that a game of this scale has going on.
So hearing Todd Howard say that the team wants to lock the frame rate to 30, even if it’s often going above that and sometimes even hitting 60, for the sake of consistency is understandable.
One could, of course, argue: Why then all the hate for Redfall, which also launched with a 30 FPS mode? The answer is simple: Redfall is awful in many fundamental ways going beyond the frame rate. Its visuals sway between decent to lackluster, but overall, the substandard gunplay, numerous bugs, boring loot, terrible writing, bland world, cookie-cutter activities and an absolute lack of anything that displayed Arkane Austin’s immersive sim prowess were the multiple nails in the casket.
On the other hand, look at The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Despite running at 30 FPS with some drops and releasing on older hardware, it looks pretty good while delivering a phenomenal gameplay experience. It’s superior in some ways to Breath of the Wild, which many open-world titles struggled to emulate. If Starfield can attain that standard – of having great gameplay to go with its solid performance – then it will also be beloved.
It could falter in several different areas separate from performance. The skills and upgrades could be lackluster. The base building may not be as extensive as one would like. The controls could feel clunky. Combat may not be all that smooth. It’s one of the hurdles with a massive game like this, where many things could be great while others feel lacking and require improvements that may not immediately arrive at launch.
There’s also Bethesda’s penchant for bugs in its releases. Even if Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty says it currently has the fewest bugs of any Bethesda game ever shipped, or Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer claims that every QA tester in the company is working on it, we won’t know how polished it is until it’s out. While it’s seen delays and looks way better than last year, given the state of Redfall’s launch, I’ll reserve judgment until it’s out.
With Starfield already topping the charts on Steam, the response to the game – showcased in 30 FPS during its entire presentation – is pretty positive. Many may have succumbed to the hype and could be disappointed in some area or another when it’s out. I pre-ordered Fallout 4 – I know that feeling.
Would I like to see games running at a rock-solid 60 FPS, especially in this new console generation? Absolutely. Would I want developers to sacrifice the quality of their gameplay or the level of polish in favor of visual fidelity? Absolutely not. I’d love the best of both worlds and have gotten that (or reasonably close) from several titles, whether it’s Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Forza Horizon 5, Street Fighter 6, Dead Space Remake, Hi-Fi Rush – the list goes on.
Not everyone will feel the same way, and that’s fine, but who knows? Maybe Bethesda could further optimize the title later and add more graphics mode without worrying about everything breaking. For now, I won’t lose any sleep if it’s currently focused on shipping a stable game that’s also fun.
Overall, impressions are positive, with some naming Starfield as their game of the show that is this pseudo-E3. It now needs to focus on delivering at launch, or five days earlier than that, because let’s be honest, plenty of people have pre-ordered that Premium Edition. Things could turn out poorly, but on the other hand, they could also turn out great.
Of course, Starfield could also be perfectly average, succeeding in some aspects and failing in others. As seemingly controversial as the 30 FPS lock on Xbox Series X/S is, the PC version – which will undoubtedly support higher frame rates – could be a disaster. It wouldn’t be the first time for a highly-anticipated release, and it wouldn’t be the last.
As has been the case for years and will continue for many more, great graphics and trailers can only do so much if the gameplay doesn’t deliver, regardless of the frame rate. So, for now, we wait, and we hope.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.