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Starfield Needs To Fix Bethesda’s Usual Problems

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” How many times have you heard someone with 3,000 hours in Skyrim rattle off that age-old adage, eh? Fallout’s jank is the best thing about it, according to the guy who’s still worshipping a dead bomb with the Children of Atom in 2277 Megaton. Honestly, I love The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, but come on – the only good bugs are the Skyrim horse glitch and the absurdity of sex percent runs in Fallout 3.

Starfield is a whole other kettle of space fish. Our own Stacey Henley recently wrote about how the trailer shown during E3 earlier this month needs to accurately represent the game it’s showcasing, which we’ve recently – and thankfully – learned is likely the case due to the fact it depicted in-engine footage, as opposed to being some sort of facetious CG snippet. I mean, it’s still a curated, two-minute look at a game that’s over a year away from launch, and we didn’t get any idea of what it’s actually like to play, but the setting clearly had a sense of gravity to it (eh? As in, like, the Alfonso Cuaron movie? Leave it out).

This is the biggest testament to why Bethesda needs to ditch its usual design philosophy for Starfield. If you’ve ever played Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, or any of the modern Fallout games, you’ll know that they’re ordinarily pretty lighthearted, which is not always intentional. An enormous dragon descends from the skies above and pure shits itself, somehow contorting its body around a fence and getting whaled on by loads of brave little peasants. A deathclaw sees you, runs at you, misses the fact there’s a door in front of it, and somehow manages to tether itself to the wall in a sort of pathetic, self-inflicted imprisonment, where the only binds keeping it in place are self-actualized and completely invisible. The atompunk aesthetic of Fallout in particular makes it easier to laugh these bugs off – it’s an exercise in absurdity much more so than it is a considered and thoughtful musing on the apocalypse, after all. But Starfield looks to be made of more serious stuff – if my spaceship crashes into a rock and bounces 17 light years across the galaxy, I’m probably going to just be like, “Here, mate, what the shit is this?”

I’m not saying I don’t have faith in Bethesda to pull it off. I’ve invested thousands of hours in its catalogue of games, only some of which I regret (see: every section with Preston Garvey in Fallout 4). Starfield just doesn’t really look like the kind of game I’d expect from Team Todd. I’m sure there will be some traditional Bethesda humor in it, with all kinds of wisecrack witticisms and deadpan dad jokes, but for the most part it looks like a whole new kind of creative ambition. I don’t think there’s a single sequence in Skyrim that’s serious for over 30 consecutive minutes – even the final main mission in Sovngarde is filled with Nords sculling tankards of ale and fist-fighting each other on a bridge made of a dragon’s skeleton. When you finally face Alduin afterwards, there are three fabled heroes fighting by your side, shouting things like “Never should have come here!” to the literal World-Eater. That’s right, Alduin, the massive, historically feared dragon with the astonishing ability to resurrect his kin from ancient draconic tombs all over the world – you just never should have come here, bud.

Starfield has been in development for a very long time – Todd Howard recently revealed that the basic concept for this world has been floating around for over two decades. I’m sure the lore is tight and the world is cohesive, and I’d be stupid to imply that Bethesda didn’t know what it was doing when it combined Vertibirds with dragons to make a spaceship – the algebra works, don’t @ me.

Still, I can’t help feeling apprehensive about whether or not the Bethesda I know and love is a Bethesda capable of building Starfield as the game it should be, as opposed to the game it could be based on previous Bethesda projects. Maybe I’m just being a pessimistic little baby, a big whinger who’s upset that The Elder Scrolls 6 probably isn’t going to come out for another 50 years. Or maybe – probably – there’s some truth to what I’m saying, and Starfield will only properly work if one of the most iconic game studios on the planet ditches its usual formula and theatrics for something more serious.

I mean, we all love space, right? You’ve already won us over with the trailer. Just make the game that needs to be made, as opposed to following the usual trajectory of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls being the exact same thing in every single way except for the fact that one has robots and the other has lads who go, “What a fool you are. I’m a god, how can you kill a god? What a grand and intoxicating innocence. How could you be so naive? There is no escape. No recall or intervention can work in this place. Come, lay down your weapons, it is not too late for my mercy.”

Actually, that’s the only thing Starfield truly needs. Forget everything I just wrote about and put Dagoth Ur in the game you cowards.

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