Starfield’s Success Will Rely On Its Smallest Moments

Planets, planets everywhere, but not a chance to think. 1,000 planets is too many. TheGamer’s editor-in-chief Stacey Henley has already explained that. Starfield’s universe already feels more like a marketing ploy than an immersive solar system, and we’re yet to even step foot into Bethesda’s eagerly-anticipated RPG.

The problem with such a large map is filling it. Skyrim felt huge, but it’s nothing compared to Starfield. There are so many planets that Bethesda is utilising procedural generation to create some of them. We don’t know exactly how many yet, but I imagine that story-based planets will be bespoke creations, and the hundreds of others that litter Starfield’s galactic skies will be random creations. Starfield’s reception will depend on the quality of the AI creating these planets, but however well-rendered the purple deserts and well-designed the spaceports I feel it will still be lacking in the most important area.

Bethesda games, and many other games besides, are best in the smallest moments. I barely remember fighting Alduin, the World Eater, the First Dragon, Bane of Kings. It was just a big fight in Sovngarde, right? I’m not saying it wasn’t cool, but it’s not what I – or, I wager, most players – remember about the game.

In Skyrim, I loved the quest to retrieve the Mace of Molag Bal, and its horror-inspired mission through a haunted house. It was a chance to relinquish my destiny as the Dragonborn and do the revengeful bidding of a twisted Daedric Prince. I was rewarded greatly for my evil efforts, and carried Molag Bal’s devastating weapon, imbued with a slice of his dark power, for the rest of my playthrough. Everyone has their own moments that are similar to this, varying from popular quests like The House of Horrors and A Night To Remember, to niche plots like the murder mystery at Frostflow Lighthouse.

This goes back to Oblivion, too. There’s the Dark Brotherhood initiation that makes you feel like an awful human, and whatever’s going on in Hackdirt. It’s these little stories that make Elder Scrolls games come alive, and creating a huge universe could mean these characters and their stories are glossed over or missed altogether. A procedurally generated planet won’t create procedurally generated missions unless they’re limited to mining and resource-gathering. It’ll just be a pretty rock in the sky with some generic NPCs inhabiting it.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but human stories make games into the great experiences that they are. Skyrim has Helgi. Cyberpunk has Brendan. The point is, these are the moments that stay with you. People aren’t buying Skyrim for the hundredth time on a different platform to beat Alduin again, they’re starting over to find new missions and experience new moments. Some of this comes through the roleplaying aspects of the game (I won’t be a stealth archer again this time, I promise) [Editor’s note: he lied.], which I’m sure Starfield will manage just fine with, but a lot comes from the bespoke, cleverly-written missions that show you a different side to the world.

Starfield will live or die by these moments. Joining the space pirates will be cool no matter what, but the only thing that will make 1,000 planets worth exploring is the stories they tell. And I’m worried they won’t tell enough.

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