It's a little weird how much Starfield's scanning looks exactly like No Man's Sky, right?

Astronaut looking at alien creature
(Image credit: Bethesda)

For the many flaws No Man's Sky had at launch, I really liked the way it zeroed-in on the feeling of discovery. 

My first dozen hours of naming planets, scanning weird tentacle horses, and cataloging unremarkable rocks was a real delight, so it's no surprise that Bethesda has something similar in the works with its epic space RPG, Starfield. We have, after all, been doing this sort of thing for a very long time, snapping Dewgong in Pokémon Snap or scanning Shadow Moses as Solid Snake. 

I am, however, a little surprised that Starfield's version of scanning creatures doesn’t just remind me of seven-year-old No Man’s Sky, it looks almost exactly like it.

We saw a bit of Starfield’s scanning in action during last month’s Starfield Direct, but the familiarities didn't register with me until Bethesda tweeted this short clip of planet scanning yesterday. Everything about how the binocular interface looks, the way objects glow as you scan them, the mostly-useless-but-fun peripheral trivia you learn about things by scanning, and the small bits of XP you get for cataloguing perfectly mimic the experience of data gathering in No Man’s Sky. In Starfield, it looks like you can judge a creature's likelihood to attack you by its listed "temperament." In No Man’s Sky, this same information is labeled"Behaviour."

starfield no man's sky scanner

Left: Starfield's scanner in action. Right: YouTuber Captain Collins with No Man's Sky analysis scanner (Image credit: Captain Collins on YouTube)

Surveying isn't the most exciting way to spend your days in Starfield, but it sounds like a lucrative one. As the tweet points out, completing a planetary survey in Starfield allows you to sell that info for credits, like in No Man's Sky.

I can't tell if I’m more happy or annoyed about this. I like scanning things in No Man’s Sky and will probably enjoy it just as much in Starfield, if not more because between all those procedurally-generated flora and fauna are hand-authored RPG cities and fully-voiced characters. Scanning adds a lot to the fantasy of a space frontier, especially for those who’d rather be lauded for their exploration prowess than their deadliness. At the same time, it’s a little disappointing that Bethesda’s vision of gamified discovery is basically "just do what Hello Games did and don’t mention it."

Games steal smart ideas from each other all the time, but I think what bothers me is how devs (especially on big-budget games) often neglect, or resist acknowledging it. Bethesda is no different than any other big studio for doing this, but the higher profile the game doing the borrowing, the more awkward it looks. That mining laser from last year's gameplay showcase sure does look like No Man’s Sky’s multi-tool. 

Part of it is practical—developers speak generally when promoting their games because saying explicitly "this bit works exactly like it did in No Man's Sky" isn't helpful to those who haven't played it, nevermind awkward for an Xbox-owned studio (No Man's Sky came to Xbox about two years after it released on PC and PlayStation 4). The more likely reason for a dev to politely not acknowledge a copied idea is that it can be seen as unflattering to the game.

Maybe that’s true according to a well-researched marketing deck, but being upfront about an obvious imitation would score some serious points with me. 

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.