We got quite a long look at Bethesda's space RPG today during Starfield Direct. The 45-minute showcase covered seemingly every aspect of the game: character creation and combat, cities and planets, factions and companions, ships and guns and outer space.
If I'd been hooked up to an EEG during the presentation, or maybe to a device that detected when one of my eyebrows raised a little, it wouldn't register much during the 12-minute-long main quest deep dive about the mysterious alien artifacts that can unravel the mysteries of the universe. It wouldn't twitch during the segments showing factions of "spacer punks" shooting at you from abandoned mining colonies, or all the types of guns you can craft, or the various companions you can have awkward romances with.
To me, all that stuff just looks like Fallout 4 in space, and there's nothing wrong with that except I've already played like 200 hours of Fallout 4. What did capture my interest in Starfield Direct was something that looks a lot like one of my favorite activities in Mass Effect: planet scanning.
Yes, please. I want to look at a star map, pick a planet, fly to it, and orbit it while scanning it for… stuff. I want to know what the planet is composed of, what kind of climate it has, and what sort of resources it contains. And then I want to end the Mass Effect part of this activity and go into the No Man's Sky part of this activity: I want to land on that planet and find all that stuff I just detected. I want to scan each plant and find each animal and just 100% the hell out of that planet. And then I want to take off and do that exact same thing to each of Starfield's 1,000+ planets. That'll take hours, maybe hundreds of hours, which means blissfully ignoring the actual storyline of the game.
Along the way I'm sure I'll find some action: some of the planets we saw in Starfield Direct have structures like mining rigs, research stations, robotics facilities, caves, temples, and so on, and many of these areas will have those time-killer radiant side-quests that probably aren't that interesting but can be useful if you need to gain XP or make some money. True take-it or leave it types of adventures, and I'm definitely into that.
But what I'm really looking for is the perfect spot to build an outpost, a homestead among the stars where I can settle down and really get busy ignoring the ever-living shit out of Starfield's main questline. You can assign companions and crew to live and work in those outposts, and the building system thankfully has an overhead camera, unlike Fallout 4's awkward first-person building system. And even better, those outposts can generate more stuff while you're off flying around.
"If you have the skills you can even figure out that certain creatures and plants… you can build an outpost and produce resources from those plants and animals," said Kurt Kuhlmann, lead systems designer, during Starfield Direct. "You can get experience and rewards for fully surveying planets and fully surveying a whole system."
Yep, that's the version of Starfield I want to play. I'm not a hero, I'm just out to make a few spacebucks, find a place to live, and obsessively and completely discover and catalog every weird alien bug that exists.
And I'm happy to see that a lot of the discoverable creatures look really nice. As the video put it, "We didn't want alien monsters, we wanted native wildlife," and like wildlife on Earth it appears many of these creatures aren't immediately hostile. Many do nothing when the player approaches, some perform threatening behaviors and postures, and yes, it looks like some attack, but it's not a case of every single alien animal immediately trying to stomp or bite you to death. That lines up perfectly with how I want to play, as a cataloger of alien lifeforms.
And that's all I want. To have a cozy little base I can rest at between flying around the galaxy, scanning planets to see what they've got, then landing to scan everything up close, then taking off and leaving again. Space magic? Alien artifacts? Meeting with factions at conference room tables? Maybe I'll get to that someday, but all those scannable planets come first.