Into the Starfield Episode 2 Reveals Companion, Factions, Design Philosophies

In the latest episode of Into the Starfield — a YouTube series in which Bethesda developers discuss their upcoming RPG Starfield — we got to see quite a few new, specific details about the game. One of the AI companions gets a brief moment in the spotlight, we learn of the game’s various factions, and we also can see a bit more about both what character creation and in-game conversations may be like. This episode also featured some of the game’s team leads explaining the design principles behind Starfield, and how they’re trying to make those principles a reality in-game.

Of course, anyone who has played a Bethesda RPG should already have a pretty good idea of what the studio’s goals are. Ever since their first major title, Elder Scrolls: Arena came out in 1994, Bethesda has pushed the envelope of what a digital RPG can do. From the ruins of Washington D.C. to the island of Vvardenfell, Todd Howard and his team have always strove to create video game worlds that feel real, that feel lived-in — and by and large, they’ve succeeded. Starfield is clearly a continuation of that tradition; as Istvan Pely, Starfield’s Lead Artist puts it, “You’re not just playing a game… you’re living in this world, in this universe.”

A big part of making a game feel like a real place, and not just a collection of set-pieces, is whether or not it has a believable cast of factions and characters. While today’s episode didn’t give us a good look at any of the game’s cast (with the exception of the brief glimpse we got of the robot companion VASCO), we did learn about a number of Starfield’s factions. They’re a pretty typical assortment of near-future tropes: you’ve got the wild-west style Freestar Collective, the idealized space republic in United Colonies, the (likely evil) mega-corp Ryujin Industries, and the pirate Crimson Fleet.

It’s easy to see how these factions could end up feeling generic, but it’s also possible that they gain texture and believability by being so grounded in reality — after all, what new frontier isn’t explored by rascals in big hats and exploited by corporations?

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Cyberpunk… cyberpunk never changes

Starfield’s conversation system is also looking to make the player feel like they’re really there, participating in a conversation. While details are scant, Todd Howard seems confident that they’ve got one of their most successful dialog systems yet; a kind of mini-game, in which you’re trying to convince someone while you pick conversation options. However, the team was clear in that there isn’t supposed to be one right thing to say, but that it was more like a real conversation, with give and take.

You’ll be having these conversations with what are sure to be Bethesda’s most lifelike character models yet (say goodbye to the classic thousand-yard stare of the Skyrim NPCs). Both the landscapes and the characters take advantage of photogrammetry — extracting 3D info from photographs — to create people and places that look real.

It won’t just be vendors and quest-givers you’re talking to, however. According to Todd Howard, they’ve really focused on how your companions in the game feel about you. They’ll respond to what you’re doing in the environment, which should further add to the game’s sense of immersion.

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VASCO — hopefully his dialog is as funny as his look

Fans of Morrowind or other players who pine for the “good old days” will be happy to hear that Starfield is bringing back old-school RPG character creation and faction interaction. Traits, background, and starting stats sound like they’ll all be customizable, and it sounds like your options with faction interaction are equally flexible. While discussing the pirate faction, one of the Bethesda folk mentions that if you want to play a “good” character but still hang with the pirates, you can — and then just snitch on them to the space police.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of this Into the Starfield Episode was the discussion of the game’s themes. There seems to be this idea amongst the developers that space is big, and therefore a story in space should be deep and broad as well. They want the story to end not just with a personal narrative, but with questions like “Why are we here?” and “What’s next for humanity?” This seems to suggest that the game will be tackling bigger ideas beyond whether or not capitalism is still bad in space or the standard communal vs autocratic society side-picking.

Fortunately, it won’t be too long of a wait ’til we can ask ourselves these questions while playing merrily in Bethesda’s latest sandbox. Starfield is currently slated for release on November 11th of 2022, on PC and Xbox Series X.

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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.

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