Bethesda is known for developing successful open-world RPGs, but those RPGs are also known for simplifying many of the genre's traditional mechanics, with games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 doing away with hardcore RPG features. According to developer comments, Starfield could be set to change that.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Todd Howard explained that Starfield would be “more of a hardcore roleplaying game” than the studio had developed in recent years. That statement leaves a lot open to interpretation, but fans who disliked the rolling back of traditional RPG mechanics in Skyrim and Fallout 4 are likely to be pleased. Here are just five of the features Starfield needs to be the more hardcore RPG Bethesda promised.
Character Backgrounds In Starfield
One of the most exciting RPG features Bethesda could include in Starfield has already been confirmed — background options during character creation. “It’s got some really great character systems,” Todd Howard explained in the same interview with The Telegraph, “choosing your background, things like that.”
Giving players different character background options is a great way to increase Starfield’s replay value and to give players a deeper degree of control over their character in a game that seems increasingly unlikely to have playable alien races. Bethesda will have to be careful that the player’s background choices play into the studio’s open-world strengths.
Each of the game’s backgrounds will need to be broad enough that players can imagine different versions of their character with that same background. Choosing a background where the player starts as a trader with the United Colonies, for example, should not also give them a family and child Fallout 4 style unless that option is a separate part of character creation. For now, however, character backgrounds are a great start, and bode well for Starfield’s roleplaying freedom.
Traits And Perks
Traits and perks are a great feature found in many of the Fallout games that call back to the more hardcore mechanics of older RPGs. Many traits and perks allow the player to take a small bonus in exchange for a related penalty. The Four Eyes trait in Fallout: New Vegas, for example, gives the player a bonus to their perception when wearing glasses, and a penalty to their perception without them.
The same game's Claustrophobia trait buffs all SPECIAL stats while outside, but debuffs them while indoors, while perks like Lady Killer and Sneering Imperialist increase damage against certain enemies and give the player unique dialogue options. Like character backgrounds, these go a long way to individualizing each player character, greatly increasing the game's replay value by giving the player the chance to turn their character’s personal traits into mechanics.
Fallout 4 did away with perk-related dialogue, likely because it required more line recordings for the voiced player character. If Bethesda's next game is going to take full advantage of traits and perks and their ability to help individualize player characters, Starfield's protagonist should not have a voice like the player character in Skyrim or the older Fallout games.
There are plenty of survival mechanics that could shake up Starfield’s galaxy. One of the earliest leaked Starfield images of the game showed a UI which seemed to measure the player’s oxygen levels, CO2 levels, and the gravity on the planet they were on.
Oxygen and CO2 could be a good start if the differences affect the player in more interesting ways than just their health or stamina decreasing. Gravity differences across Starfield's planets have a lot of potential to create diverse environments, though high gravity has the chance to be frustrating if it makes journeying through some areas a slog. Hopefully players will be able to counteract the environments of different planets using different gear.
One piece of Starfield concept art shows the player camping out in a desert as a robot fixes their ship. Hopefully players will also be able to set up campsites away from their ship. While Skyrim mods like Frostfall were able to introduce mechanics related to the province’s colder climes, the diverse environments seen in Starfield’s marketing so far could see all sorts of weather come into play.
Limited Fast Travel
The exact layout of Starfield’s in-game universe remains a mystery for now. Exactly how Bethesda plans to capture the feeling of a seamless open-world game across multiple planets has not been made clear, but there is one more hardcore RPG feature Starfield could include to make exploration more immersive.
While games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 let the player fast travel to any location they’ve discovered, Starfield should keep instant travel connected to the player’s ship. Once they’re out of that ship, they should not be able to fast travel to different locations on a single planet. Instead, Bethesda needs to figure out ways to make travel itself feel narrative and exciting, which features like survival mechanics and dynamic NPC encounters can help with.
When it comes to Starfield’s weapon and armor system, the upcoming game should focus on function over form, with a wide variety of weapons and armors each suited to particular challenges. The player could use aquatic gear to explore the area around the fishing-platform city of Neon. They might find that the raptor-like aliens attacking Akila City are more vulnerable to certain kinds of weapons.
In true NASA-Punk fashion, the player should be encouraged to carefully choose the right tools for each job. Every time the player finds or buys a new piece of gear, it should be with a specific problem in mind, rather than just for a damage or armor boost. If Bethesda suits each piece of gear to a particular task, this could give each piece of gear a greater sense of personality and make finding loot and crafting gear far more rewarding.
Starfield is set to release on November 11, 2022, for PC and Xbox Series X/S.