There is a decent amount of criticism for Starfield floating around the internet, much of it clearly hyperbolic. However, for some long-time Bethesda fans, this latest release didn’t live up to the hype. One probable reason for this is that Starfield doesn’t have some features and mechanics that were present in the still-popular — and much-older — Skyrim.
These features and mechanics were key components of Skyrim that I feel could improve the gaming experience of many RPGs, but are sadly missing from Starfield. As the latest Bethesda game, it’s natural that fans expected an improvement on the formula, with new ideas building on the successes of previous titles. Yet some of Skyrim’s facets, whether integral or superficial, could’ve been a huge boon for Starfield. Stuff like…
How you level up skills in Skyrim feels very natural. You use a skill, and slowly but surely, your level in said skill progresses. When you level up a skill, you gain XP that goes towards your overall character level. This also makes for creative ways to focus on certain skills and make your character’s identity feel specialized. What’s more, it allows players to feel like their characters earned it: like they are actually improving through experience and practice.
Instead of this natural leveling, Starfield has a sort of hybrid system. It isn’t quite as simplified as Fallout 4, but instead it makes players satisfy a task with a skill before it can be upgraded. This requirement at least makes the player use the skill, which is great, but the issue is how you earn experience in the first place.
Spacefarers in Starfield can get XP from:
The problem here is one of these gives you much more experience than the others. You have probably already seen guides on the best way to level up in Starfield — laying waste to a planet’s fauna.
Landing on a random planet and shooting alien creatures is a little fun, until about the tenth minute. The obvious counterargument is to just play the game normally instead, and level up in a more organic way. Well, missions don’t give you much experience, and neither do the other methods listed above. This is especially true if you’re playing stealthily, since you will miss out on XP from kills. For example, I just played through the entire Crimson Fleet quest line and only leveled up twice (level 41-43).
In our opinion, this system could be improved with some simple rebalancing of how XP is allotted for certain acts and accomplishments. On the other hand, why use a new system and work out the kinks at all when Skyrim’s worked just fine? The (over 1,000) worlds may never know.
If you claim you’ve never wished for some sort of vehicle or transportation aid while walking five minutes to that other settlement on your scanner, well, I don’t believe you. Bethesda was clear that they wanted a realistic vibe to Starfield’s space exploration, and that apparently meant unpopulated barren planets. It’s an artistic choice that I respect, and it does work when you’re on a distant ice ball contemplating the existential terror of deep space.
It would have been really great if the devs had offered some kind of vehicle or mount that players could use to quickly cover ground on those desolate moons. It would significantly decrease the monotony of walking (or jet packing) while looking for that perfect spot for an outpost.
It’s true that Fallout 3 and 4 didn’t have mounts either, but those games had regular overworld maps that were filled with points of interest to explore and relatively adjacent markers with which to fast travel — and you could always jam out to the radio. In Starfield, the only thing you have to fill your time on those long space walks is mining for resources and shooting alien animals (if there are any left after you farmed the planet for XP).
Just in case you didn’t know, Skyrim not only had horses, but you could ride dragons in the expansion. Mounts probably weren’t super necessary in Elder Scrolls V, since we all got sidetracked by a cave or an NPC after riding our mount for five seconds. Yet, they were still very convenient to have, and something similar would be even more useful in Starfield.
Skyrim’s map is really the epitome of an open-world RPG map. It is a sprawling screen that perfectly balances players’ sense of awe and drive to explore by conveying to them the game’s massive scale, but not the details of what they’ll find. Even better, it’s effortlessly decipherable; the user interface accurately represents with apt icons where you’ve traveled and easily permits you to return.
You get it, it’s a good map. But what we want for Starfield isn’t even a masterpiece of an overworld map like Skyrim’s. Just something like Elder Scrolls V’s simple city maps would do. I’ll give credit where it is due; Starfield’s star map is gorgeous and wonderfully compliments the scale of solar systems and planets in the game. However, not having functioning maps of New Atlantis, Akila City, and Neon is a big miss.
The obvious issue here is that the lack of a map for cities makes it much harder to find things. There might be some strategy in this from the devs, forcing players to explore the city and all that. Unfortunately, the excitement of finding something new is undermined when you’re forced to make four passes around Akila City looking for a Trade Authority. On the topic of finding things, Starfield does get a point for giving us the scanner arrows, which lead you to your current objective — but this doesn’t help when you just want to find an ammo shop.
NPCs With Lives
It was a special experience to enter a Skyrim city for the first time and find it populated with nothing but unique, named NPCs (non-playable characters). That feeling of immersion was compounded when you discovered that each of these people had their own individual schedules of sleeping, errands, and rituals that they repeated every day. (I suppose guards don’t really count as named NPCs, but they still had a lot of personality and interactions.)
Did it bother anyone that there were only forty NPCs living in a lore-described “bustling” town? It sure didn’t matter to me, because care and quality was put into each distinct character you could interact with. This is a long-winded way of saying that the NPCs in Skyrim cities feel special, and many offer interesting stories or quests.
So, when I went to New Atlantis, I was immediately struck by the number of people, but also excited in the prospect of having so many potential mission givers. The first things I did was walk up to one of the citizens — just to find that they were actually named “citizen” and you can’t interact with them. It would be an understatement to say it was disappointing. I understand that the idea is to make cities look like they really have massive populations, but I would argue sacrificing the magic that stems from only meeting hand-crafted NPCs was too high a cost.
I want to be clear in case some Skyrim fans haven’t played Starfield: there are named, unique NPCs in Starfield, just like in Skyrim, but the vast majority of people you see are as described above — and it’s a bummer.
In fact, there is one game setting, turned off by default, that puts a above all potential or ongoing mission NPCs in an area. This drastically helps set those “real” NPCs apart from the crowd. While in the missions tab, look at the bottom of your screen for a command that says “Show all Targets”.
Another Combat System
While everyone’s preferences are different, in a game with a lot of combat, said combat needs to be interesting to hold your attention. Skyrim’s combat wasn’t exactly the cream of the crop, but it gave you a number of tools to keep most scenarios fresh and different, thanks to its wide variety of viable combat options.
When you compare your combat options in Starfield to Skyrim, there are theoretically analogs to most of the options, but Starfield’s tend to be more limited. There are the Starborn powers in Starfield, but many of them are just rehashes of the Shout powers you had in Skyrim, and there are fewer of them than Skyrim shouts. Melee weapons are equally limited and fairly uninspired, but it’s that or guns and throwables as your primary source of damage.
There really needed to be another dimension to combat in Starfield.Cyberpunk was able to achieve this by giving players their quick hacking abilities on top of the regular shoot and slash you’d expect. Having a whole other system, like the magic schools in Skyrim, provides the player with more combat options. Not only that, but the enemies also become more varied, because they can attack the player with that other system too. When you realize that every enemy you face in Starfield is only shooting or swinging at you, combat starts to feel stale.
A caveat to this argument is that Starfield has spaceship combat, which is completely separate from the typical guns and melee fighting. It’s even possible that the dev time required for the space combat is part of why they weren’t able to expand on normal fighting systems. The space combat could’ve perhaps made up for the main combat deficiencies, but the harsh truth is that you don’t use the spaceship combat nearly as often. And given how forgettable it is, why would you want to? It’s usually avoidable in most cases anyway.
I hope that I framed these critiques as fairly as possible. It’s obvious that Starfield has many things that Skyrim doesn’t, and that the two games are striving for different things. However, Skyrim is one of the most cherished and lasting games ever for a reason. The parts make the whole, and I feel that Starfield’s entirety could’ve been made better by these tried and true parts from Skyrim.
What do you think? Would these aspects have improved Starfield, or are they best left in Skyrim? Let us know in the comment section!
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Kelson is a spud head from out west. He is most happy when holding a milky tea with too much honey and playing a sprawling role playing game or reading a fantasy novel. His video game tastes vary but his main genres are looter shooters, RPGs, and real time strategy games.