I have a confession to make, readers. I’m mildly obsessed with Starfield‘s cuboid food brand Chunks. In all honesty, I’m kinda obsessed with Starfield’s food in a more general sense, and I have almost as many screenshots of its tube-like meal boxes, stale toast slices, vacuum-packed sachets of rice balls, steak slabs and spiced worms – and, of course, Chunks – as I do its planets and NPCs. I’m weirdly fascinated by what Bethesda think our future meals will look like when we eventually start travelling across the stars, and not just because I like ragging on their somewhat plastic-looking textures and marvelling at how everything from orange juice to beer and wine comes in kid’s size cartons with a little straw on the side.
Chunks are my favourite food of the lot, though. These cubes of faintly glistening organic matter are bite-sized monstrosities that are quite possibly some of the most unholy things I’ve ever seen. How this became the dominating foodstuff across the known galaxy is a mystery worthy of its own sidequest, because let’s be honest, I’m all for eating wonky fruit and vegetables, but would you truly go to shop, sit down at a table and order an apple that’s been squeezed into a perfect cube? Or a cube with yellow skin that professes to call itself grilled chicken? I would probably try them once for curiosity’s sake (it’s the food of the future, of course I want to know what that tastes like!), but it’s also exactly the kind of thing I’d swear off immediately because nope, nuh uh, I just can’t even contemplate it anymore. And then it dawned on me: this is exactly how I feel about Starfield as a whole.
There are two types of Chunks in the Starfield universe: packaged and loose. The latter show off their cuboid weirdness in all their unnatural glory. You’ll see them discarded on plates and crates around the different galaxies, and because I am an animal, I will sweep every last one of them into my sack-like pockets (along with any other leftover food lying around) like some grubby space Santa rooting through the world’s bins. Rather like how Starfield itself just keeps plonking quests and activities on your to do list whenever you come into earshot of a random guard complaining to their mate about how Steve didn’t wash the coffee mugs again.
The one I love most is the Chunks egg, which could easily be mistaken for a big square marshmallow if it weren’t for the lightly peppered, perfectly round yolk on one side. I don’t even want to contemplate if that yolk is runny or not, or indeed what the rest of the egg white even tastes like. The item description only says it is “egg flavoured” in your inventory menu, which, god help us, just feels innately wrong for anything to be that isn’t an actual egg. Still, from the Chunks potato to the sesame-seed infused Chunks beef cube, you know what you’re getting with a loose Chunks.
Packaged Chunks on the other hand, are vacuum sealed inside sterile silver packets. Part of me believes the reason for Chunks’ success in the universe is that they fit quite neatly into the concept of space travel and space mealtimes. They can be stacked, packed together neatly, and be easily consumed in a single bite. Yet the packaged Chunks fly in the face of this theory, as they aren’t in any way practical or ergonomic. They’re like plastic-sealed toys with large cardboard backs that you pick off a shop rail, except you can’t even see what cube-like horror waits within. These aren’t any good for fitting neatly into my ship’s cargo hold. Just think of all that wasted packaging!
It is a weirdly unappealing way to present a meal, but I sometimes think this is kind of what Starfield was in the months and years before it came out: a shiny, but ultimately unknowable thing that looked strange and mysterious with a faint, promising aroma of being delicious. But despite Starfield being our (my) pick for October’s RPS Game Club this month, I’ve found myself quite reluctant to go back to it after spending an initial 25 or so hours with it when it first launched in September. It hasn’t helped that a lot of other very good games have come out this month, but as I’m sure we’ll discuss in our liveblog chat later today, Starfield is a strangely barren kind of RPG, and one where you’re not so much as playing a role as merely consuming an endless conveyor belt of quest markers as you desperately search for something, anything, to sate your appetite.
Ed wrote earlier in the month about how Starfield’s quests are always taking you away from the great outdoors when you’ve got something important to do, tasking you with excavating mines, space stations, mines, underground cities, more mines, and various other types of holes in the ground instead of encouraging you to look upward, to the stars, where fun and excitement is supposed to exist, and I wholly agree with that assessment. I have yet to find the joy in Starfield’s vision of space, and so far, its cookie-cutter environments have done little to ignite my imagination about either the vast mysteries of the universe, or even just what the heck the next step is in my current quest.
There are moments where I have successfully detected some kind of pulse. The first mission you receive from UC Commander Tuala near the start of the game that sends you out to Tau Ceti II (the Grunt Work mission) where you encounter the Alien-esque Terrormorphs for the first time was genuinely quite thrilling. As I raced to switch on the colony’s security systems and lead the Terrormorph down kill lanes of incoming turret fire, I thought, ‘Hey, if all of Starfield’s missions are this exciting then maybe I’ve been too hasty in writing it off’. And of course, there’s my exceedingly creepy Starfield dad, who can never not fail to entertain me on some level, just because he’s so darn terrifying to look at. In Chunks terms, these are the Cabernet Chunkignons of the world – and yes, they really do have cubes of synthetic fine wine, because of course they do. (Not gonna lie, I actually really love the name Chunkignon, and top marks to whoever at Bethesda came up with it).
But I’ve rarely found another mission like the Tau Ceti II one, or indeed other NPCs with as much life or character about them as my horrifying father (and he’s really only accidentally fascinating in the grand scheme of things – if he wasn’t so misshapen then he’d probably be quite boring as well to be honest). I have tried to find some good missions, I really have, as the sidequests really are where the life and soul of Starfield’s party is compared to its interminably boring main storyline. After having a good time with that first UC quest, I carried on with them and had a fairly decent, if mildly shoulder-shrugging time finding terrormorph expert Percival to reunite him with Tau Ceti II survivor Hadrian. A very cheesestake Chunk, if you will. I also thought the idea of going undercover with the Crimson Fleet might be cool as well, but then I was told I had to be a pencil-pushing evidence gatherer before I do anything exciting. Very much the secret baked potato of Chunks, that one.
The Failure To Communicate mission where you have to bring together warring colony homesteader families to fight off space pirates was pretty all right, as I actually had to use some of my persuasion skills to nuzzle that along, but so far that’s all that’s really stood out to me. Even the semi-acclaimed Mantis mission was a bit of a yawn-fest if you ask me, and that’s partly because it was set inside yet another generic space station facility again, but also because Starfield’s human enemies are such uninteresting opponents to take down a lot of the time that any mission involving a big gunfight just ends up feeling quite repetitive and one-note.
Part of me, though, is still (arguably against my better judgment) convinced that there must be more exciting stuff out there that I’ve just not seen or run into yet. There has to be, surely, in a game of this size and supposed level of grandeur (seriously, if you have come across any good missions, please tell me about them in the comments, and I will judge you silently on whether they’re any good or not). Despite the fact there are lots of other games I’d rather be playing instead right now, I still find myself thinking about Starfield every now and again, pondering what might have been, or what there could be, while also fully acknowledging that a) this is probably wishful thinking (and almost certainly is), b) I have much better things to be spending my time thinking about, and c) just how weirdly barren and bereft of feelings it’s been this entire time.
It’s strangely captivating in that sense, that a game of this enormity can only muster the meekest of emotional responses, but also a little bit unnerving. I know not all games are for everyone, but Starfield is so vanilla, so bland and so unappetising as a piece of entertainment that it’s almost unnatural. I have played many mediocre video games in my time, but most have made me feel something. But nope. I remain unmoved by Starfield’s call to adventure. Like the Chunks staff are wont to say, “All I am legally allowed to say is that our chunks meet all known minimum standards for nutrition,” and yep. Sure sounds like Starfield all right.
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