Space games are basically ready built for the grand reveal. All you need to do is open a shutter and you can reveal unto the player all the wonders of the universe you have built, be that a giant, misty blue planet with a neon green dust ring, or purple nebula sweeping accross the sky like a bruise and crackling with lightning. Starfield‘s opening (shown off at Gamescom this week, and leaking all over the internet like a collander used for SMG target practice) does not forgo this moment, but it does say “okay but what if the grand reveal was entirely in shades of grey, though”?
You start in a mine underground, lit only by the lights on you and your fellow miners’ suits. So far, so good: this is a perfect way to enclose your player to juxtapose a grand reveal later. Your supervisor, Lin, and a more senior miner Heller, provide algorithmically inoffensive banter. Lin is a taskmaster, Heller is a bit more of a wisecracker; neither feel particularly idiosyncratic in the way that the best ‘thesda supporting characters, like Sheogorath the trickster Daedric prince, can be. But hey, it’s very early, and you can tell there’s hella world building, because miners are referred to as Dusties. I’ll take some slightly awkward in-universe slang in this work-a-day world.
After being taught to use a mining laser, you’re sent to retrieve a weird and important artefact buried in deposits of a sort of luxury, gravity defying fool’s gold – which is, by the way, not the job I’d give to someone on their first day. You touch said item and experience basically the inciting event of Mass Effect, i.e. a mysterious vision and a fainting episode, but it’s been 15 years since the first Mass Effect, so who remembers? And honestly, I think video games should steal cool ideas off each other even more.
After you wake up, you do the “do you even remember your name/background/what you look like?” style of character creation, which is, you know, a bit ‘my first segue into character creation’. But whatever, I’ll even give that leeway. That’s just kind of writing sometimes. One of the most consistent reponses I give to edit notes is “because otherwise the story doesn’t happen.” Starting stuff is hard.
What I’m less forgiving of is a putting a grand orchestral sting and a quest called One Small Step in combination with your majestic reveal being entirely grey. The grey isn’t even applied to any interesting shapes. It’s a cargo bay, and some Fallout wasteland. Oh there are different shades: the landing pad is dark metal grey, the sky is a washed out yellow grey, the planet on the horizon is a kind of white grey. But it’s an underwhelming play for the biggest game of the year, when it’s first big moment compares unfavourably to the view out of my living room window. Bethesda has, with no exaggeration, some of the most talented artists in the entire world. Imagine what they could do if they were allowed to use a second colour.
I hate to say I told you so, and some of the screens give me hope that I’ll be able to stuff the I told you so right back in my howling maw. Official screens suggest the game gets a mite more interesting as it goes on – I mean the one up top has brown and red, right? We’ve had a glimpse of a prosperous city with water features and even some trees (a sight we Earthlings cannot begin to imagine).
I want it to get more interesting, but I fear that vast swathes of it will not. This is the mega-hyped game of 2023, so why hold back at the very start, and put your blandest foot forward?
Are we not fascinated by space in part because it represents a great unknown that can hold countless wonders? Did Star Trek not manage more with all the might of 1960s special effects? I know a lot of you are reading this and are furious at me for having this opinion, so furious that you’re not even really reading what I’m saying. But if you’ve been talking about how we can raise the bar recently, you have to believe we can imagine more. That our dreams can be beautiful. That you deserve space in Technicolor.
Gamescom 2023 has arrived, and you can find all the latest news and previews from the show floor in our Gamescom 2023 hub.
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