When I finished Part 1 of my perverse effort to play Starfield entirely as a space sim, I was both terrified and tantalised. A quick reminder of the rules: I can only acquire new ships by commandeering them, with no planetary landings permitted, which also means that I can’t just shuffle between ships at whim after adding them to my hangar. It’s possible the game contains an orbital shipyard of some kind – if you’ve found one, don’t spoil! – but at the time of writing, any vessel I abandon is essentially gone for good.
My first trophy as greenhorn orbital bandit Mary Read was a UC Transpo, which isn’t so much a spaceship as a shoebox with toilet roll tubes and detergent bottles glued to the outside, its ordnance limited to a single laser. I began my second leg confidently expecting to spend many hours in this Fisher Price starmobile, vainly searching for a wounded battlecruiser or an abandoned solar yacht or some other, more capable vessel accessible to a space pirate of extremely modest means. This is going to be Jalopy: Galactic Edition, I said to myself. Imagine my shock (and slight disappointment) when I jumped to the very next planet and proceeded to comprehensively ding over a Crimson Fleet Spectre.
Now that I’ve worked out the trick of boarding enemy ships, it’s actually very easy. In theory, not having ballistic rounds or missiles makes things an uphill challenge, because lasers are designed for use against shields, but the UC Transpo swiftly punctures the Spectre’s engines regardless, and within literal seconds I’m haring through the other ship’s innards, bellowing oaths.
Or at least, that’s my goal, but what I’m mostly doing is absent-mindedly shooting at Crimson Fleet goons while cooing over the furnishings like I’m guest-starring on Grand Designs. This place is a palace! Three levels! A whole section given over to 3D printers and worktables for crafting and modding! Whiteboards with somebody’s maths homework all over them! A kitchen with – OK, not a lot of elbow room there, Kevin, you’re definitely going to struggle fitting in that espresso machine. But it’s nothing a solo tenant need fret over.
My giddiness probably owes something to the fact that I’m fighting in zero-gravity, having presumably lasered the relevant ship components during the preceding dogfight, which means that I’m fighting through a debris field of mop buckets and seat cushions, with every shotgun blast launching me backwards like a child in a shopping trolley. Still, the Spectre is undoubtedly my biggest win yet, so it’s an absolute disaster when I head to the bridge and discover that I don’t have enough points on Piloting to fly the bloody thing.
Well devil take thee, Crimson Fleet Spectre! I guess it’s the long haul for old Mary Read. I sulk on back to the UC Transpo, deboard with extreme prejudice and realise that what I took for an asteroid floating nearby is, in fact, a Deimos Armored Transport, eerily adrift. I board the enormous vessel and – well, I don’t want to spoil things, because the Deimos is a full-blown sidequest area. But suffice to say I’m not able to commandeer the ship, though I do find a new jetpack and a couple of juicy guns while roaming its deathly corridors.
What’s an ailing stardog to do but pick on somebody her own size, or thereabouts. A few planets over I encounter a perfectly inoffensive UC Mule, which is basically a UC Transpo with larger glove pockets. I slash its hamstrings, rid the big oaf of its irritating NPC infestation and promptly set off to the Alpha Centauri system. I figure I’ve built up enough of a bounty round these parts (I’m guessing I’ll attract bounty hunters if it gets too high). Time to bloody the waves elsewhere.
It’s here, orbiting the moon of Hawley, that I face my greatest test so far of just how much of a bastard pirate Mary Read is willing to be. I’m hailed by one Mrs Whitmore, school teacher, who is taking her class of sixth graders on a tour of the galaxy. Given that I get set upon by bandits every other time I exit fast travel, I’m curious to see the relevant Parental Permission slips. “I do hereby consent to my child being exposed to [PLEASE TICK] (1) the pitiless, mind-hollowing immensities of the final frontier (2) all the assorted thieves and murderers contained therein”…
Anyway, their charitably-funded Sputnik refurb has a leaky grav drive, and can’t warp away without some ship parts. I “joke” with Mrs Whitmore about being a pirate. Some kid comes over the radio to ask if I’m telling the truth. Ugh, I can’t do this. There are limits! Let’s get out of here, Mary. Mary?
MARY NO, BELAY THAT TARGETING ORDER
Oh thank goodness, it turns out Mrs Whitmore’s ship is magically invincible. As with Skyrim’s axe-proof orphans, Bethesda appear to have decided that shipping a game in which you can hijack a schoolbus would attract the wrong kind of publicity. Please, nobody tell the Starfield mod people though, you know what they’re like.
I head to the next moon. A broken-down UC Dagger is also in need of ship parts. Hah, United Colonies, is it? I remember your upstanding colleagues at Saturn having a jolly old time repeatedly obliterating me, thanks to an overly punctual autosave. Well, who’s laughing now?
My blood is up. I recall that Alpha Centauri is home to the game’s Constellation faction of cosmic pioneers. I have big plans for those fools, with their silly mahogany bedrooms and their tepid Bullingdon banter and, above all, the incredibly underwhelming way they introduced me to the game’s core Artifacts mystery. If there’s one thing any astral buccaneer hates, it’s an introductory sequence devoid of real stakes that awkwardly schools you in a game’s core loop while reaching for crescendos it hasn’t earned.
I’m going to loiter around a moon near Jemison and catch that bastard Barrett with his trousers dow- oh wait, I’ve earned a skill point! I forgot that you earn XP for visiting locations. Back to Sol we go, then, to reboard that drifting Spectre with the correct piloting credentials – thankfully, Starfield seems to preserve ships you’ve boarded and purged of crew, providing you don’t actually commandeer them, though I’m guessing you can only leave so many vessels dangling in the ether.
The Spectre is an absolute dream, by Mary’s standards anyway. It’s got everything an interstellar cutthroat needs: lasers, ballistics, missiles, a chunky helping of shield, and reactor energy to spare for those last-resort Graviton jumps, not that I usually remember to do those in time. It’s definitely not endgame-worthy, mind you – I think I’m basically flying the equivalent of a stack of Goombas in Mario, but the big red thug is at least actively designed for battle, unlike the moderately weaponised icecream vans I’ve been piloting hitherto.
I decide to give my first real piratical vessel a real test by going after a ponderous UC Chimera, which I discover lurking several minutes’ flight from one planet. Hey, that captain must be trying to manually fly to the next world! I am full of admiration for any NPC willing to test the boundaries of their simulation, but I’m going to have to kill everybody aboard anyway. I swoop in close and, good heavens, this thing is massive!
I make short work of the Chimera’s engines – it’s much better-armed, but too sluggish to bring its weapons to bear in time – and come roaring through the airlock. I’m outnumbered maybe 20-to-1, and this is a proper military craft, with higher-level security staff clad in beefy armour wielding fancy energy rifles. I do have one significant advantage, though, which is my intricate tactical understanding of ladders.
Don’t rush, please, there’s plenty of shotgun for all!
The Chimera feels even bigger from the inside – a star-faring village. I actually manage to get lost trying to find the bridge. There’s a boardroom of some kind with some arresting loregunk on the walls nearby. There’s what feels like a captain’s office, with Picard-esque ornaments and a glowing map table from which emerges the forlorn chatter of a UC Longsword which I really hope isn’t heading my way. There are Gigery corridors full of pipes, and a skylight where I can see the planet I’m orbiting (it’s probably a glorified screenshot, but it’s a pretty one).
Man, I’d love to have explored this place as a non-combatant, but that is not the Space Pirate’s way. We reavers of the skylanes are a solitary breed. The void is our confidant, the comets and asteroids our bedfellows.
I finally stumble on the bridge, after an almost Antichamber-esque struggle to find the right ladder, and discover the enemy captain. They appear shellshocked, frozen with terror, capable only of gazing at me with the serenity of one who knows themselves to be damned. Either that or the AI’s broken again. I put the captain out of their misery, and take a stroll around the bridge.
It’s highly Star Trek-worthy. I can imagine all manner of bingeable soap opera playing out here – some spicy repartee (and perhaps even some romantic chemistry??? Fans can only speculate) between the two pilots upfront, the famously aloof, Janeway-esque captain summoning their plucky first officer into the ready room to discuss crew morale or a point of factional politics or the mysteries of some uncharted world, the moons and space stations casting their shadows through those generous forward windows. All gone now. All gone.
I sit Mary down on a chair in a corner, turn off the HUD and feel very alone.
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