The launch of Starfield is now around the corner. On September 6, PC and Xbox Series X|S players will finally be able to get their hands on this new work from Bethesda, which is described by Todd Howard himself as the “Skyrim in space”. The weight on the shoulders of Starfield is, therefore, a lot, especially if it wants to show itself among many other games of the same genre, standing out as the definitive video game set among the stars.
Although, since its announcement, the development team has released several dedicated interviews, videos, and showcases, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the game. For this reason, Bethesda decided to induce a Starfield Q&A yesterday on its Discord channel. For the occasion, Emil Pagliarulo, lead designer, and Will Shen, quest designer head, took part. In this article, therefore, we have decided to collect in one place all the questions and answers that have been asked during this event.
All Starfield Q&A questions and answers
Q: Can you buy houses in major cities?
Will: Sure! There is a “housing” system present in several cities and accessible to players. In some cases it is necessary to buy houses, in others these are rewards linked to specific missions.
Emily: Of course! You can take shelter in each of the main cities in the game. And there's at least one you can get specifically for completing…something.
Q: Choosing the background in which we have parents, will these be generated based on the aspect we have chosen for our character or a standard variant? And what benefits could it bring?
Will: Our programmers working on the new face technology have developed a function to attempt to create parents based on the custom face. So the parents are based on how your character looks, although the specific math involved is beyond my expertise. I know we've used similar technology in our previous games as well.
Emil: Certainly. Just as we did in Fallout 3 with the father, and in Fallout 4 with your child, in Starfield the parents related to the Kid Stuff trait will be based on you. No spoilers, but I think fans will really appreciate the actors we've cast in these roles, and they've put in so much effort that the result is fantastic. (Oh, and you can get…things).
Q: For those who have never played a BGS title and will be starting with Starfield, what information should we know in order to have an impactful experience right from the start? How deep should we go into creating the backstory before we start playing?
Will: Even if everyone will start from the same place, what happened to you before the incipit will be up to you alone, it will be your canon. There's a system of traits and backgrounds that will allow you to make your character look good, but you're also free to choose an “anonymous” background and start without any traits. For those who have never played a Bethesda title: try anything! Ours is a simulation and an RPG at the same time, so we try to support players as much as possible in whatever they want to do.
Emil: We always make our games for veterans and newcomers. So you can start without ever having played a Bethesda title. But we like to look at it less as a video game and more as an experience to be had in the universe that we have built. So sit back, go at your own pace, and you'll quickly learn all the systems you need to venture into Settled Systems any way you like. Speaking of the character's background, it's all up to you: the canon is yours. For example, my latest character is a slacker named Mitch Dombrowski. He's a good ol' space-truck pilot, and while he'd do anything to defend himself, he'd never pull the trigger first. He's basically like Han Solo's more down-to-earth older brother. And yes, some traits and backgrounds perfectly support such a story.
Q: How does the smuggled goods system work? Can we hide things on the ship and sell them for a premium?
Will: Certain items are considered “contraband” and you'll need to sneak them past the security ships that orbit major settlements.
Emil: There are very specific items that are considered contraband, which means that they are illegal anywhere. And yes, you can hide them using special ship modules that you need to purchase. So mind you, you don't have to get arrested with those harvested organs on you. The economic system is fixed, but the prices of the goods acquired and sold can change based on your “Skills”.
Q: Is there a prison system for those who commit crimes?
Will: Yes, you can go to jail or have to pay a fine when arrested (or resist arrest and try to escape).
Emil: In that respect, Settled Systems work more like Skyrim than the Commonwealth of Fallout 4. “Hey, criminal!”. There is a civilization, there is a government, there are laws. And in a couple of cases, we explore the themes of crime and its punishment in our sci-fi universe.
Q: Will time go by even when you're not in the game? For example, will my trade routes, outposts, or mining operations still produce when the game is off?
Will: Only when you play actively.
Emil: The simulation will only work when you are actively playing. No naps at work!
Q: Can you be a spy in the game? For example, upon joining the United Colonies, is it possible to join the Crimson Fleet as well and provide intelligence to the former? And if it is possible, with which factions can it be done?
Will: All playable factions can be completed independently. The story of the Crimson Fleet requires you to be an undercover agent in the Fleet for UC SysDef (a specific military branch of the United Colonies), but choosing to betray the Fleet or the UC SysDef will just be in your hands.
Emil: Ah, that's exactly what you can do – infiltrate the Crimson Fleet against UC SysDef! It's a system specific to that quest line. In the studio, they (half-jokingly) accused me of referencing films that some people have never seen because I'm too old now. Basically, for this particular storyline, the inspiration was taken a lot from the movie Donnie Brasco, which is the true story of an FBI agent who infiltrates the mafia. HOW FAR WILL YOU GET?!
Q: Based on the traits selected during character creation, will it be possible to play the experience in “pacifistic” mode, i.e. without killing someone or, potentially, “something”?
Will: I can't guarantee that every mission can be completed in pacifist mode, but we have some systems that can help with that. One of them is the Speech Challenge, with which you can persuade someone to do something, such as not fight you. However, the Speech Challenge is inserted at specific moments in the script, and in principle, we try to add at least one in most of the missions where you interact with the most important characters.
Emil: Well, we talked a lot about this in the early stages of pre-production, whether or not we support a fully “non-lethal” run. We realized that for several reasons this would not be fully feasible. That said, there are several non-lethal options, whether it's through dialogue or using a stun weapon. These can be used in certain situations, honestly in many situations, but I would not say with certainty that you can complete the whole game without killing anything. The Settled Systems are a civilized place, but they can get very dangerous when you go off the beaten track. And we know for a fact that you will go far off the beaten path!
Q: What is the main creed and history of the religions you can join? Sanctum Universum, Illuminati, Great Serpent?
Will: The Sanctum Universum is just 20 years old in our timeline, but it's become very prominent. The Illuminati are a group of atheists who focus on humanitarian work and community growth. They believe that life is something that everyone has to take responsibility for, in the sense that if we want the world to be a better place, we have to act.
Emil: Religions that exist in the real world are part of the Starfield universe (with people of all religions out there) but we haven't really focused on those. Instead, we talked about these three specific cults: Sanctum Universum – members, called “Universals”, believe that God really exists somewhere in the universe. That higher power is guiding us. Specifically, they believe that humanity's ability to travel the universe and perform gravitational leaps is God's chosen way of telling us, “I'm out here, come find me.” The Illuminati – these guys are basically organized atheists – don't believe in any kind of higher power. Instead, they teach that human beings must take care of each other, and put this doctrine into practice through specific programs. House Va'ruun on the other hand… Oh boy. Practically in the game, you don't know what the truth is but… Among the guards this is told: a colony ship leaves for a new world making several gravitational jumps… After one of the jumps, one of the passengers claims to have spent that time in communion with a celestial entity known as the Great Serpent. What for everyone was a few seconds for him was … much more. And he brought back an edict, which basically states, “Come aboard, or you will be devoured when the Great Serpent engulfs the universe.” Will it be true? I'm not telling you. In the game, you will sometimes encounter the Zealots of House Va'ruun, and these are their motivations. I just got their logo tattooed on my wrist, so I find them the best.
Q: How many companions can we recruit in total?
Will: There are over 20 “named characters” that can join the crew. Four of them come from Constellation and boast the richest stories and the most player interactions, but all the named characters have their own background and can follow you (and of course carry your stuff).
Emil: There are more than 20 in total, and we have focused a lot on the members of Constellation. When we started pre-production on Starfield, we took a step back and looked at our previous games, and realized how popular and successful the companions were. From that point forward they became a big priority for us, and we really wanted to tie them directly into the main quest process. There are some really important moments in the narrative that are closely related to them. And I should also mention that the cast that voiced the companions is pretty amazing. We haven't released the official roster yet, but you can rest assured that many talented actors have brought those characters to life (and that goes for Constellation in general).
Q: When we assign crew members to work in outposts, do we have to pay them a salary?
Will: Yes. You have to make a one-time payment (which you can negotiate using the Speech Challenge. Some traits can also affect the cost of services like this).
Emil: You only have to pay them once. In reality, we have also experimented with a system linked to the payment of regular salaries, but in the end, we decided to keep only the initial cost. There's a lot to do in Starfield, and we wanted to minimize what the player had to keep track of all the time.
Q: Will our companions be able to improve their skills? And will their skills add up to ours?
Will: All crew members start with a set of skills at specific levels. So you might meet a character who is particularly good with shotguns and hire him to guard you. Or you could hire an Astrodynamics expert who will increase the range of your gravity jump when assigned to work on your ship.
Emil: They don't evolve, but they present themselves immediately with different levels, which change according to the specific companion. Well, in Starfield we call them “Skills”. And they add up to yours, by the way. Some are simple “flavor” skills, details designed to highlight the backgrounds and interests of teammates. Instead, you'll really feel the impact of ship-related and combat-related skills. Getting a boost to your ship's shields, watching your mate prove himself a sniper with a weapon he's proficient at, well, those are pretty awesome moments.
Q: What are your favorite elements of Starfield?
Will: I love discovering content that I haven't seen yet or even forgotten about. Our games are so big that it's very unlikely that one person has seen everything, even after all the steps necessary to pass the various levels of review. Our missions evolve so much in development, and it's great to see how each member of the team adds something (designers, animators, voice actors, lighting people, basically everything).
Emil: Release it! But seriously, guys. Due to my location, my experience is a little different from yours. I won't speak for Will, but personally, I've already seen every single quest line, every city, every major part of the game at every stage of development. So my answer is influenced by this experience. For me, the real pleasure has been seeing how all the components have evolved to the versions that exist today, the ones that everyone will play. I also have a soft spot for Neon: fine-tuning that city took a lot of work from many different people, and the result was truly the cyberpunk settlement I always hoped it would become. I also love all the quest lines. I think they are the best we've ever made – the designers on this project were really great.
Q: What books or movies have had the biggest influence on some of the quests?
Will: I'm a huge history buff, so I actually listen to a lot of podcasts like Hardcore History and The History of Rome. Even though our game is a work of sci-fi, I like how historians can tell you how human beings react to extreme circumstances (like war, famine, or great technological breakthroughs), so you can almost imagine how we would react to similar circumstances in a fictional context (only on a larger scale).
Emil: Well, I'm a kid of the late '70s and early 80's, and I have very happy memories of science fiction from that period. So let me think… Star Wars, OG Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, Buck Rogers, Battle Beyond the Stars, Ice Pirates… and let's not forget the classic that is Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jaryd Syn. I think I even saw it in 3D. But also “deeper” science fiction stuff, like the writings of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, or movies like Contact, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Event Horizon. In all of these examples, you realize that deep space represents two things: first, a source of mystery and wonder, sometimes even terror; and second, a giant blank canvas on which you can write any story. And we've written a lot, and REALLY different ones, in Starfield.
Q: What are the little details of Starfield aimed at increasing the immersion you love most?
Will: One thing I particularly like is our outfits. You can see the seams, and the materials, especially in the spacesuits (Constellation members have patches on the spacesuits related to their Skills). We also like the buttons – there are a lot of buttons.
Emil: I think what I really love is that even though humans live in space and our aesthetic is very “NASApunk” this is a very lived-in universe. And it is something that can be seen everywhere. You know, everyone likes sandwiches, but it's the books that are scattered around, the notes on the chalkboards, and the environmental storytelling that our level designers and environmental artists are really great at. I also love the work of our voice actors. And the music. And the sound effects. And the clothes. Haha, yeah, and the buttons! We really love our buttons. Oh, and I want to mention this project, in case you haven't heard of it. Adam Savage and his team are building a model of the Frontier on YouTube. And that ship, guys. And all the other ships… the level of detail is insane.
Q: What is the story behind the mechs?
Emil: Oh yeah, the mechs. Great question. Well, we have shown some of this material in one of our animated shorts. Mechs are leftovers from the Colony War. Both factions, the United Colonies and the Freestar Collective, had mechs. But the Freestar Collective had really perfected them. The United Colonies also had mechs, but they relied heavily on the alien beasts controlled by their division of Xenowarfare. Both of these weapon types were prohibited through the armistice that ended the Colony War. Can they be used? No, I'm in ruins now.