Well, we finally got a big, long look at Starfield. It’s great to get a better sense of what the game really is, but it’s frustrating to see Bethesda retreading a load of the same old flaws its games have been suffering from for decades now. Nowhere is that more evident than the companion system.
As soon as Bethesda’s presentation moved to NPC friends, I got the heebie-jeebies. Though the studio boasts of improved animations, Starfield’s glassy-eyed characters still sit firmly in the uncanny valley, miles behind their contemporaries in other big budget games. That’s fine when all they’re doing is offering me quests or delivering exposition, but for the love of God don’t ask me to form relationships with them.
Companions are the characters that’ll actually follow you around, have personal quests, etc. It’s telling that the bland examples we’re introduced to, including “Sarah Morgan” and “Barrett”, seem to be defined more by their skills than any clear personality. But not only are we told we’ll be building relationships with this lot over the course of the game, Bethesda’s also threatening romance options.
The example love scene is brief but instantly unbearable. “I don’t know that I’ve ever really loved anyone… except you,” says Sam Coe, a space cowboy known primarily for his piloting skills and “rifle certification”, while the player character stares blankly into middle distance. Can you feel the chemistry? No? That’s no surprise—Bethesda has always struggled to make companions feel human, and never has it been more out of its depth than when trying to write a convincing romance.
If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s never even managed to make companions useful, let alone likeable. Dreadful AI has made party members a combat liability in every Bethesda game so far—bumbling fools who set off traps and run around in circles, and only really function as pack mules. Starfield’s companions couldn’t look more like the same again, and this time they’re lacking even the distinctive looks and gimmicks of those in Fallout or The Elder Scrolls.
The new crew system, at least, seems like a step in the right direction mechanically. Crew members can be hired to man your spaceship, and rather than following you on your adventures, they stay on board boosting the effects of your various modules. That’s a clever way to have a sense of community without having them all in your face all the time, even if it will feel a bit like living in a co-ed dorm full of cursed mannequins.
The thing I don’t understand is, why is Bethesda still focusing on this stuff? It’s built a whole galaxy to explore—why does it think I need to bring a creepy cowboy with me? Is the assumption that I won’t be able to enjoy seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion unless I can have a little kissy with a plastic-faced woman first? These games are huge, but they don’t have to do absolutely everything—I wish Bethesda would just zero in on the things it’s good at, and jettison all the stuff it’s been doing poorly forever.
I can’t even just hang out with the robot who can say my name, because they’ve given him a bunch of annoyingly sassy one-liners. There’d better be a dog in a spacesuit I can take with me instead of any of these losers, or I’m rioting.