If there’s one thing Bethesda is known for, it’s those “step-out” moments. That first foray out in the unknown – whether it’s the opening of a long-sealed Fallout vault or a soaring Skyrim dragon welcoming you to a whole new world of danger and wonder. Starfield is no different, wasting no time in introducing you to the vast beauty of its world to great effect. But we’ll get to exactly how it does that just a little later. Here’s a rundown of exactly what happens in the opening minutes of Starfield’s first mission, fittingly titled One Small Step, after seeing it at gamescom 2023.
The Sol date is May 7, 2330. You find yourself on the Argos Extractors Mining Outpost on the Moon of Vectera. The first voice heard is that of Supervisor Lin, the obvious leader around here who has one simple rule: Listen to Lin. She’s accompanied by fellow miner Heller who provides a sense of levity and charm. It’s clear from the outset that Starfield will be home to Bethesda’s typical mix of quirky characters supported by punchy writing.
That writing also does a great job at this very early stage of exposing you to in-universe language and lore. Slang such as “Dusties” is casually thrown around as you piece together what these new words mean. The well-worn industrial mining spacesuits only add to the sense of place created in these opening moments, as do the designs of the machinery being wielded – in particular a huge whirring drill that reminded me of Thunderbirds’ Mole.
The mine itself is one long cavern that you walk through as Lin and Heller remind you of the task at hand – more minerals, more money. The atmosphere isn’t breathable without a mask, an early example of this being a place humans aren’t meant to be. Stalagmites and stalactites frame the cavern, while red lasers slicing through the air cast a scarlet glow across the sand-coloured rocks.
The visuals here are a noticeable step up for Bethesda Game Studios, but maybe not quite comparable to recent graphical powerhouses. Environments look great, but character models still seem to possess that classic Bethesda stiffness – there doesn’t look like there’s a lot going on behind those eyes. One thing that doesn’t threaten to underwhelm, however, is the simply majestic-sounding music, with stirring and mystery-laden strings accompanying these early footsteps.
After a quick tour, you’re encouraged to pick up a laser Cutter for yourself. A red beam all of your own bores into Beryllium deposits before exploding them and sending them off into your inventory. Mining for ore may not be the most exciting way to start an adventure of such thrilling potential, but this is all a ruse for something far more valuable. You’re soon find yourself wander ing into a tunnel alone. What could possibly go wrong?
What meets you is at first a tranquil, oddly beautiful sight – a metallic blue deposit surrounded by sparkly floating residue. Before you know it, you’re dipping your hand into the strange artefact and experiencing 2001: A Space Odyssey-like mind warps and visions. In some ways, this is not too dissimilar from the opening of the original Mass Effect. Upon waking you appear to be suffering from the event, although there’s barely a moment to consider that before Heller and Lin place a tablet before you, signalling the beginning of character creation.
It starts with your choice of Biometric ID – essentially a preset to begin shaping your appearance from. You can then go on to change everything from body shape, walk style, and skin tone, to the peculiarities of your face. There are also tabs for background and traits from which you can pick three, each of which comes with its own pros and cons.
Once created, you’re told a Constellation contact is about to arrive to buy the artefect you discovered – a sheet of weathered metal with circular markings on it. Constellation is a group of explorers that seem to carry an almost folklore status in this world. Heller remarks that “half of the crew probably don’t even think they exist”.
What follows is the moment you’ve been waiting for: Starfield’s first big “step out moment”. You leave behind the clinical walls of the medical facility you’ve been recovering in and step out onto a spaceport, framed by a vast moon vista. A yellow-tinged sky blasts out brightness, and a large spacecraft makes a noisy entrance. Again, this is a moment for the soundtrack to shine as it grandly swells, emphatically communicating the true start to this grand adventure.
You barely have time to soak up the view, however, before the serene sky is rudely interrupted by the approach of the new Constellation arrival. A large spaceship blasts into frame before settling down and lowering its doors. A man named Barrett emerges, accompanied by a long-limbed robot, who is later revealed to be a potential companion, Vasco. You chat and begin to make a deal before..surprise! Crimson Fleet pirates arrive, and they’ve been on the trail of Barrett.
Interestingly, the objective in the top right “Pick up a Weapon” is listed as optional, suggesting a pacifist path here is optional. On this occasion, however, a shoot-out follows involving the player equipping both a pistol and SMG. A small group of pirates, five or so, are held off thanks to your first taste of gunplay. With the muzzle flares silenced, the exchange of information and valuable objects can finally continue.
Barrett is impressed. He tells you that you’re part of this whole thing now, and you should go on your way to the city of New Atlantis to meet Constellation. A distant objective marker is set on a distant planet, but a smooth flight just isn’t written into the stars. Crimson Fleet Ghosts (an apparent class of fighter ship) appear and a dogfight ensues. One dealt with, we get our first look at Starfield’s galaxy map. We zoom out a couple of times to reveal planets within solar systems within the galaxy as a whole. A grav jump is initiated and looks quite stunning as blue and white fills the screen, swirling around as you make the leap.
We’re then given a very brief tour of the bustling and seemingly sprawling city of New Atlantis. A montage fades between glimpses of coffee shops, gardens, and sci-fi skyscrapers before we’re lead into the much more modest and classy wood decorated surroundings of the Constellation headquarters. You’re welcomed by the explorer group as the demo ends. The adventure has truly begun.
Simon Cardy would like to go to space. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.
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Author: Simon Cardy