It’s fair to say that Starfield is one of the most anticipated games out there and it’s not hard to see why – for all its flaws, Bethesda has built its empire with massive open-world RPGs. There’s a reason games like Skyrim are still popular today: the meticulously crafted worlds and sense of freedom appeal to the imagination. On paper, Starfield seems like a logical conclusion, a game that expands beyond a single planet through the tributaries of space. I thought it would be fun to dive into Bethesda’s show and see what we can get out of the game – from the basics like image quality and performance to the overall approach to technology and design.
Let’s start with the resolution – the trailer is rendered in native 4K resolution but the resolution of the images varies. Interestingly, the gameplay footage seems to lack any kind of refinement, so you get very clean edges with an alias visible everywhere. Conversely, the more cinematic TAA footage is used similarly to Fallout 4, which should be more in line with what we’ll see in the final product.
In addition to mere subtlety, we can get an idea of the development team’s design goals by looking at how Starfield deals with open areas on the planet, interior spaces, character rendering, and finally outer space. atmospheric. For example, in an outdoor scene, we can see that the game has long-range shaders, which is essential to preserve distant details. This is one of the main issues we’ve identified with Halo Infinite and it’s great to see that Starfield has a solution in place.
Starfield also seems to have a system that displays local fog volume in canyon fissures, which looks pretty cool. Overall, the atmospheric render looks reasonably robust from what we can see in this demo. What I don’t quite understand yet is the sky system – it looks very promising, but given the low bitrate of the trailers we had to look at, it’s hard to say if we’re looking at a volumetric sky system appropriate or a simple sky dome. Either way, it produces attractive results – just see how dynamic it will be in the endgame.
Everything is then tied together by the terrain system – it’s possible that planet surfaces and structures will be built using a combination of procedural generation and hand-placed assets, which is a common approach these days. The terrain that presents itself is similar to previous Bethesda games, but the popup is kept to a minimum and the details are clear from afar. While it’s attractive, the display features push no boundaries, which is understandable given the game’s large size and long development time.
Inside, things are different – widespread shades, once muted and grainy on the outside, are now clearly defined inside. This section evokes a vibe not unlike Doom 3, with direct lights cutting through the darkness as reflections play off surfaces. Compared to Fallout 4, the jump in accuracy is significant, as this game features rudimentary interior lighting and a noticeable lack of texture and object detail.
This brings up an interesting omission – the lack of reflections. In the original trailer, we noticed almost RT-like reflections, but in every gameplay footage, there is no evidence of screen-space reflections, let alone RT reflections. At best, we see basic cubic maps. For a flush setup with metal surfaces, this looks a bit odd, and the screen space reflections will go a long way to improving the overall cohesion of the image.
There are also a lot of positive elements here. Weapons, for example, look great. I’ve never been a fan of Fallout 4’s designs – the models and animations left me cold – but Starfield offers some sleek and powerful weapons. Enemy animations are generally better too. As an RPG, you still feel like you’re draining the lifebar more than directly dealing damage, but the reactions are vastly improved. The only thing missing is motion blur for every object on weapons and enemies.
Character rendering has also improved dramatically since Fallout 4, especially when looking past the character creation screens and instead focusing on how the game actually looks. scenes, can make things even better, showing precisely how light interacts with the surface of the skin. It’s on the ears in the shots we’ve seen, but it doesn’t apply to the rest of the skin that highlights the regular cards. Additionally, the geometry of the tear duct is so luminous, catching the lights that it almost appears to glow. On top of those minor points, there’s a huge boost to animation quality. Conversations in Fallout 4 featured harsh and even ugly animations, while Starfield looks sleeker in comparison.
Starfield’s latest major setting is outer space, and while we’re only looking briefly, effects like explosions and laser blasts show promise – certainly a step up from the low-res smoke during landing on a planet. The big question I ask about space travel isn’t about the visuals but rather about the possibilities – I’d like to see ship management play a part in travel. Imagine rising from the captain’s chair to explore a ship, while managing both resources and systems. I think it could make interplanetary travel more appealing and challenging. It is unclear whether or not this is an option, or whether the player simply “become” the ship in flight.
A few other technical criticisms of note as well are the game’s indirect lighting. This has become a major focus in recent years and is key to rendering realistic – simulating the phenomenon of photons bouncing off one surface and indirectly illuminating another area. The problem now is that areas that aren’t directly lit in the Starfield show a uniform gray that doesn’t match the lighting results you expect. Ray-traced global illumination would do well here, but it comes at a high performance cost. The cooked solution can also work offline using probes, but with so many planets the GI data is likely to be quite large. This is a difficult problem to solve when building a game of this size.
Then there is performance. Our trailers are encoded in a 30 fps container, which limits the amount of analysis we can perform. However, there still seem to be some issues worth noting, which is that all gameplay footage exhibits significant performance issues and regularly drops below 30fps. That’s not unusual for a game at this stage of development, but Bethesda’s wildly variable launch performance record on console gives me pause. This is the presentation’s most noticeable flaw and hopefully performance will improve at launch, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The other thing I’m interested in is cities – in previous versions of Bethesda, large cities were usually divided by loading screens while smaller cities were transparent. Can you land on a planet and travel to a major city without loading screens? I hope we will find out soon.
However, while I nitpick, Starfield is still shaping up to be Bethesda’s most engaging game to date – most of the ugly parts that plagued Fallouts 4 and 76 have been removed and left with beautiful environments to explore. in place. Starfield also boasts structures and size unlike anything they have built in the past. The whole “1,000 planets” feature seemed silly at first, but you can imagine the major planets were carefully constructed and designed when they could rely more on procedural generation to handle the rest. If the game structure properly supports this, it could be great. Even if you’re a pretty exhausted person in open-world games, I’m very fascinated by Starfield.
All of this means that Starfield will be a tough game to analyze when it releases next year – but I’m looking forward to the challenge.