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Starfield Review

(Image from Steam Game Page)

It’s reasonable to say that Starfield is one of the most anticipated games out there, and it’s easy to understand why: Bethesda, for all of its shortcomings, has built its empire on fantastic open world RPGs. There’s a reason why games like Skyrim remain so popular: beautifully created environments and a sense of freedom can captivate the imagination. On paper, Starfield appears to be a natural extension of the studio’s previous work – a game that transcends one planet and encompasses all of space.

Let’s start with the rendering resolution: the trailer is shown in native 4K resolution, however the quality of the photos varies. Interestingly, the gaming sections appear to be devoid of anti-aliasing, resulting in sharp edges with noticeable aliasing. The more cinematic shots, on the other hand, utilise TAA in a manner akin to Fallout 4. And it’s probably closer to the version we’ll see at launch. Aside from resolution, we may get a sense of the design ambitions of the dev team by looking at how Starfield handles open regions on the planet, interiors, character depiction, and lastly outer space. In an outdoor picture, for example, you can see that even things far away from the character are tinted, which is vital for keeping features in the distance. This is one of the major concerns we’ve noticed with Halo Infinite, and it’s encouraging to see that Starfield has a plan in place to address it. Starfield appears to feature a system that shows local fog in valley fissures, which looks fantastic. Overall, weather-related rendering appears to be rather solid. I’m not sure about the sky yet – it appears to be extremely promising, but owing to the trailer’s low bitrate video, it’s difficult to determine if we’re dealing with volumetric clouds or simply a normal sky dome. Regardless, we have some intriguing outcomes here; the only question is how dynamic they will be in the final game. The planetary surfaces and buildings were most likely generated using a combination of procedural generation and manually placed resources, as is usual today. While this is appealing, the depiction does not push the limits of what is possible in gaming visuals, which is acceptable considering the game’s huge scope and lengthy development period.

The scenario is different within buildings, as large-scale shadows that were low-quality and grainy on the outside become distinct. As direct light pierces through the darkness and reflections dance on numerous surfaces, this part generates an atmosphere reminiscent to Doom 3. The improvement in quality over Fallout 4 is notable, since that game featured rudimentary interior lighting and notably poorer quality textures and object detail. However, it is difficult not to notice the absence of one particular aspect – reflections. We observed practically ray-traced reflections in the initial teaser, but there are no screen-space reflections, much alone RT reflections, in gameplay. We only see simple cube maps at best. This looks unusual in a setting full of metallic objects, and the reflections in the screen space would substantially improve the overall coherence of the image. There are numerous positive aspects here as well. The gun is stunning. I was never a fan of the Fallout 4 designs since the visuals and animations sickened me, but Starfield delivers weapons that are both attractive and powerful. Enemy animations are also much improved. Because it’s an RPG, it still seems like you’re reducing your health bar more than inflicting damage, but the answers are much better. The only thing that is lacking is motion blur for specific weapons and foes.

(Image from Steam Game Page)

Character rendering has also improved greatly since Fallout 4, particularly when compared to their real in-game appearance. Subsurface scattering, which is absent in all scenarios, might improve the situation further by correctly mapping the interaction of light with the skin’s surface. It is visible on the ears but not on the rest of the skin in the video. Also, the tear duct geometry is a little too bright, taking up light to the point of practically gleaming. The animation quality has greatly increased. Conversations in Fallout 4 were typified by stiff, even ugly animations, but they appear far more graceful in Starfield. While we’ve only had a quick glimpse, the effects like laser bursts and explosions look impressive – they surely beat the low-resolution haze of a planet landing. The most pressing issue I have regarding space travel is not so much about the aesthetics as it is about the capabilities – I would want to be able to operate the spacecraft while going. Consider ascending from the captain’s chair to explore a ship while managing resources and systems. It would, in my opinion, make interplanetary travel more interesting and hard. It is unclear whether this is feasible or whether the player just “becomes a ship” when flying. The current issue is that places of Starfield that are not directly lighted have a uniform grey tint that does not match the intended lighting effects. In this situation, ray-traced global lighting would work nicely, but at a hefty performance penalty. The makers may also permanently “burn” the lighting to each location, but with so many planets, the data connected to global illumination would most likely be too huge.

Then there’s the issue of efficiency. The trailer clip has been locked at 30 frames per second, restricting the breadth of our study. However, there are certain concerns worth mentioning, such as the fact that all portions of the game experience large fluctuations in performance and frequently go below 30 FPS. This isn’t unprecedented for a game at this level of development, but Bethesda’s history of having different performance issues at console launch is something to keep an eye on. This is the most noticeable flaw in the presentation, and I’m hoping that it improves before the launch, but we’ll have to wait and see. Another intriguing component is the cities – in past Bethesda games, larger cities were normally separated by loading screens, whilst smaller ones were accessed effortlessly. Is it feasible to arrive on a planet and go to a large metropolis without encountering any loading screens? I’m hoping we’ll find out shortly. While we have some qualms, Starfield appears to be Bethesda’s most intriguing game to date. The news of 1000 planets looked absurd at first, but you can assume that the main planets were meticulously constructed by hand, while the rest was primarily generated procedurally. It may be an interesting experience if the gaming structure supports it appropriately. Even though I’m sick of open world games, Starfield has piqued my interest.

(Image from Steam Game Page)

When it comes out next year, Starfield will be a difficult game to decipher, but I’m already looking forward to the challenge.

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