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HomeNews‘Light No Fire’ And Why ‘Starfield’ Should Have Had Ten Planets

‘Light No Fire’ And Why ‘Starfield’ Should Have Had Ten Planets

Digging through the relative mess that was The Game Awards this year, there was a specifically noteworthy debut from Hello Games. That would be Light No Fire, a game that uses core tech and features of No Man’s Sky for a new experience, shrunk down into a single, procedural earth that can be explored, populated, conquered or simply survived.

It’s another ambitious project from Hello Games which originally tried to make an infinite universe with No Man’s Sky, overpromised that a bit, and then spent most of a decade adding systems on to it to make it much better. Now, even though one planet is “smaller scale,” the amount of detail may even be more intense, judging by what we’ve seen, and the goal is to make a planet full of unexpected adventures channeling the best “settled” planets of No Man’s Sky.

I find this an interesting intersection with Starfield, something that No Man’s Sky has always been compared to since we first learned Bethesda was sending us to 1,000 different planets in 100 star systems to explore. And yesterday, YouTuber NakeyJakey released a rare video focused on Starfield specifically, and how he believed that it further reinforced how dated Bethesda’s game design is in 2023. And how it’s been that way for a decade.

Even as someone who liked Starfield quite a lot, it’s interesting to watch his video and consider his points, many of which I agree with. Fundamentally, one the things he’s the most right about is how exploration has changed. While large hub worlds are detailed and unique (though still full of loading screens), when you get out to “explore” planets, you have lost something games like Fallout or Skyrim had, the idea that you may be journeying toward a main quest by get sidetracked by random encounters or other adventures along the way.

This just…doesn’t happen the same way in Starfield. Most missions will set your ship down and march you straight toward a point in the horizon. If you’re lucky (10% of the time) you will be on a planet with wildlife. Then maybe 10% of that, they’ll be cool wildlife that actually wants to fight you.

If there are “distractions” here, it’s things like enemy bases or abandoned outposts getting pinged on your radar. And while there are a number of unique layouts to these they…do have their limits. Near the end of the game, you could essentially memorize them right down to where the final boss and chest would be standing. There were very, very few deviations from this throughout the game. No random dragon attacks, no mystery caves leading to some sort of grand off-road adventure.

The problem here is scale, and how bigger is not always better. Bethesda went for “realism” here to a certain extent, where your starship in this universe can travel to 100 star systems and 1000 planets and 900 of those planets will have close to nothing on them of relevance. And half the planets with life may not have more than some bugs, palm trees and beaches. The cool “alien artifact” moons or planets seem like they should be fascinating to explore, but they are instead just a few metal structures and one minigame the game makes you play 40 times a playthrough.

It feels like in trying to chase after No Man’s Sky and its infinite, procedural generation, Bethesda lost something on the exploration side. Now, seeing what Light No Fire is planning to do with a single, sprawling planet, I do wonder if Bethesda would have been better off making ten much more detailed, interesting planets to explore rather than 900 dead planets and pirate space bases and 100 alive planets with alien wildlife and…pirate space bases. Something to channel the one thing that, despite janky controls (which Starfield mostly improves!) and stiff dialogue (which it doesn’t), the exploration and sense of adventure that its past games projected that in many ways, is absent here. Or at least it can wear off quickly past the first dozen planets you may find. Sometimes, you’ll fall down a very fun rabbit hole, but I can understand why many players did not. With such a big universe a lot of that simply comes down to…lucky, and that’s not great game design.

While I still enjoyed my time with Starfield, it’s easy to see many ways it could have been better. And I agree with Jake that this is one of them. I am very curious to see what Light No Fire may do running in the opposite direction from here.

Follow me on Twitter, Threads, YouTube, and Instagram.

Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.

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