Digging deeper into the relative mess that was this year’s Game Awards, there was one specifically noteworthy debut from Hello Games. That would be Light No Fire, a game that uses core technology and features from No Man’s Sky for a new experience, stripped down to a single procedural land that can be explored, populated, conquered, or simply survived.
It’s another ambitious project from Hello Games that originally tried to create an infinite universe with No Man’s Sky, overpromised it, and then spent the better part of a decade adding systems to make it much better. Now, even if a planet is “smaller scale”, the amount of detail can even be more intense, judging from what we have seen, and the objective is to create a planet full of unexpected adventures by channeling the best “settled” planets of No man’s heaven.
I find this to be an interesting intersection with Starfield, something that No Man’s Sky has always been compared to since we first learned that Bethesda was sending us to 1,000 different planets in 100 star systems to explore. And yesterday, YouTuber NakeyJakey released a rare video focused specifically on Starfield, and how he believed 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 really liked Starfield, it’s interesting to watch his video and consider his points, many of which I agree with. Fundamentally, one of the things he is most right about is how exploration has changed. While the big hub worlds are detailed and unique (although still full of loading screens), when you go out to “explore” planets, you lose something that games like Fallout or Skyrim had: the idea that you may be traveling towards a main quest. by Allow yourself to be distracted by random encounters or other adventures along the way.
This just… doesn’t happen the same way in Starfield. Most missions will leave your ship on the ground and take you directly to a point on the horizon. If you’re lucky (10% of the time) you’ll be on a planet with wildlife. So maybe 10% of that, will be cool wild animals that actually want to fight you.
If there are “distractions” here, it’s things like enemy bases or abandoned outposts that show up on your radar. And while there are a number of unique designs for these…they have their limits. Near the end of the game you could basically memorize them up to where the final boss and chest would be. There were very, very few deviations from this throughout the game. No random dragon attacks, no mysterious caves leading to some kind of grand off-road adventure.
The problem here is scale, and bigger is not always better. Bethesda went for “realism” to a certain extent, where his starship in this universe can traveling to 100 star systems and 1000 planets and 900 of those planets will have almost no relevance. And it’s possible that half of the planets with life have nothing more than a few bugs, palm trees, and beaches. The cool “alien artifacts” moons or planets look fascinating to explore, but instead they’re just a few metal structures and a minigame that the game makes you play 40 times per match.
It feels like in trying to pursue No Man’s Sky and its infinite procedural generation, Bethesda lost something on the exploration side. Now, seeing what Light No Fire plans to do with a single sprawling planet, I wonder if Bethesda would have been better off creating ten much more detailed and interesting planets to explore instead of 900 dead planets and pirate space bases and 100 live ones. planets with extraterrestrial wildlife and… pirate space bases. Something to channel the only thing that, despite the wacky controls (which Starfield greatly improves!) and stiff dialogue (which it doesn’t), is the exploration and sense of adventure that its previous games projected and that in many senses, is absent here. Or at least it can quickly disappear after the first dozen planets you can find. Sometimes you’ll fall down a very fun rabbit hole, but I can understand why many players didn’t. With a universe this big, a lot of it just comes down to… luck, 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’m really curious to see what Light No Fire can do running in the opposite direction from here.
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