One Starfield Feature Revives the Glorious Weirdness Early 2000s Bethesda
Keep RPGs weird.
It’s my firm belief that RPGs are better when they’re a little broken. When you’re set loose to build a character any way you want and explore a massive world, finding ways to make yourself undefeatable or stumble into impossible situations just makes the freedom seem a little more real.
Maybe that’s why Starfield’s on-rails design is so much less appealing to me than the wildness of Bethesda’s earlier Morrowind. But some players have found that a little of this old unpredictable spirit made its way into the new sci-fi RPG.
First spotted by Game Rant, users on the Starfield subreddit are sharing stories of an unintended consequence of the Gymnastics skill. In a thread posted by WardenWolf, several players say they’ve upgraded the skill to its max level, only to find that they can now jump so high that landing causes major fall damage. As some in the thread point out, it feels like an unintentional nod to one of Morrowind’s most entertaining quirks.
In Morrowind, both your jump distance and fall damage are determined by your Acrobatics skill, so you can never jump so high that you take damage. That is, unless you happen to use a Jump spell, which lets you jump higher without increasing your Acrobatics, or you use an Acrobatics-boosting spell that wears off before you hit the ground. The most famous example is the Scroll of Icarian Flight, which grants a 1000-point Acrobatics boost for just seven seconds, almost guaranteeing that it will wear off well before you land.
That may seem like an oversight, but there’s a good reason fans remember this little quirk fondly instead of treating it like a bug. Bethesda’s open-world RPGs are all about exploring strange worlds full of fantastical magic, mutated creatures, and alien technology. Morrowind embraces its strange side, while Starfield for the most part tries to tamp it down.
Where Morrowind’s ankle-snapping jumps fit snugly in its overall design, which emphasizes players’ freedom to go hog wild with magic, the Gymnastics quirk in Starfield feels out of place. It’s not that you shouldn’t have the ability to injure yourself with jump-based hubris, it’s that the whole game would be better off if you could fiddle with your stats so much it actually hurt you beyond the one edge case.
In theory, Starfield is a game all about that kind of freedom. Once you’re finished with its dreadfully dull tutorial section, Starfield removes the kind of guardrails you’d expect in a more narrative-focused RPG. You’re able to complete your mission with the spacefaring nerds of Constellation, join up with corporate goons, or throw your lot in with dastardly space pirates. The galaxy has a ludicrous number of planets to explore. But despite all that, it’s as predictable a space adventure as you’ve ever seen.
Starfield is only weird in the margins. Where Morrowind’s magic crafting lets you tear the game open any way you want, Starfield’s most satisfyingly busted systems, like ship-building, feel like an island of creativity in an ocean of drudgery.
It’s no mystery why Bethesda has taken a safer path for Starfield. From Skyrim to Fallout 4, all of its franchises have seen their rough edges sanded off, and players still flock to them. Bethesda says Starfield was its biggest launch in history, getting 6 million players aboard on launch day, so clearly not everyone is turned off by a more streamlined RPG.
Old-school scolds like me might long to return to the weird old days, but like any AAA publisher, Bethesda aims for mass appeal. If you want that sicko stuff, you’ve got to turn to games like the Morrowind-inspired Dread Delusion. But while the indie scene will always be there to keep things strange, I can’t help but feel that something is lost by making the AAA space a realm of mostly smooth edges and player-friendly design. Just once, I’d like to pick up the game everyone’s talking about at the moment and think, “I can’t believe they got away with this.”