Warning: this post may contain spoilers
Minor Starfield lore spoiler's ahead
Originally written for /r/games, but the last discussion thread of Starfield in that place saw many user who said they personally like the game downvoted and replied to by mentally-questionable individuals that said not-so-nice things.
As I pass 170 hours in Bethesda newest, hottest, controversial game. I am happy because it is just as fun as I had hoped it to be.
Yet as I explore the cities it has to offer there is always a small detail that I keep failing to ignore (whenever I'm not busy thinking of new ship designs that is).
200,000 units are ready with a million more on the way
So say the slender being that has been tasked with creating an army to defend a galactic spanning government of countless worlds. At this point Montgomery, Zhukov, MacArthur, Jodl, or any-other-WW2-command-figure-of-your-choosing are rolling on the ground clapping each other's backs laughing their socks off. Because 1.2 million is an absolutely puny and pathetic number of troops for a galactic war.
I'm no Star Wars deep lore fan, I understand that fans and later authors has since tried to 'fix it' by making the Clone War more that just the clones. And yet those 1.2M clones was all there was when episode 2 released to theatres.
Most Sci-fi writings has similar a problem with scaling to their subject. It is not news. It even has a tv tropes page (the page is more about distances, but it's in the same ballpark).
Quest for the Peoplefield
So where does Starfield go wrong in this? The ships are puny. The wars and the numbers stated are puny.
Certainty more ways than one, but the one that I wish to focus on is this: where the hell are all the people?
A brief summary of the lore. Humanity has invented FTL and has seemingly solved all energy problems. They had to evacuate Earth, but this was successful and so the starfield should be absolutely teeming with tens of billions of human souls spreading to all corners of the galaxy and its many already habitable worlds.
And yet, Starfield feels so barren. I see no grand interstellar civilizations. Only dirt huts on a hill surrounded by walls that support barely a thousand people. Yet this dirt hill is supposed to be a capital or an interstellar superpower. Heck, they are even scared shitless of their own fauna.
The opposites capital is no dirt hill, yet still smaller than a modern earth country town.
And it's not like the main population centers are just outside player-accessible areas. All the NPCs ever talk about are Akila, New Atlantis, and Neon. These tiny puny cities.
It doesn't feel like the evacuation of Earth was a success. It feels like it was a catastrophe, and all that remains are scattered remnants playing civilization.
And yet... The Starfield is actually lively, just not where it should be. There is a scale imbalance, because spread across nearly every world in the settled systems are countless research stations, outposts, deserted or populated, you name it.
Yes, those procedually-generated buildings that spawn nearly everywhere you land in the settled systems.
Where did these come from? Surely the UC couldn't have built them. Manning just the ones that I have come across in my playthrough would empty New Atlantis 10 times over!
Bethesda built their open-world game style upon Fallout and Elder Scrolls. For both it makes sense that the worlds are sparely populated. One being post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the other a medieval society.
But now they have built something in a completely different realm. But they way in which Bethesda built the scale at which the game is presented remains the same.
So why did they go with this approach? I don't know. Maybe they just like making "small" worlds and didn't want to fit the new universe. Maybe the idea of 'climbing any mountain you can see' is a very hard rule and they didn't want to limit player movement in metropolises, that would undoubtedly be unfeasible to make fully traversable.
But lets pretend they actually tried. And perhaps it can be done without really changing how the game is designed or played.
So you can do it better huh?
A Microsoft executive plays the game as it's nearing launch. He feels there is something missing with the scale of the Starfield universe.
So he does the only rational thing he can think of and storms into the street and picks the first rando he can find, puts the Bethesda crown upon his head, and orders him to fix Starfield's problem of scale.
The exec is later found to be mentally ill and fired, but it does not matter for I am now king of Bethesda and my words are design directives.
Tell, don't show
The simple solution that requires no real work but some change in lore. New Atlantis is no longer a capital, just a administrative and diplomatic outpost. Akila is now just a small border city. The real population centers are now on entirely different worlds. Inaccessible to the player.
Why can't players go there? Well it shouldn't take much suspension of disbelief to acknowledge that governments might not want any random idiot, in a flying hunk of metal capable of tearing space-time at it seams, to go anywhere near their main population centers without considerable control.
NPCs should no longer talk of sprawling New Atlantis, Neon, or Akila, but rather these other places that you can see on the map but are not allowed to go to.
The population planets are now accessible, but restricted in where you can land freely. On the map it should show big cities. And just like how you cannot land in water, you can neither land anywhere in cities or its surroundings.
Just like with New Atlantis and Akila, you can land at a designated spot. The difference is when you look into the horizon, because rather than a procedurally generated landscape you will instead see a sprawling metropolis that tells you "Yes here! Here are all the people!".
The other change would be that, unlike the landscape, if you try to go beyond the player-area of the city you will hit a wall. But that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.
New Atlantis and Akila can stay, but like the other solution they would change status.
All in all the scale issue is no big problem and the game is fine as it is. This was just something that has been on mind for some time and I wanted to put it to writing. So do you agree that Starfield has a scale problem? If yes, how would you fix it? Or maybe I missed some crucial info-dump and the entire premise of this writing is wrong?