Starfield run without planets: Space pirate Mary Reid was born
You may have seen Alice Bee start the “Earth on Every Planet” journey in Bethesda’s Starfield. By complete coincidence – I promise it was a coincidence, I was so happy – I was working on “Plan on no Planets” Run Starfield. The reason behind it is as follows: People say that outer space is the worst part of the game, because it’s just an annoying divider between maps where the majority of missions, loot, plots, etc. are located. It’s a fast-travel loading screen that you can fly around. But what? If you double down on space matters?
What if you never descended from orbit, not even to repair, modify or upgrade your ship and unload inventory? What if, instead of buying or building new ships, you progressed exclusively by boarding other captains and escaping with ship and cargo? How successful is Starfield in emerging as an authentic space slasher inclined towards bloodthirsty piracy? Here to answer these questions is Mary Read, my dedicated and emerging star. She is named after her distant ancestor, the legendary 18th century English pirate Mary Read. She’s had a hard time living on the beach, having recently set foot on Earth’s moon, but from now on, her destiny and fortune rests among the stars. Arrr!
Leaving the commas to roam their mechanical tombs, Luna heads into orbit in the barely upgraded Frontier – the game’s starter ship – and sets out to terrorize the Sol system. My voyage is apparently blessed by the Gods of the Seven Seas, for I immediately stumble upon a drifting Star Parcel freighter off Pluto’s shoulder. The captain of the freighter begs me to assist him in an important delivery, and after persuading them to pay some compensation in advance, I agree. Even while transferring money, I was already circling behind the other ship and unlocking my target computer to perform a surprise attack on their Graviton Engine, my fingers itching in anticipation of the bloody boarding. Haha, that would be like taking candy out of Jenny’s mighty cup of tea!
The cargo ship reacts to the terrifying part of the airway robbery with a barrage of missiles and lasers. It lurched into some sort of attack vector and managed to about blow the “helpless” ship before it chewed through the last percentage point of the hull. Amaze me, Bethesda, what have you been feeding your freighters with? This is not the way things are supposed to be. You’ve played hundreds of space simulation games and everyone knows that cargo ships are harmless – the cute bison of the cosmic wilds, waiting to be pounced on by the snooty cow-flappers of the space pirate community. However, with the Star Parcel reduced to fragments, I am forced to visit other planets in search of prey.
I head to Saturn, and immediately run into difficulties with the Security Forces of the United Colonies. A group of Longsword ships are heading toward my location. One of them commends me and asks them to allow me to accompany them to meet an admiral or some other. Wait, this is not a routine merchandise inspection. It feels like some kind of mission, and who knows, I might end up fast-traveling to some planet if I accept. Good! Weighing my chances against the stylish UC interceptors I decided to cut and run. The UC captains have none of that, and after a few seconds my brave limits are in shambles. By the way, Starfield shuts down fast travel when you’re in combat, so if you suspect an unwinnable air battle is coming, try to beat back fast before any of those webs turn red.
The autosave reloads, the cool Saturn Blade reappears, and I’m once again annihilated by ballistic bullets and lasers, this time without the courtesy of an initial barrage. After several reloads, I concluded that the game had autosaved after the outbreak of hostilities, dooming me to reappear and be kicked indefinitely. God bless you, you’re stuck for the Space Pirate’s Groundhog Day! Well, at least he’s making a blunder in the background while I talk to you about some finer points of cosmic deception.
One of the basic tricks a budding Starfield shooter must master is not to accidentally destroy the ship you’re trying to hijack. My understanding is that I need to use proximity targeting mode (an early conquest technique), then target and disable the victim’s engines, so that she can’t escape when I try to engage her, as well as her engines. Graviton drive, so they can’t get out of the area completely. But to do so without ripping off the other craft proves to be a trivial matter.
This is partly because ships tend to move when you fire missiles at them, so your shots will often hit components you’re not aiming for. Partly because I don’t know. What am I missing? The in-game navigation and scanner HUD screens are very confusing. Each HUD plays some role in securing ships and targeting their systems, but I keep confusing them. In one display, tapping the right stick performs vital hull repairs in the middle of combat. In the other case, the picture mode is turned on. It’s as if my ship was in the hands of two captains, one of whom is trying to be on the cover of Time magazine.
After I went back to the save before UC’s infinite loop of destruction, I experimented with reducing the power of my weapon systems, allowing for more precise ship surgery, but this only results in me being outgunned. After watching Mary Reed be nullified several times, Starfield valiantly attempts to meet me halfway by servicing another civilian ship in need, the UC Econohaul Daring. Are you saying your helmsman hit an asteroid? Why sure, I can help with repairs. Let me put myself behind you so I can move the parts and – oops.
The game also thoughtfully feeds me some factional squabbles where I could, in theory, pick a winner. At one point, I arrive in orbit to discover a battle in progress between the University of California and the Crimson Fleet – my comrades-in-arms, except that real pirates have no loyalties. That’s perfect! I’ll let them get over it, and then they’ll descend on the survivor like Blackbeard’s fury, and you don’t care.
There is nothing to it. I shall have to resort to that most cowardly and dishonorable weapon of adventurer Black Bart – the art of conversation. I’ve read somewhere that you can bully or trick other pilots into letting you snuggle with them, start accepting some yells and dip my toe in some missions, my eyes peeled for the “lower arms and ready to board” option.
First on the list is Dr. Sohla Banglawala, a scientist I met in a debris cloud somewhere, who seems like a proper side character with a multi-stage mission. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had company,” she sighs. I try to flirt my way aboard, but, alas, my crafty overtures are only met with absent-minded requests for lithium and bad jokes about geologists. So I tried to kill her in cold blood, and she escaped into hyperspace. Let’s do this right next time, Dr. Banglawala.
Then I ran into an economical settler. The ship’s captain isn’t important enough to have a name, and the ship is barely armed. But they proved surprisingly feisty when I tried to yell at them to surrender, forcing me to make another attempt at ballistic sabotage, and yes, it blew up. Maybe I should have put more points on social media in the beginning, but then again, I can’t pilot a spaceship with sheer charisma.
Minutes and hours pass by like pieces of a shattered structure. I’ve gained two levels and collected some ship parts by picking up little fry here and there, but my cherished dreams of sneaking through another ship’s airlock with a sword between my teeth are quickly fading away. Am I doomed to continue my marine career harvesting parts from an exploding space truck? My pride has sunk below Davy Jones’ treasury, and I no longer have home planets to roam. We might as well go test the waters in Mercury’s way. he sailed! Well, what do we have here, UC Transpo.
I sincerely move in for the kill, and something happens to me: what if I risked leaving the other ship’s Graviton engine intact, and just focused on nuking their engines, to reduce the chances of inadvertently destroying them? I’ve been operating on the principle that they would jump into hyperspace if given the chance. I mean, that’s what I’m going to do. This is what a sane person would do. But it occurred to me that Bethesda NPCs are not celebrated for being sane.
All right, UC Transpo, let’s get you those engines out – bang bang bang. They go! Now, which HUD mode am I supposed to use again? Wait, was the “Dock” prompt there the whole time? Oh my God, oh my God.
With Yoo Ho Ho and a shotgun, I finally make it aboard another ship, yelling and screaming down the aisles. Avast, you bilge-sucking starplankton! Come back here and take your medicine, Biscuit Sons. Look, please come back. I appreciate that you’re probably delivering teddy bears to an orphanage or something and that you only have one gun to share, but please – put up some sort of fight. I really need this.
Having gleefully butchered so many innocent space truck drivers, I slid behind the steering column of the UC Transpo, blood gushing at my temples, the rum-stained stench of my legendary ancestor whistling in my ears. ship to me! I immediately dismantled my proto-ship and charted a new course to Mars. I’m a real pirate, mom. Now open the Hangar Menu and think of my reward. Oh wow!
It’s a piece of shit!