Bethesda’s Starfield taps into our primal instinct to progress, to envision the future, and to explore the profound insignificance of our existence amidst the vast wonders of the universe. In my view, Bethesda, known for crafting extraordinary fantasy and post-apocalyptic realms, has taken the perfect next step by venturing into the uncharted territory of space. Starfield transports us to a distinctive space odyssey with its “NASA-punk” aesthetics, drawing inspiration from humanity’s actual history of space exploration, and offers a seemingly plausible vision of a future where humans thrive among the stars.
In essence, Starfield aims to fulfill players’ most extravagant space-faring fantasies—the irresistible dreams of soaring through zero gravity, exploring cosmic frontiers, and living life on their own terms. My character, Quinlan Vos, stands as the universe’s preeminent bounty hunter, equipped with unparalleled combat skills whether battling on planetary surfaces or navigating the cosmos aboard his ship, Vermithor. Quinlan never embarks on a mission without his trusty boost pack, Grendel ballistic rifle, and Equinox laser rifle, firmly believing that preparation and the right tools are the keys to success.
As I delve into Starfield, one issue looms large for many players: the game’s limited accessibility settings. This concern was shared by the accessibility community in the lead-up to Starfield’s release, as promotional materials, interviews with Bethesda’s Todd Howard, and pre-release information did little to address accessibility. Unfortunately, our apprehensions regarding accessibility have proven valid.
Accessible design is fundamentally about providing disabled gamers with the tools to customize gameplay to suit their abilities, and it requires early consideration. Incorporating accessible design principles necessitates a deep understanding of gameplay mechanics and their adaptability to accommodate as many players as possible.
From the outset, I noticed that Starfield’s user interface is counterintuitive, with cluttered menus lacking essential information. For instance, when acquiring new loot or weapons, item details don’t appear automatically, forcing players to access the inventory menu to make informed decisions about their newly acquired items. Navigating menus is a significant aspect of Starfield, from managing inventory and ammunition to fast travel and reviewing quest logs. Unfortunately, it often proves frustrating and confusing.
Moreover, combat presents its own challenges. The Fallout series introduced the innovative VATS targeting system, allowing players to pause time and target specific body parts or elements of the environment while shooting. VATS enriched the gaming experience and made it inclusive, particularly for disabled players who might struggle with real-time combat precision. Regrettably, Starfield does not incorporate VATS or a similar system. Consequently, its fast-paced combat, coupled with the added verticality and mobility options provided by the boost pack, poses a formidable challenge for many players.
Starfield offers players extensive choices to shape their ideal character, from backgrounds and personality traits to skill proficiencies. However, this level of customization does not extend to the game’s accessibility menu. It is ironic that a game depicting the future of humanity adheres to outdated principles of design. It is disappointing that a studio under the Microsoft umbrella, like Bethesda, would release a major title with accessibility features reminiscent of a decade ago. Microsoft and Xbox have made substantial strides in advancing accessibility in recent years, emphasizing the importance of inclusive design. In this context, Starfield falls woefully short.
What does Starfield’s accessibility settings encompass?
The game offers complete button remapping, adjustable difficulty levels, sensitivity sliders, and the option to toggle iron sights. These features assist players who struggle with simultaneous button presses or need to customize button placements to accommodate their abilities. However, the default control scheme does not align with principles of accessible design. Full control remapping is insufficient if the default controls are already the most practical option, and even then, it does not adequately address accessibility concerns. For example, remapping shooting, aiming, grenade throwing, or scanning to face buttons leaves players unable to control the reticle simultaneously for precise aiming. This can be particularly fatiguing, especially in a first-person shooter, where actions like sprinting and melee rely on stick clicks—actions that many disabled gamers find challenging to perform. With numerous actions to map, there will always be actions that remain inaccessible and require mapping to stick clicks.
The most glaring issue with the controls is the frequent use of the D-pad. During intense gunfights, swiftly switching weapons without risking death proves challenging, discouraging players from exploring the wide array of laser, ballistic, and energy weapons at their disposal. While you can change weapons via the pause menu, it disrupts immersion. This frustration escalates during ship-to-ship combat, where the D-pad is essential for managing different ship systems, with left and right cycling through six systems and up and down adjusting power levels. Providing an alternative control method for these systems could transform spaceflight and ship-to-ship battles from stressful ordeals into thrilling experiences.
For me, Starfield stands as a magnificent game with a captivating universe to explore, intriguing characters to encounter, an addictive ship-building mechanic to immerse in, and visually stunning cities to investigate. This level of immersion is precisely what makes Bethesda’s games eagerly anticipated. However, without crucial accessibility enhancements, many players will be denied the opportunity to enjoy Starfield.
In the future, Bethesda must learn from the accessibility shortcomings of Starfield and incorporate improved design practices, aligning with the exemplary work of Microsoft and Xbox developers in creating innovative and inclusive games. Let us hope that The Elder Scrolls 6 will mark a significant leap in accessibility for Bethesda games.
Meanwhile, as I await that day, Quinlan Vos will persist in his role as a bounty hunter, navigating the cosmos aboard Vermithor, engaging in thrilling battles, researching alien fauna, and, above all, accumulating credits.