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Starfield ship combat is MechWarrior meets FTL, says Todd Howard

Starfield, Bethesda’s upcoming, open-world RPG, will feature spaceship combat inspired by the strategy hit Faster Than Light, and 90s PC classic MechWarrior

A spaceship approaching a large space station in Starfield

Starfield, the upcoming open-world game from Bethesda, will feature combat that’s inspired by the independent strategy hit Faster Than Light, and beloved PC classic MechWarrior, according to a recent interview with game director Todd Howard.

Speaking to IGN, Howard references the fact that, as well as customising your ship in terms of abilities and appearance, you will also have to manage its weapons systems and power output, ensuring not to overload, or neglect to maintain, its various components – just like FTL.

“Your ship has different power systems,” explains Howard. “That’s a little bit of FTL there in terms of deciding how much power to put into the three different weapon systems. Then you’ve got your engines, shields, and grav drive, which is what lets you jump or escape out of certain situations.”

On close analysis of Starfield’s ship building, the three weapons systems that Howard refers to appear to be laser weapons, ballistics such as bullets or bombs, and target-seeking missiles. The ships are then further broken down into the engine, the shield, and the gravity drive components, with each one drawing different levels of power from your main reactor. You can also add different modules – living spaces, landers that help you safely touch down on rough terrain, additional shields, and extra power generators – though these do not seem to draw on the ship’s overall output, and likely won’t have to be as painstakingly managed as the weapons and engines.

As well as designing and perfecting your ship, Howard also discusses how it will perform in combat, describing how Bethesda and the Starfield team are taking inspiration from a rather surprising source – the classic PC series MechWarrior.

“There is some dogfighting, but we keep the pace fairly slow,” Howard explains. “One of the games I love that we look at for pace is MechWarrior. That’s a little bit slower, but in terms of the systems, power, and being able to line things up, [Starfield] is a little bit faster than that, as opposed to a twitchy dogfighter.”

Beginning with the Activision-published first game in 1989, the MechWarrior series is renowned for its deliberately paced, slow and heavy combat. Simply turning your mech suit and lining up a target is an immense challenge in itself – scoring a kill feels very hard-earned.

Although some of the limits to your ship’s maneuverability could be a little frustrating, if this is the approach that Bethesda is taking to the combat in Starfield, it has the potential to be more complex, more cerebral, and more satisfying than a straightforward game of quick reflexes. Either way, it’s good to see the classics still receiving their dues.