8 Ways Starfield Sets Itself Apart from No Man’s Sky

Ever since Bethesda unveiled Starfield, excitement has been pulsing through the gaming community about the prospect of a new space exploration game. There was certainly a slew of them being made after No Man’s Sky was first released back in 2016, but despite an inundation of similar games, the hype surrounding Starfield has been palpable.

Still, many fans began drawing connections between Starfield and No Man’s Sky, and the game previews that we’ve been given have only encouraged the comparisons. While the titles are undeniably similar, it’s important to acknowledge that Starfield isn’t just another clone in the genre. In fact, it boldly sets out to carve its own path, offering an experience that is truly distinct and brimming with innovation.

While both games revolve around the awe-inspiring theme of venturing into the depths of space, Starfield takes a step in a different direction by introducing a captivating array of unique roleplay features and gameplay mechanics. So, what sets Starfield apart, exactly? Well, let’s embark on an exploration of the standout qualities that foster a fresh experience.

8. RPG Elements

Starfield Character Creation
The variety of backgrounds and traits makes for all kinds of potential characters.

While No Man’s Sky captures the essence of exploration, Starfield dives deeper into the realm of role-playing. In typical RPG fashion, you get a skill point with every level up that can be used to unlock or upgrade skills. There are five different skill trees, with four ranks in each skill. For example, the xenosociology skill lets you mind-control alien creatures, turning them against your enemies, and the boost pack skill helps gives you an aerial advantage in combat.

This emphasis on role-playing sets Starfield on a different trajectory from the more open-ended approach of No Man’s Sky. Your entire thing in No Man’s Sky is that you don’t really have a past, at least not one that you can remember. Starfield brings forth a much-neglected, much-beloved feature that is absent from many RPGs: character backgrounds. During character creation, which Bethesda claims is their most robust system yet, players will choose from a list of backgrounds that determine their three starting skills and can change how NPCs view and interact with you down the line. Your choice of background can even open up new dialogue paths and avoid certain conflicts.

Beyond backgrounds, Starfield lets you pick up to three traits with varying advantages and disadvantages. Maybe you’d like to have living parents, as long as you’re willing to drop in on them every now and again. For fans of Oblivion, perhaps you’d enjoy the “Biggest Fan” trait, which features a familiar-looking companion who will sing your praises whether you like it or not.

7. Story and Choice

Starfield Beast Hunter
Certain background choices might even open up new dialogue options.

It’s not just your story being told in Starfield: there’s a whole wide galaxy brimming with new stories and locations to discover. Even the procedurally generated planets will feature hand-crafted content and the environmental storytelling that Bethesda is known for. And in a return to their roots, Bethesda has opted for a silent protagonist this go around, likely as a result of the backlash over the simplicity of the dialogue in Fallout 4 resulting from the inclusion of a voiced protagonist.

Meanwhile, the focus of No Man’s Sky has generally favored exploration over the story. In fact, most of the main story quests involve some aspect of exploration and discovery with minimal character interactions after you’ve checked off some boxes. There are a few choices to be made along the way, but their impact is relatively minor. What interactive story there is mainly serves as a tutorial for game mechanics, with the rest of the lore delegated to text entries that you can discover at your leisure. There are fun, memorable characters to meet along the way, but the story is generally going to be the same experience for everyone who plays.

The story of No Man’s Sky has begun to evolve somewhat after the introduction of Expeditions, which are limited-time, themed community events. The tutorial elements are stripped out, and new technology and upgrades are instead unlocked by completing milestones related to the theme of that Expedition. One Expedition had you following a pirate faction known as The Blight in search of a mysterious treasure, and another had you rebuilding an abandoned system for the Utopia Foundation. The story is generally told through interactions with characters both new and old and by uncovering lost text logs, plus whatever personal stories you create with other players. The most recent expedition, Singularity, promises to be narrative-heavy, exploring themes of artificial intelligence, the will to exist, and what it means to be alive. Heavy stuff, and pretty topical!

While No Man’s Sky has expanded its narrative offerings, telling new stories through communal expeditions, Starfield offers a more tailored experience and greater player agency in shaping the direction of the story. In Starfield, players will have the opportunity to navigate a web of factions with their own agendas. By aligning with or opposing these factions, players can define the kind of person they want to be and what kind of galaxy they want to leave behind. This emphasis on player choice and consequence provides a highly personalized narrative experience, distinct from the limited-time, communal storytelling approach found in No Man’s Sky’s expeditions.

6. Weapon Customization

Starfield Weapons
Starfield’s robust weapon customization system will really let you shoot for the stars.

In Starfield, players have the opportunity to unleash their creativity through extensive weapon customization. They can modify their arsenal to match their playstyle with attachments like scopes, magazines, and barrels. Each attachment will have an outwards effect on the appearance of the weapon being modified, a feature notably absent from No Man’s Sky.

Weapons are split into three categories: ballistic, energy, and mag weapons. There will be various ammunition types available, such as explosive and whitehot rounds. Starfield’s RPG elements will play a big role here, as well, with different skills available that improve the damage and effectiveness of specific weapon types.

You definitely don’t get the same level of customization in No Man’s Sky. You can modify the way your multitool fires, such as adding a beam laser or grenade launcher, but there’s no way to customize its outward appearance. If you want your multitool to look different, you have to go searching for another one.

5. Dynamic Combat

Starfield Combat
No Man’s Sky veterans will certainly feel right at home using the boost pack.

It’s safe to say that combat isn’t exactly the focus in No Man’s Sky (although, the Sentinel update added some much-needed variety). You really only fight robotic sentinels and alien creatures, whose presence tends to be more of an inconvenience than a challenge- a momentary diversion from exploration.

On the other hand, you’ll face all kinds of different factions in Starfield, from pirates, to cultists, and mercenaries, to name a few. How you take them down will largely depend on your build, but you’ll certainly have plenty of ways to customize your weapons and abilities to improve your lethality.

Where you fight is almost as important as what you fight. Most of the combat in No Man’s Sky takes place out in the open, with very little in the way of cover beside the occasional rock and tree. It makes fights pretty forgettable, to be honest, with no distinctive layouts or landmarks to navigate. Starfield will take you to all kinds of locations, shooting your way through urban sprawl, military outposts, and even zero-gravity locales.

Zero gravity combat opens up all sorts of tactical avenues, as well as certain drawbacks. Ballistic weapons, for instance, will push you backward in zero gravity, whereas energy and mag weapons will not. Players with a boost pack will almost certainly thrive in zero gravity environments, and who knows how else other abilities will interact with the world in the absence of gravity.

4. Shipbuilding and Customization

Starfield Ships
The modular nature of shipbuilding gives you plenty of creative freedom.

Starfield takes ship ownership to new heights by allowing players to build their own ships from scratch. With different modules, like habitation units and grav drives, plus variations of each from different manufacturers, there are bound to be countless ways to customize a ship to fit your playstyle. It’s not just the exterior either; different manufacturer modules will have varying interiors with different utilities like craft benches and trophy displays.

Finding specific ships is a bit trickier in No Man’s Sky since it comes down to a combination of luck and perseverance. Each system you explore will have different variations of procedurally generated ships in different classes like hauler, explorer, and fighter, which you can only buy from NPC pilots who’ve landed nearby. The color you get is the color you’re stuck with, and the only way to change the look of your ship after the fact is to go find another one. You can install different technology modules that affect the speed, maneuverability, and defense of your ship, but like weapon customization, it is rather linear and has little-to-no cosmetic effect.

All you need to do in Starfield to get a new ship is take a trip to the spaceport. There, you can customize everything from the color to the cowling, fine-tuning the ship of your dreams. This comprehensive shipbuilding mechanic offers players unparalleled control and personalization, no longer consigned to spending hours sitting in a space station or trading post waiting for the perfect ship to arrive.

3. Spaceflight and Exploration

Starfield Spaceflight
Seems like space combat is going to be a delicate balancing act.

While No Man’s Sky has certainly expanded on spaceflight in several of the free updates since the game’s release, you’re rather limited in what you’re able to do from the cockpit of your ship. While there is actually a lot to encounter out in space, from various anomalies, resources, pirates, and NPCs, your options are generally limited to a few choices in each encounter, and they start to repeat or otherwise feel the same after a while.

Starfield takes things a step further, giving players more in-depth control in each situation. After defeating an enemy ship, for example, you’re able to board it. Whether you’re boarding a pirate aggressor or engaging in a little piracy of your own, you can even hijack the ship in question and add it to your fleet after defeating its crew.

The minute-to-minute of space flight is more complex, as well. There is a power allocation system, divided between weapons (laser, ballistic, and missile), engines, shields, and the grav drive. Your ship is basically another character, especially when you consider that there are several ship-specific skills like targeting subsystems that add further nuance to space combat.

Not every encounter needs to be combative, though. You’ll stumble upon chance encounters with people just looking to share a meal, or even stranded survivors that you can rescue and add to your crew. What really sets Starfield apart in this regard is the feeling of not knowing what you’re going to get whenever you go somewhere new.

2. Realism and Immersion

Starfield Lighting
The real-time lighting effects give the game almost a cinematic feel.

Whereas No Man’s Sky is a universe containing all kinds of fantastical, high sci-fi elements, including space whales and interdimensional galactic sentinels, Bethesda has said they want Starfield to remain grounded in reality. With a self-prescribed “nasapunk” aesthetic, the technology in Starfield is focused on rugged functionality instead of sleek and streamlined sci-fi elements.

More than just making tech believable, Starfield strives for cosmological accuracy. The planets follow proper revolutions around their respective stars, whose light filters through the planetary atmosphere in real time based on the type of star and atmosphere. Bethesda is also introducing planets with variable gravity, as opposed to the binary gravity system in No Man’s Sky that features only normal and low gravity options.

This level of attention to detail helps to enhance immersion, creating a more realistic and believable universe. At the very least, I know I was disappointed to learn that the planets don’t even have orbits in No Man’s Sky, nor do they revolve around any stars, since stars are just part of the skybox.

1. Cities and Culture

Starfield Neon
It’s nice to know you’re not alone out in the vastness of space.

While players can build their own settlements in No Man’s Sky, fans have long been dismayed over the lack of established alien cities and settlements. You’ll encounter trading posts and isolated buildings, but they’re generally the same copy-pasted structures regardless of whether it’s run by the Gek, Vykeen, or Korvax. There are no grand cities or iconic cultural landmarks. All three of the alien factions are rather homogenous in their representation, with very little to differentiate them besides lore which takes place before the beginning of the game.

While the existence of sentient aliens hasn’t been confirmed or denied in Starfield, the game features different factions of humans each with their own distinct style. The United Coalition and the Freestar Collective both have their own ideals, architecture, and aesthetics that differentiate them. From the dismal mining city of Cydonia to the morally corrupt pleasure city of Neon, Starfield offers a refreshing variety of urban settings to explore. Bethesda has even called New Atlantis the biggest city they’ve ever made, and it certainly looks it.

It might seem like I’m ragging on No Man’s Sky, here, but you might be surprised to learn that I lovingly played it for many months. I very much enjoyed my time with No Man’s Sky, and I by no means intend to disparage the game for its lack of RPG elements, narrative choice, or dynamic combat. It is, after all, a game mainly focused on the pillars of exploration, trade, and survival. While it fills a certain niche, however, I cannot deny that it left me wanting more at times. For players who value more in-depth combat, customization, and story, Starfield seems like it’s going to check all the right boxes.

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Brian
Brian
1 month ago

I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the two games, because I was conflicted about which to buy. I really enjoy the RPG and combat elements of these types of games, so now I am leaning towards Starfield.