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I hope Starfield’s financial system is as oppressive as real life

Peek into New Atlantis, the crown jewel of Starfield’s space-age cities, and you’ll find the usual utopian futuristic sights. A flawless runway to welcome newcomers, gleaming cream-colored buildings interspersed with lush trees and a sparkling central high-rise that curves up to the stars. Look a little closer and you’ll see there’s a sofa in the middle, crammed into the otherwise idyllic scene.

At least, it’s probably a couch. embellished on the outside of the buildingand spotted elsewhere on another unknown planet, the half-completed word is “GalB-“. The rest of the letters are hidden from view, but a character creation preview video released last October almost completes the missing signage: “You own a luxurious, customizable home on a peaceful planet!” is reading the Dream Home character trait. “Unfortunately, it comes with a 50,000 credit mortgage at GalBank that has to be paid weekly”.

Read between the lines and we know quite a bit about Starfield so far.

Of everything we’ve seen Star field over the past few months, it’s that mention of GalBank and its associated mortgage system that has stuck with me the most. It hints at a much more substantial in-game economy than what’s appeared in previous Bethesda releases – one that may include an entire loan system and bank branches to visit, scattered across Starfield’s many worlds. It’s a dose of financial reality, and I hope the team at Bethesda has room to expand so they can fully explore the crushing weight of our space future.

At first glance, however, it all seems a bit strange. In a world that seems to have as many cues from Buck Rogers’ meaty adventures as it does SpaceX’s clean aesthetic, the literally towering presence of banking seems an odd combination – an unexpected and unwelcome imprint on the freedom of the last frontier. Starfield seems ready to sell you on the world of finance before you’ve even named your character or strapped on a single space boot to explore its utopian worlds – something Hardspace: Shipbreaker has done before, and with great success. But in whose utopia do banks exist, let alone sell stingy weekly repayment plans at undisclosed fees?

Look to the right of this image and you’ll see a GalBank building, partially hidden.

Apparently in Starfield’s “NASA punk” universe. Bethesda’s vision of the future is wide-eyed and based on the here and now. It should be “relatable”; an extrapolation of our own world and the renewed interest in space travel that has emerged in recent decades. Bethesda says it wants the game’s 1,000-planet universe to feel “believable and, while perhaps not always the most welcoming, at least familiar.”

As grim as it sounds, a dominant financial system may be just what you need to get comfortable in an alien universe. Today’s aerospace industry has turned into the plaything of billionaires. No longer the place of ideological battle, it was last century, the flight of people to the stars is a means for the richest men in the world to fulfill their boyhood fantasies, or sell those fantasies to the slightly less wealthy mega-rich through tourist travel.

Do you know what is known and understandable? Crushing debts.

With private companies now spearheading rocket launches, it’s hardly an imaginative leap into a future where cosmic life is intertwined with the financial institutions that fund today’s billionaire space race. And while Starfield certainly won’t be the kind of game to simulate the intricacies of commercial finance, you don’t have to look far in the RPG realm to see how classics of the genre have used even basic in-game economies to effectively realize their worlds.

from BioWare Baldur’s Gate, for example, sells the Sword Coast peril by shrewdly scattering gold behind tough enemies and ranged encounters. In the wee hours of your adventure, a handful of the precious resource can mean the difference between a safe night’s sleep in an inn, or a risky long roadside rest, leaving you open to a midnight ambush. Spend your money too soon and you’ll soon discover why there are few travelers on the road at night.

Then there’s the macro-level empire building of it Mount & Blade charting your journey from wayward wanderer to fledgling vassal and eventually ruler of your own domain. When the hardiest mercenaries and most loyal companions can be bought for the right price, the game is as much a challenge of astute financial management as it is a battle test. Spend your gold on ineffective soldiers or flashy items for your characters, and you’ll get a taste of just how brutal Calradia’s feudal food chain can be.

Need money? Be a miner! A famous safe job…

Even Bethesda’s own The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall has a surprisingly robust financial system. Stroll into one of the many banks around the world, and you can open an account to store your heavy gold between adventures, or take out a letter of credit to transfer your treasury from one region to another. And in what now appears to be a precursor to Starfield’s financial system, Daggerfall’s banks can borrow gold to cover the cost of a home at 10% interest. However, if you don’t pay, your reputation in the city will gradually decline until you pay.

Taken on their own, the monetization ideas of these games are not what make them special, and some of them are sorely lacking. Counting your pennies is crucial in the first chapter or two of Baldur’s Gate, but it’s not long before you’re drowning in gold or skirting vendors for quest loot. And while Daggerfall’s banking has surprising depth, you can happily ignore the entire system if you’d rather not get caught up in debt payments and credit systems.

But even underdeveloped, the slender financial systems of these RPGs give a strong sense of the worlds that exist beyond the player’s view. Beyond the edge of your screen, more characters than you’ve encountered yet are waiting to sell you their wares, sell you their services, or demand payment of your debts. Something as cold and faceless as a financial calculation can breathe life into the fictional place around you. Especially when practically everything you need to do to make those big get-aways happen is likely to cost you something.

Do you want to space travel? It’s going to cost you.

It’ll be fascinating to see if Starfield handles its banking system in a more deliberate way than the earlier RPGs. In creating a world that touches the cosmic by leveraging the known, Bethesda can’t possibly register all the facets of current space technology that will chart our path to the stars. But if it gives a special focus to just one, I hope it’s the monetary systems that support it. The thousand worlds of Starfield would feel all the stronger for it.

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