Fictional companions and goth concerns.
My devotion to Skyrim runs deep. I’ve written about it multiple times for Unwinnable. I will do so again if I ever get past the Alduin’s Bane glitch.
What draws me into Bethesda’s worlds, in addition to the rich exploratory possibilities and choice-heavy narratives, is the closeness I feel for their characters. I’m attached to Farkas, Serana, and various shopkeepers from Skyrim. I want to start a punk band with Rose the robot from Fallout 76. I even developed complicated feelings about Benny, a jackass in a checkered suit who shot me in Fallout: New Vegas.
So why don’t I feel attached to any of Starfield’s characters?
I’ve logged 212 hours. I’m still playing. It isn’t that I don’t “like” the game, exactly. It’s just that, emotionally, I don’t . . . care?
This column should be about Andreja. She is the most goth companion available, and she’s an acolyte of a cosmic snake (“The Great Serpent”), which is – objectively – cool as hell.
When I met Andreja, she was quadruple-tapping a corpse, and she asked me not to let anyone else know that I found her Doing Murder. But after this, her moral alignment turns, rather disappointingly, lawful good. The explanation makes sense, sort of – she’s seen some shit, and wants to turn away from her tortured past. But this means her moral alignment isn’t much different than any other companion’s. What’s the point of choosing a companion when they’re going to tell you the same thing? Yes, Andreja’s a snake-worshiping goth, but it hasn’t affected my gameplay to any particular degree.
After following Andreja’s questline to its conclusion, she and I expressed our affection for one another. We couldn’t officially marry because her snake religion doesn’t allow marriage to outsiders. But we had a commitment ceremony on the planet Shoza II, in which Andreja gave me a knife fashioned from the skull of her childhood pet. (Her religion requires children to raise a “groat” and slaughter it when they come of age. “Through this groat we are shown . . . that all things serve the Serpent, and can be tools for his use.” Dare I say, fuckin’ yikes.) I waited to feel something akin to what I usually feel for my in-game friends, spouses and goth girlfriends. But the feeling didn’t arrive. I set out from Shoza II wanting only to keep collecting alien rocks and upgrading my in-game research. That was more satisfying to me than the story.
Is this a personal problem? Is Andreja actually as well-developed as Skyrim’s Serana, and I’m just too jaded to see it? This is plausible. I’ve played a lot of Bethesda games, and Starfield has a lot to live up to.
Or maybe I’m overwhelmed by Starfield’s cosmic angst. Maybe thoughts of quantum mechanics and the multiverse are pulling my attention away from interpersonal relationships with NPCs. But I don’t think that’s it.
In Cat Bussell’s words, Starfield’s “companions very much reflect the game’s sense of stagnation. The game’s four central companions change very little over the course of the adventure.”
I realize it’s rude to compare wives, but let’s go back to Serana for a second. Serana was raised by vampires, manipulated by both parents and taught necromancy by her mother. I learned more about Serana’s childhood during her quest than I’ve learned about Andreja in any capacity. The most intimate story I know about Andreja is that she once abandoned friends during an attack; her companion quest involves going on an amends tour. That’s nice but doesn’t feel as resonant as unburdening Serana from her family’s legacy.
More access to story-rich locations might also have assuaged my feelings of aloofness. Furniture, architecture, book choices round out the characters in Skyrim and earlier Bethesda games. The barren nature of Starfield’s landscapes – while appropriate for space, I suppose – contribute to my barren feelings towards my companions. With Serana, you travel to Castle Volkihar, meet her shitty dad and see her gothic childhood stomping grounds. With Andreja, you never see her homeworld of Va’ruu’kai because it’s shrouded in secrecy – Andreja herself is forbidden from knowing its coordinates after leaving (which, to be fair, is a pretty cool world-building detail. I would have preferred to see the planet, though. DLC, maybe?).
After our commitment ceremony, when Andreja calls me her “favorite person,” I’m not sure I believe it. Many others agree that Starfield has something missing. For me, it’s a sense of human connection.