The biggest difference between Starfield and Fallout 4 is Bethesda’s decision go with a silent protagonist this time around. But that wasn’t always the case.
In a recent interview with Polygon, lead designer Emil Pagliarulo talked about the decision to feature a silent protagonist in Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG. Asked whether Bethesda went the direction it did because of the negative fan reaction to Fallout 4, Pagliarulo said it was a factor. Fans will recall that Fallout 4 voiced protagonist drew criticism owing to the reduced number of dialogue options despite more than 13,000 lines of dialogue.
Still, there was apparently a point where Bethesda wanted to give a voice to their hero and even recorded a few lines of dialogue.
“We hired an actor, we got the voice, we listened to him and we were like, ‘You know what, this guy is too specific,'” Pagliarulo remembered.
It seems that Starfield’s designers wanted to ensure that players were offered the maximum range of expression. Bethesda apparently weighed bringing in multiple voice actors, or simply going with one voice actor who was “more convenient.” Ultimately, though, Bethesda realized it wasn’t going to work.
“We realized that the only way to really do it and let the player be the person they want to be was to have an unvoiced protagonist,” Pagliarulo said.
Starfield’s approach reflects a change across gaming
Pagliarulo went on to reflect on the role of the voiced protagonist in AAA games.
“There was a time in the industry where every protagonist was voiced. It was a AAA thing. We started realizing, ‘You know what, maybe that’s not the case, maybe fans will actually enjoy the game even more…’ I mean, we played with different things. There’s a big argument, if in Fallout 4 and other RPGs, players don’t like reading a line of dialogue, a player response, and then they click it and get [a different spoken line],” Pagliarulo said.
“But the problem is, then you read it, and then you click it, and you have to wait for them to say the same thing. So that’s not ideal either. So then we just arrived at, ‘What if we just go text?’ and it was just really freeing. And, I mean, we have over 200,000 lines of spoken dialogue in Starfield with no voiced protagonists. And it was not having a voiced protagonist that allowed us to create such a big world.”
Silent protagonists seem to be in vogue in RPGs owing to the popularity of fully customizable characters. Baldur’s Gate 3 is among the recent releases that opted to leave its customized hero unvoiced. However, other major RPGs have found plenty of success with voiced heroes, including Mass Effect.
We’ll get to see for ourselves how well Starfield’s approach works when it releases globally on Xbox Series X|S and PC on September 1. In the meantime, check out our own interview with director Todd Howard.
Kat Bailey is IGN’s News Director as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.