Starfield's design director says the game nearly had a voiced protagonist, but they dropped it: 'It was a AAA thing'

 Starfield astronaut and spaceship
Starfield astronaut and spaceship

In Polygon's recent interview with design director Emil Pagliarulo, it was revealed that Starfield very nearly had a voiced protagonist in the style of Fallout 4's sole survivor.

When asked whether this choice was a response to the fan reception of that game's controversial dialogue system—which only gave you the general vibe of what you were committing to words—Pagliarulo responded: "Not directly, but it certainly played into it … in pre-production, the plan was to have a voiced protagonist. We hired an actor, we got the voice, we listened to him and we were like, You know what, this guy is too specific.

"[In Starfield,] you can make every different type of person. We realised that the only way to really do [that] and let the player be the person they want to be was to have an unvoiced protagonist."

While we've obviously known your space explorer would be a silent protagonist since last year, I'm surprised we even came close to Fallout 4 setting a new blueprint for the Bethesda hero. I've always preferred knowing exactly what my character's going to say in a conversation—and having the word "Sarcastic" next to a button prompt doesn't clue me in enough. To me, it seemed like a weird love affair from big-budget studios, an attempt to come across as more 'cinematic' while shuttering an RPG's more freeform potential.

That's a sentiment Pagliarulo speaks to: "There was a time in the industry where every protagonist was voiced. It was a AAA thing … 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]."

He goes on to point out that hearing a character speak a line of text you've just read isn't ideal, either, "So then we just arrived at, What if we just go text? and it was just really freeing … it was not having a voiced protagonist that allowed us to create such a big world."

It does seem that, mercifully, the modern RPG's obsession with fully voice-worked protagonists is mostly over. Don't get me wrong—I think it can be done well when said character's meant to have a baseline personality of their own. Commander Shepard's a good example—every Shepard is different, sure, but they share the same crew, general occupation, and responsibilities in the Mass Effect universe.

Similarly, Star Wars: The Old Republic has some great voiced protagonists—though they're tailored to the kind of story you sign up for at character creation.

But I don't think voiced protagonists were ever a good fit for the kind of RPG Bethesda tends to make—big, open worlds powered by player choice and freedom. Granted, in Fallout, every character starts off as a vault dweller. But from there, they can become almost anything, anyone—saddling them with a specific voice actor drops a big atom bomb onto any burgeoning roleplay fantasies a player might have. I for one remain glad we've avoided a dark 'press X to be sarcastic' future.