Vasco should feel like a love letter to sci-fi robots, instead he's Starfield's biggest early-game bummer

 My character looks very disappointed in Vasco from Starfield, a chunky robot.
My character looks very disappointed in Vasco from Starfield, a chunky robot.

I've genuinely been having a good time with Starfield, but man, is Vasco a bummer. I really like robots and androids in science fiction and fantasy—they're often the standout characters because they're so immediately interesting. What better way to flesh out your world and its people than to spend time with a lifeform created entirely by them, piece by piece?

There's a reason that the first great science fiction novel, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, focuses on the relationship between a man and his artificial creation. The horror at the weight of creating new thinking, feeling life—and the responsibility towards it—is super compelling. Unfortunately, Starfield isn't interested in exploring those themes with Vasco, and outside of a quest or two like Juno's Gambit, it doesn't seem to care much about them at all.

It's all self-imposed, too. From what I can tell, sufficiently advanced—or "unshackled" AI—is outlawed in Starfield's universe, similar to how cool mechs are banned. While this is interesting in theory, for Vasco, it becomes complete writing poison.

This robot does not dream of electric sheep

Vasco, the robot
Vasco, the robot

When you ask Vasco if he misses the Lodge, he tells you he longs for nothing. When you ask Vasco whether he enjoys working with the Constellation, he informs you that he's incapable of enjoying anything.

Because of his programming, Vasco does not have independent thoughts, or even feelings—which leads to anaemic punchlines about his preferred music being mathematically complex or whatever. Primarily, it means Vasco has nothing to say about Starfield's world. That's a shame, because even a little wiggle room in what a "shackled" AI could think or feel would've allowed for that.

Vasco's base concept is actually really cool. He's an old Lunar Robotics model that's been tinkered with, giving him the ability to hold conversations so he'd be better company. He's a chunky roomba someone strapped a Speak 'n' Spell onto, which should lead to plenty of funny, interesting conversations about what that's like. Vasco might as well be silent. By far, the most disappointing dialogue I had with Vasco involved listening to his take on science fiction.

There's a short story by sci fi author Isaac Asimov called "Sally" about a bunch of self-driving cars. A character named Jake takes care of some older models on a ranch, but a businessman wants to harvest their synthetic brains—eventually having to hold Jake at gunpoint to make that attempt. This is essentially a mirror to Vasco and his role in the Constellation—to anyone else he'd be salvage, but some humans see value in him.

Vasco does not talk about Sally. In fact, he doesn't mention any science fiction novel at all—instead, he remarks how a lot of them showed how humanity could've axed themselves, and doesn't care to elaborate. Vasco can literally only understand the world through the lens of humanity and his directives, and as such, he's got nothing to say about the world around him.

Meatbag problems

A screenshot of a conversation with HK-47, an assassin droid from the Star Wars universe.
A screenshot of a conversation with HK-47, an assassin droid from the Star Wars universe.

You know what robot RPG companion isn't boring? HK-47. He's an assassin droid from Knights of the Old Republic 2 so, like Vasco, he was built for a very specific purpose. One of my favourite conversations with the dour droid is when the player asks him to tell them how to hunt Jedi. This is a big lore-dump, but it pulls double-duty by also conveying HK-47's personality.

HK-47 has a deep sense of superiority about him that shines through. He throws in quips, calling Jedi "annoying pseudo-pacifists" and arguing that his former master's pity of your character is "insulting". He's so knowledgeable about assassination that common pitfalls are excruciating to him: "If I see one more idiot attacking a Jedi with a blaster pistol, I'll kill them myself."

It's tightly written, saving a point-by-point lore dump from dragging on. Despite being subservient and built for a specific purpose, HK-47 is given the room to have opinions, even if they're not in-keeping with his programming.

Do I think Vasco should be more like HK-47? While that one clip of him decking some poor NPC is pretty funny, no. Vasco should, however, be allowed to have a personality in much the same way—he doesn't have to be a completely free AI to think something or feel something about the world. He could still tell us about himself beyond the low-hanging fruit of liking music because it has a lot of maths in it.

Missed potential

An astronaut relaxing on planet Venus with a spaceship in the background
An astronaut relaxing on planet Venus with a spaceship in the background

Vasco is a big, ever-present reminder of his own missed potential. His design is great and friend-shaped, and Jake Green's voice work lends him a blunt directness that could be charming with the proper writing behind it. But aside from a couple of funny lines (I asked him if he had any jokes, and he replied "I am looking at one" which got a genuine laugh out of me) he's horribly underused.

I'm not expecting Larian-level work out of Starfield's companions, but there's plenty of space between that pedigree and what we've got here. Vasco's rigid limitations speak to a weird self-consciousness Starfield has about itself—as the robot rep on your team, he should feel like a love letter to the robots of science fiction, but the game doesn't bother investigating what makes them great. He's played so safe that he's barely a character at all.

Imagine Data from Star Trek had all the reflective uncertainty about his humanity taken out of him, or if the AM from "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" was never allowed to speak the words "Hate. hate." What's frustrating is there's a story with Vasco waiting to be written—he's an ancient Lunar Robotics model. What if he witnessed the evacuation of Earth, for example? Instead he's just a time capsule with absolutely nothing in it.

I wish I could love Vasco, but he really is just a robot built to code. All we're left with is an Alexa that can punch—one who goes out of his way to remind you that he's not capable of thinking, feeling, or enjoying the world around him.