It Turns Out Starfield's 30 FPS Lock Wasn't a "Creative Decision" After all

Starfield 14 photos
Photo: Bethesda
Sadly, for those hoping that Starfield would be the next great RPG adventure of a lifetime, it turned out that the game's marketing machine, including the fancy Todd Howard PR speak, was much more impressive than the game itself. However, the tables seem to be turning for the NASA-punk RPG because the latest update made the impossible possible: it magically turned 30 fps into 60 fps.
While Starfield still has a 61% Mixed overall review score and a 48% recent review score on Steam, the latest update (1.11.36) was so good that even the pixel-counting wizards at Digital Foundry paid their respects to Bethesda.

The main headline of the update is the magical transformation from a lousy 30 frames per second experience into a smooth 60 fps shooter. I'm using the term "shooter" rather loosely, because while we're indeed talking about a Bethesda title, it's no Doom Eternal in terms of gameplay mechanics.

To keep it short and simple, Series X now offers a choice of 30, 40, 60, or uncapped framerates with VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) displays. If your TV or monitor doesn't have the latter technology, you will only see options for a 30 and 60 fps mode. The Visuals and Performance modes prioritize graphics and framerate, respectively. Series S has been skipped over, I'm afraid.

Photo: Digital Foundry
So, how well does the 60 fps Performance mode hold up? In interior spaces where you battle enemies with appropriate effects, everything's up to snuff, and the same goes for most cities. There are some drops in the open-world parts, but just a few frames. However, the framerate can drop to the lower 40s and even 20s in places like Akila City or New Atlantis. The 30 fps Visual mode tends to hit its target almost everywhere aside from the two cities mentioned earlier.

Incremental graphics improvements have also been made, but you'll never know the difference unless you compare them side-by-side. There is more grass and a few more rocks here and there, but not an overhaul. When you switch between the two modes, you'll see some temporary lighting changes because of the real-time global illumination Starfield uses. Wait for everything to settle down, and you'll be fine.

Sadly, hitting 60 fps on Xbox Series X won't get rid of the 2000s-like black loading screens or the empty, boring worlds, and it won't make space travel any less tedious. But the core experience is smoother than ever, and if that was a deterring factor before, it's completely gone now.

Many people love Starfield, and that's great because that's what gaming is all about: finding what you love and getting lost in those universes or worlds for dozens of hours. With this latest update, now is the best time to try or even retry Starfield if you have an Xbox Series X. Who knows, maybe the magic so many people found will finally get you, too.

Photo: Digital Foundry
Aside from the many delays, the recently updated Display Settings for Xbox Series X have been the subject of many controversies before, during, and after launch. First, there were rumors that the game would be capped at 30 fps. Then, a mere few months before it was released, Todd Howard and Xbox's main boss, Phil Spencer, said it was a creative decision to lock it at 30.

"I think it'll come as no surprise, given our previous games, what we go for. Always these huge, open worlds, fully dynamic, hyper detail where anything can happen. And we do want to do that. It's 4K on the X. It's 1440 on the S. We do lock it at 30, because we want that fidelity, we want all that stuff. We don't want to sacrifice any of it," Howard said during an interview with Ryan McCaffrey, the Executive Editor of Previews at IGN.

Well, given that today it runs at a full but not completely locked 60 fps, logic would dictate that the "creative decision" marketing speak and whatnot was nothing but a veil designed to nicely cover Bethesda's technical shortcomings. One could even go a step further and put things together by deducing that the 30 fps lock was because, after so many delays, not to mention the exorbitant $200-$400 million budget, they simply had no time to make it work at a constant 60 fps and had to release the game.

Unfortunately, mismanagement, game delays, cancellations, and, most recently, massive firings and studio closures have become the norm at Microsoft's gaming division. From an external viewpoint, things are very bad there, even though many recent budgetary restraints can be attributed to the $68.7 billion Activision-Blizzard and $7.5 billion ZeniMax Media acquisitions. After a spending spree like that, Microsoft certainly had to cut costs from somewhere.

Photo: Bethesda
The studios that had to go were Arkane Austin, responsible for Redfall, followed by Tango Gameworks, which made Hi-Fi Rush and The Evil Within, and then followed Alpha Dog Games and Roundhouse Studios. This was after they laid off 8% or 1,900 employees out of 22,000 from their gaming division by January 25, 2024.

Next on Bethesda's list of adventures are Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, Elder Scrolls VI, and Fallout 5. While we can expect the latter two to arrive anytime between 2026 and 2032 (delays included), the upcoming Indy adventure title starring Troy Baker as Harrison Ford is slated for this year. It's coming on current-gen Xbox consoles and PC through Steam, but the best part is that it will be free for Game Pass members.

Joining the Game Pass lineup are Manor Lords, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 on May 21, Frostpunk 2 on July 25, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl, Hollow Knight: Silksong, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024, Avowed, Fable, and many other 3rd party titles yet to be revealed.

If you want to get into some more juicy Game Pass rumors, sources say that during the Xbox showcase on June 9, we'll hear about Call of Duty hitting Game Pass, although it's uncertain whether there will be a price rise for the subscription service. We should also hope for a new Gears of War game and new footage from Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024, Avowed, and Indiana Jones and the Great Circle.

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About the author: Codrin Spiridon
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Codrin just loves American classics, from the 1940s and ‘50s, all the way to the muscle cars of the '60s and '70s. In his perfect world, we'll still see Hudsons and Road Runners roaming the streets for years to come (even in EV form, if that's what it takes to keep the aesthetic alive).
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