Starfield Stuck at 30 FPS on the World's Most Powerful Console Because of Sandwiches?

Starfield 22 photos
Photo: Bethesda
Even before Xbox Series X hit shelves worldwide in 2020, Microsoft wasn't shying away from calling it "our fastest, most powerful console ever." That was and still is technically accurate, but games like Gotham Knights and, most recently, Starfield appear to be the exceptions that disprove the rule. In contrast, Horizon Burning Shores is an open-world experience but can hit 60 fps without major issues on a less powerful console, the PlayStation 5.
Teraflops or TFLOPS is the most general term used to compare how powerful a gaming console is. Think of it as the equivalent of horsepower for vehicles. The Xbox Series X has 12 TFLOPS, whereas the PlayStation 5 has 10.

As a comparison, the base PS4 had 1.84 TFLOPS, making this current generation of consoles more than five times more powerful than the previous one. In theory, games should look or run five times better, right? Well... not quite.

The problem game developers have faced since the PS1 days is that when a new generation of consoles comes along, they have to pick between graphical distribution and frame rate.

While game engines go through upgrades, which means a higher visual fidelity, it also means that the frame rate will take a hit.

Photo: Bethesda
Five times more power means five times more performance but at the same level of graphics as the previous generation. Developers must walk on a thin line between advanced visuals and frame rate. Ultimately, it's up to the people in charge to decide whether they want more photorealism, high frame rates, or both.

Gotham Knights was one of the first titles to arrive on the new generation locked at 30 fps, followed by A Plague Tale: Requiem, which got fixed post-launch, and now Starfield joins the roster.

Todd Howard (Game Director) confirmed this in a recent interview with IGN when he said Starfield will be capped at 4K 30 fps on the Series X and 1440p 30 fps on Series 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," said Todd Howard.

Photo: Bethesda
Even though players are split between 30 and 60 fps, this was a simple case of the directors behind the game caring more about graphical fidelity than gameplay smoothness.

This is becoming an increasingly notorious issue in the gaming industry lately because while the PS3 and Xbox 360 were battling it out graphics-wise, toward the late-PS4/early-PS5 era, 60 fps became the norm.

You can't go back once you jump from 30 to 60 because everything looks choppy, especially where aiming is involved, like in Starfield. After all, half the frames are "missing," and it's like watching a stop-motion animation.

This being said, more and more information is beginning to surface that quite a large number of players don't mind playing at 30 fps if it's stable and the game looks "pretty." Beauty is in the eye of the beholder at the end of the day, but it would surely be nice to have the option to choose.

Photo: Bethesda
Horizon Burning Shores is a PS5 exclusive title with a Performance and Quality mode, which should be an industry standard. Especially given that the console is 2 teraflops "lighter" than the Series X.

Some might (rightfully) say comparing Horizon and Starfield is an apples-to-oranges scenario because Starfield can generate 1,000 worlds, and Horizon is locked to its open-world map.

Theoretically, Bethesda could have made a middle-ground mode where the game runs at 60 fps at a dynamic resolution. Still, according to Digital Foundry's recent discoveries, this might never see the light of day... because of sandwiches.

While graphics rely heavily on the GPU to render everything, Starfield might have a CPU-bound limitation on the Series X that can't be fixed short of a new, upgraded console.

Photo: Bethesda
Bethesda said that the game features "item permanence," meaning it can store or "remember" the position of items, like sandwiches, across the 1,000 planets. This type of simulation, together with others, requires a lot of CPU power, and the Series X doesn't have enough to run it at 60 fps across the board. Therefore, Bethesda chose to lock it at 30 for consistency.

The question this raises is if this is a telltale sign of things to come, with new-gen games getting capped by developers at 30 fps because the hardware is lacking. In the last two and half years, we had titles at 60, and even more in some cases, mainly because they were made for the previous generation but enhanced for this one.

As I said earlier, it all comes down to the scope of the game along with the vision of the lead developers, whether they want to push graphics to their absolute limit at 30 fps or sacrifice visual fidelity for a smoother gameplay experience.

This could also mean that it's time for mid-gen consoles to make an appearance, like a "PS5 Pro" or "Series X Pro," that will have better performance while ultimately running into the same issues, ushering in the PS6 era and so on.

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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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