Firing up Starfield, I was prepared for a lot of things. I expected NPCs to spew information as I walked past, so much so I’d have five quests before I actually spoke to anyone. I also figured I’d fall through the surface of a planet or two. But I’d have never predicted that Starfield would try and murder me for picking up a discarded cardboard box.
Admittedly, I did have nefarious intentions, though there’s no way the security forces, who descended on me en mass, could have known that. It all started when I discovered the bucket trick wasn’t as effective in Starfield as it was in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
If you’ve not experienced the sheer, ridiculous joy of Skyrim’s shoplifting dodge, I’ll elaborate. You can hold the activate key to manipulate objects (without adding them to your inventory) and place them over shopkeepers’ heads. This blocks their vision and allows you to literally rob them blind.
After attempting this in Starfield and failing miserably, I illogically decided it was my choice of receptacle that was wrong. It wasn’t that Bethesda had grown wise and given NPCs X-Ray vision, it was that I’d shoved the wrong item onto this particular shopkeeper’s head.
So, poking around The Well (New Atlantis’s underground trading area in Starfield), I spotted a cardboard box sitting by a dumpster. I lifted it gently into the air, and all hell broke loose.
I can’t remember what clued me first, whether it was the screaming or that everyone, apart from one remarkably chill guy, started running around like headless chickens. You’d have thought the Reapers from Mass Effect had just turned up.
I was still gawping at the mayhem when the United Colonies’ security forces turned up. I didn’t get so much as a “Stop right there, criminal scum!” before they started blasting.
My immediate and slightly idiotic reaction was to keep hold of the cardboard box and try to use it as a shield. Ducking behind the dumpster didn’t help, so after trying and largely failing to shoot my attackers, I resorted to running around randomly.
Maybe I had a chance of blending in with the public who were fleeing Yakety Sax-style. To no-one’s great surprise, it didn’t end well, and I met my demise for the heinous crime of touching an empty cardboard box.
On a parallel playthrough, I axe-murdered the inhabitants of a trading ship and got a polite hail inviting me to pay a fine. But this? Judge Dredd would have dismissed murdering me over a cardboard box as too. Life may be cheap in Starfield, but a corrugated cardboard box apparently isn’t. Maybe the United Colonies are really tough or recycling.
That’s my best in-universe guess, at least. But practically, it smacks of overzealousness on Bethesda’s part. The difference, as I eventually discovered, between Starfield and Skyrim’s object manipulation is that the latter doesn’t doesn’t care who owns an object.
People will grumble if you start waving objects around, but it’s not a crime. If you pocket an object, absolutely. As long as you set an item down afterwards, no swords are drawn, but Starfield counts manipulating objects as theft.
If someone owns an item and you lift it by so much as an inch, it counts a crime, and the game brings the hammer down. My theory is that Bethesda was well aware of all the bucket-related theft going on in Skyrim and this was their attempt to fix it.
They may have taken things a teeny tiny step too far; hence the hail of bullets. In Starfield’s eyes, I was every bit as guilty as if I’d ram-raided the New Atlantis branch of GalBank. Overkill doesn’t begin to cover it.
Still, now that I’ve done the time… maybe it’s time to make a withdrawal? I wonder if bench guy is still around? He seems like he’d be good in a hosta– er, crisis situation.