Starfield’s universe is truly a sight to behold, with a level of scale and depth that evokes the same feeling as stepping out of the vault for the first time in Fallout 3. Size isn’t everything, however, and where Starfield stumbles is in giving players a reason to care about anything happening in its grand universe.
The most positive aspect of Starfield’s intro is its brevity. You go from being a no-name miner to the “Chosen One” in record time after stumbling on a mystical alien artifact that gives you a weird vision and being tracked down by an organization called the Constellation, which just so happens to be looking for weird vision havers. One quick battle with pirates later, and the galaxy is all yours: feel free to forge your own path in the cosmos, Space Cowboy!
Starfield Never Gave Me A Reason To Engage
The Starfield intro gives you the keys to a spaceship and sends you on your way before you can catch your breath, but is that necessarily a good thing? My biggest issue by far with Starfield is its lack of stakes, of anything that makes you care about exploring its universe. The game’s biggest failure is setting up a reason for me to care, as the vague storyline involving the alien artifacts doesn’t hook you in, as there’s just not much to it upfront.
Where is the universe-ending threat? Where is the Death Star? Where is the Borg? Where are the Reapers? What reason do I have to go and buy ship parts and gear other than to see numbers going up? The early hours of the main quest feel like sidequests, where you bum around the galaxy in search of shards without knowing why you’re assembling them or their purpose.
How To Set Up Stakes In A Video Game
There’s a fine balance when setting up stakes in a video game, as you want something that engages the player with the story and encourages them to play with the side content. One game that arguably got this mix wrong was Cyberpunk 2077, as it establishes early on that the main character will die shortly (thanks to their new implant) and then tells them to enjoy Night City!
The old Bethesda games nailed this perfectly, with Fallout 3 and 4 being all about a search for a lost family member, while Skyrim unleashed dragons upon the world that needed to be dealt with. Even Oblivion’s more nebulous overarching story (the Emperor is killed in front of you, and you need to deliver an item on his request) was at least something in the back of your mind that you knew you needed to do later on.
Two series that nailed this perfectly were Dragon Age and Mass Effect. In these games, there is an overarching threat that needs to be fought, and every task you complete is all about preparing for the conflict in the future. Every ally you win, every weapon you find, and every enemy you slay is all about making things a little bit easier down the round when the final fight takes place.
Starfield doesn’t do any of this. Instead, you’re given a galaxy to explore but no reason to explore it except for exploration’s sake. There is a main storyline that becomes more involved later on, but it should have been present from the beginning. Starfield should have kicked off with a plot hook that actually invests you in its universe rather than vague promises of something being important later on while an NPC jingles the spaceship keys in front of you.
Why Starfield Didn’t Click For Me
I bounced off Starfield the way I did because I realized I was just gathering materials for their own sake. What was the point of me unlocking higher-level weapons and gear if I wasn’t using them on anything I cared about? I’d been fighting the same boring space pirates and Terromorphs for hours at this point, and they were nothing but a bunch of jobbers. There was no great enemy just beyond the horizon nor any calamity that needed to be stopped, so why was I bothering?
Starfield was in development for a long time, and it’s fascinating that such a simple idea was skipped. It would be one thing if the Starfield universe were incredibly interesting and full of cool things for me to see, but it isn’t. The quests in the game feel copy-pasted from Fallout, with little in the way of options when it comes to completing them, and it felt like each planet was just a checklist of things that needed to be ticked off. It also doesn’t help that the game’s inventory system forces a lot of tedious messing around, dragging out the boring parts even more.
A lot of people are going to be comparing Starfield to Baldur’s Gate 3 over the coming months, and Larian Studios clearly has the advantage here, as the explosive escape from the Nautiloid ship is a hundred times more effective at setting up the stakes and threats of its world than Starfield. Baldur’s Gate 3 might be contained to a few large maps, but they have way more character and engagement than an entire universe that forgot to give me a reason to care.