Starfield was a game of many promises. The promise to explore what lies beyond a thousand planets, the promise of introducing players to a new generation of Bethesda games, and most importantly, the promise of the biggest RPG from a pioneer of the genre.
Two months later, with a hundred hours of gameplay, I can only think of this release as an RPG greater than the sum of its parts. While the overall experience had enough strengths to keep me engaged for hours upon hours, it didn’t take long for Starfield’s cracks to show.
Obvious flaws aside, Starfield is clearly a few years behind the industry. As a lifelong fan of Bethesda’s work, I can’t help but feel the game is outdated compared to the competition.
Why it matters: Bethesda’s latest release is a good game at heart, but the studio’s dated design holds it back from becoming something truly great.
The Illusion of An Open World
For a game so focused on exploration, Bethesda’s latest RPG puts little to no effort into making the act of getting from point A to point B any less tedious than its past games.
Plagued by multiple loading screens, the game segments event the simplest of actions with transitions. This is a prime example of the studio’s outdated design, heading in the opposite direction of the industry.
Developers have long yearned to eliminate loading screens from their games. As early as 2015, Rocksteady boasted Batman Arkham Knight could be completed without loading screens.
While this ambition required clever tricks to mask loading screens, the goal of seamless gameplay is closer than ever, thanks to SSDs. Having to sit through a transition to enter and exit a building is not only immersion-breaking, but it also becomes irritating in a game seemingly meant to encourage exploration.
Inventory management is another flaw that has returned from past Bethesda games. Such problems are depressing to witness after I hoped to see the studio return to its former glory this year.
Creation Engine Is A Double-Edged Sword
Bethesda’s RPGs are built on the back of the Creation Engine. As an evolution of the Gamebryo Engine for 2011’s Skyrim, this tech quickly begins to show its limitations against modern games in 2023.
I hope we can all agree Starfield’s animations and character models leave much to be desired. While the game’s visuals can certainly impress with stunning backdrops in space, the average experience can boil down to NPCs that look downright terrible at times and details that would have been disappointing in 2018.
This is especially problematic since Bethesda uses an up-close camera angle for conversations. During these sections, NPCs can appear lifeless with obsolete facial animations.
Compare this to a game like Cyberpunk 2077, and the intricate animations of NPCs make a world of difference.
Where Starfield’s NPCs appear static and flat, CDPR can capture subtle expressions and mannerisms, giving its characters more personality. Since both games aspire to be immersive RPGs, I find the technical discrepancy quite jarring.
Perhaps this RPG’s biggest caveat is Bethesda’s own engine. While this engine enables physics-based gameplay moments unique to Bethesda, it leads to a slew of problems that other games have already solved.
This is what happens when you spawn 10,000 Milk Cartons in Starfield, Bethesda’s physics engine is actually insane pic.twitter.com/8dTHqOKohC
— Synth Potato🥔 (@SynthPotato) September 10, 2023
The result, then, is that I’m forced to question whether the sacrifice was worth it. In my opinion, it wasn’t. I believe the studio desperately needs a new engine, one that can preferably keep the core strengths of the Creation Engine while improving upon its drawbacks.
Stuck In The Past
Starfield was a result of eight years of painstaking effort from Bethesda. The cherry on top was Microsoft’s aid in the latter parts of development, which resulted in more manpower and technical help for the studio.
Still, the game presents a world that aims for more quantity over quality. While the RPG boasts 1,000 planets, these planets rely on procedural generation and often end up being little more than just another number to add toward this planet count.
The RPG also lacks a reactive world. NPCs in the game appear oblivious to their surroundings, paying little heed to the players’ actions. Upon encountering a dangerous situation in 2013’s GTA 5, NPCs would cower in fear and attempt an escape.
However, Starfield’s NPCs go about their business, even if you try to unload a whole clip of bullets right next to them. I expect better from the studio, which made me fall in love with this genre.
The Modders Will Fix It
When a Bethesda game is criticized, fans are quick to use modding as a retort. The modders will surely add this missing feature, they say.
They already have to an extent. Soon after release, modders added DLSS to the game and tried to deliver space traversal. However, I think we can expect a bit more from our favorite developers in 2023.
While it might sound like I despise Starfield, the reality is far from it. I adore this game despite its flaws, but maybe this is because of my fond memories of this exact formula from a decade ago.
Ultimately, I want Bethesda to be better as a studio.
I have nothing but respect for Todd Howard and everyone who put their heart into Starfield. With The Elder Scrolls 6 still five years away, I hope to see the studio making massive strides by the time this game is released.
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Avinash is currently pursuing a Business degree in Australia. For more than three years, he has been working as a gaming journalist, utilizing his writing skills and love for gaming to report on the latest updates in the industry. Avinash loves to play action games like Devil May Cry and has also been mentioned on highly regarded websites, such as IGN, GamesRadar, GameRant, Dualshockers, CBR, and Gamespot.