The uneven charm of Starfield

Almost immediately, Starfield felt fragmented to me. Navigating the UI was a chore, and every move I made inevitably required awkward loading screens. Most of all, the entire experience felt obscured. Starfield is overstuffed with things to do, but most of the time it feels like you’re going against the grain. For me, the biggest appeal of Skyrim was the effortless flow of its open world. Anything I did felt in line with everything else in the game.

And that’s what was most jarring about Starfield – it lacked direction or even a sense that what I was doing was right (it can still feel this way). There are an endless amount of great quests, things to build, places to make sense of, and general paths of exploration. Bethesda clearly swung wide with this game, and at many points during my time with the game so far I was overwhelmed by possibility. But it also feels very uneven and, above all, feels like a whole that’s very systems driven. Right down to its exploration, each of these major aspects can feel very siloed off.

The lack of a curated feel can definitely take me out of it, but it also has an unmistakable charm. Due to Bethesda relying on procedural general, I’ve found myself retreading old steps plenty of times. Even still, Starfield has plenty of breathtaking scenes, thick atmosphere, and moments of discovery. Between the possibilities of future expansions and leg work done by modders, I know I’ll be returning to Starfield for years to come.

Behind the ways that Starfield feels like an awkward sibling of Skyrim or Fallout, I still find myself absorbed by Bethesda’s signature approach to world building, humor, tone, and overall game feel. This is generally what’s kept me coming back so far.

Starfield is very familiar in the way it presents its sci-fi hooks and very dialed down. I can see how the likeness to other media and muted energy could be boring for a lot of people, but I think it works for Starfield. It can also feel very surreal with the way it presents dialogue, narrative, and characters like Bethesda’s other games. At this point, it’s part of the appeal of their games for me. I only ever see Bethesda refining this, and I tend to think it’s purposeful (style) rather than some lack of ability in crafting believable worlds.

Starfield, unfortunately, doesn’t tie everything together neatly. Deliberately diving into a particular aspect of Starfield – whether that be exploration, mining, questing, or researching – is when it really started to take off for me. I think this is ultimately a big flaw of the game – I don’t think it should take nearly as much work on the player’s part – but it truly is littered with many, many amazing experiences. It has hints of Mass Effect, Skyrim, and Fallout, but it’s still very much its own thing. And if there’s one thing Starfield does have in common with Bethesda’s past games – arguably the most important thing – it’s that you can’t quite get its mixture of narrative, atmosphere, and world building anywhere else.

This is a game that was made with the intention of being played for years, and it shows. I’ve really taken my time with Starfield, and I don’t think it’s something that necessarily benefits from being binge played. Despite its unevenness, Starfield has its ways of getting its claws in you. I think it’s this charm – the way Bethesda games feel like they’re in their own pocket of reality – that has propped Starfield’s mishmash of systems the most for me.

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