There is no game that the internet debates more than Starfield, the most recent being how many hours you can invest into a game before declaring it’s horrible, as a result of a recent rise in unfavorable Steam reviews for the game. This is Starfield’s 243rd controversy in the last year or two, and there appears to be no end in sight.
Aside from my own thoughts on the game (if you’re a reader, you know I liked it), two things are very evident at this point in the larger discussion:
- Starfield did not fare as well critically as Bethesda and Microsoft had planned, with scores in the mid 80s, trailing practically all other mainline Bethesda games, and receiving only a single Game Award nomination, which it lost, from a firm that used to be a GOTY frontrunner with each new release.
- Starfield has had a mixed reaction from the public, as evidenced by meh-to-low Steam scores, but the overarching storyline appears to be “this is far from Bethesda’s best, and it encapsulates how dated their design philosophies are.” Despite frequently employing far stronger language.
Starfield did have a large number of players, many of whom stayed for months, which is very excellent for a single player game with no updates and no significant mod support. But it does remind me of a comparable predicament, one that Bethesda, no doubt, does not want to bring up: Cyberpunk 2077.
As you may recall, Cyberpunk 2077 debuted as…a financial triumph. It sold 13 million copies in its first month, December. CDPR could have dusted off their hands, waited for a few million more sales to flow in, took that to the bank, and moved on.
The problem, of course, was the game itself, which was technically subpar or simply broken on several platforms and lacked important features. So, despite a large surge of initial sales, CDPR recognized they needed to put in the effort to rehabilitate both the game’s and their own reputations. After three years, they actually transformed it into one of the best single-player RPGs of all time with Phantom Liberty and the game’s 2.0 update. It ranks with Final Fantasy XIV and No Man’s Sky as one of the greatest gaming comeback stories of all time.
Starfield is in a similar predicament. Bethesda and Microsoft can talk about player counts and billions of planets explored all they want, but the narrative is pretty clear that this was an overall disappointment, and Bethesda’s second big miss in a row after the launch of Fallout 76, which took years to fix up into “hey, you might want to try it, it’s actually pretty good now” status.
The challenges here are a little different, and, in my opinion, more difficult to fix. Bethesda’s issues are not primarily technical, as they were in Cyberpunk. There are some bugs, but they are not the main issue. At its core, cyberpunk had a fantastic tale, wonderful characters, and a great environment. According to popular belief, Starfield falls short in several of these areas, and those are not readily remedied.