Got some thoughts about the IP itself–
This setting lacks personality in a really astonishing way. The look is often 90s-NASA, but each city and faction seems to be cribbing from other major sci-fi IPs in a way that makes it all feel very disjointed. New Atlantis has some Mass Effect flavor… Neon is a shitty Cyberpunk zone… the libertarian space cowboy shit has been done before… and most of the structures in the game have a very, like, well-maintained, industrial look them.
I love the idea of “NASApunk” but what they’ve done here feels incompatible to me with the player fantasy of being a rogue wanderer who does whatever they feel like and steals everything. The spaces look largely like the type of space you would have a government job in. The behavior you express is the type of behavior that would get you permanently banned from government employment, haha.
This is reflected in the character origins. Multiple of the character origin profiles are based on, essentially, Star Wars fantasies. There’s a boba fett build you can select at character creation, for crying out loud. This is a world which looks like you should be an accountant or a trader or an engineer in, but the character origins let you be… a pilgrim, or a space cultist, or boba fett, or a Cyberpunk character, or what have you.
It lacks a certain organizing personality. Comparatively Mass Effect has much, much more personality than this world does.
What’s more–when you arrive in this world, nothing is going on. There isn’t a big disaster that everyone is talking about, there isn’t something huge happening that you’re involved in, and there isn’t anything going on which changes normal people’s status quo and makes you the center of attention. A lot of previous Bethesda games have really benefitted from something like this… in Skyrim I think it was very effective for the story to begin with multiple major disasters that everyone was talking about. It made it very easy for them to write ambient dialogue which focused the player’s attention on the two main questlines. In Skyrim, it’s hard to forget what you could be doing, if you walked back onto the main quest, because normal people on the street will be saying shit like “damn there’s a dragon over there! fuck!!” Even in various Fallout games you have the conversation-starter of being able to say “I just left my Fallout vault and… I guess I’m here, now!!”
Starfield has literally nothing like this going on at all. You are just A Person who Got Amnesia. The main quest is so unimportant to the world at the start of the game that they are forced to constantly lampshade it, by making NPCs tell you “I care so little about the organization you have joined that I do not even know if they are real.”
Elder Scrolls has quite a lot of personality, really–I’m sure you’re all aware that Morrowind is special and strange–but even Oblivion and Skyrim have some deeply weird shit in them. The Elder Scrolls lore often dips into metaphysical horror. There’s a layer of kind of distasteful awkward gross stuff under the surface in every Elder Scrolls game that the writers generally use as an engine to power some of the more worthwhile content in those games. Starfield lacks this entirely. Its world history is our history; its major disaster is, shockingly, almost never discussed. Humanity departed the Earth to escape its destruction… but seems completely untraumatized by this, lmao.
I know plenty of you do not like Bethesda games but I really love them. I have played over 500 hours of modded Skyrim. I know a lot of you like The Forgotten City–that was a Skyrim mod!!! (I did a little bit of consulting work on that game. It’s a very good remake of the mod! If you’re curious, go play the mod!!) These are obviously games but in some way they’re also almost toy-like, in that they can be played a hundred different ways and modified to hell and back. I can say without irony that it’s good to play a game which requires you to dig through a massive archive of passionate player-made material and construct your own game from a hundred people’s experiments and ten thousand hours of their time. It’s good to wander in a labyrinth made out of a bunch of weirdoes’ overlapping fantasies. It’s incredible to install a bunch of dumb shit and then learn that the fantasy of being a viking homemaker collides with the fantasy of having a batcave or whatever, haha, and having to uninstall one of them. I love it.
These games are like bread. You choose what to spread on them. Starfield looks at first glance like it’s bad bread. I am still very early in the game, but there is nothing going on here that feels as if it could be a particularly good inspiration for some exciting player-created stuff. That’s the metaphor for me.