Cracking the Code: Why Starfield's Hate May Not Define Its Destiny

todd howard

Starfield is a popular game to hate on right now, from drops in user reviews on Steam to endless threads on Reddit from unhappy players; the space game could use a little pick me up. Only being released in September 2023, Starfield hasn't had a long time to marinate and be analyzed thoroughly. Many are quick to throw out bold statements about their feelings about the game and why Bethesda is finished.

Let us take a look at why Starfield has received such a trashing lately and remind everyone of previous Bethesda Game Studios launch windows; and yes, we will be including Skyrim (The Golden Child). You may be surprised at the parallels.

Starfield Hate - Origins

Starfield is a game released into a difficult, almost transitional time period for the videogame industry. Streaming services and subscriptions are brute forcing their way to the top of the heap of ways to play, new games seem to be out daily, and the rise of the Youtuber journalist has dramatically changed the landscape in gaming these last few years.

There is almost a '24-hour news cycle' feeling to the way games and accompanying media are consumed these days. Pair this with ever-shortening attention spans thanks to apps like TikTok, and we have the perfect storm for gamers constantly looking towards the 'next big thing' rather than truly soaking in masterpieces placed right in front of them.

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Starfield has been a success for Bethesda, regardless of your current feelings toward the game. Played by millions thanks to Xbox Game Pass, at the end of 2023, it sits high on Steam's highest revenue makers without a shred of DLC and lacks any significant update or patch since launch.

So why have the fans turned against the game so quickly? Well, the 'on to the next' attitude of gamers certainly has contributed to this, as has the daily jump on the bandwagon for clicks and clout in the YouTube journalist scene. Constantly being told a game is bad and you are wrong is something that has been around since the internet began, and like-minded gamers joined forums to discuss the hobby.

Soon enough, those discussions led to tellings and preachings of opinions regardless of accuracy. As time passed, shouting into the void became more common and accepted online than having a healthy debate on things.

But I digress; I don't believe these factors are the puppet master behind the general bashing of the game. So, for this section, we need to go back and revisit some Bethesda classics and see just how some of the most beloved games today were treated during their launch windows.

Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda's 'Golden Child,' the title many lists in their best games of all time, and often used as a bar to compare other similar games such as The Witcher 3. Skyrim is everywhere, from your Switch to your PS3, from Series X to... Amazon Alexa speakers? (Yes, the running joke is that Todd Howard will make Skyrim available on every device he can).

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Skyrim is adored by fans worldwide, praised, and held high above all other games, but we need to take a quick look back at when Skyrim launched to truly capture the feeling of the launch window. Back then, we didn't have Youtubers covering things in the way they do now; we didn't have all-you-can-eat Game Pass apps available on not just Xbox but on TVs and mobile too; we just had our Xbox 360s, PS3, and PCs as a way to play Skyrim. It was a simpler time, to be sure.

But we still had Reddit.

And boy oh boy, the trolls and haters were just as active in 2011 as they are today. Reading into these launch window opinions shows how games that are beloved classics today were crucified online at launch and that Starfield is not a 'worse' game; it's just getting the traditional Bethesda hazing by the community. This post here is a prime example.

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Similar complaints for Skyrim back then that Starfield has been receiving today are very interesting, to say the least. Will Starfield become as well-loved as Skyrim? While this is unlikely, it is hard to say for sure at this early stage, but people are too quick to write it off as a failure when Skyrim had the exact same criticisms aimed at it over a decade ago.

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Next, we are going to take a look at the other fan-favorite Bethesda title (developed by Obsidian), Fallout: New Vegas, to see just how it was received during launch, considering it is also held in such high esteem like its dragon-slaying brethren.

Fallout: New Vegas

New Vegas is the entry to the Fallout series that gets the most love these days and is often used as a comparison for each new iteration. This game is loved by the community and, like Skyrim, is often mentioned in 'when Bethesda peaked' conversations.

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Fond memories are spoken widely about how New Vegas was a masterpiece and will never be topped.

Thankfully, we can once more take a look back to gauge exactly how the community received this beloved classic. Surely we can't have another repeat of what happened to Skyrim? Well my friends, just cast a gaze over these posts found from the 'adoring fans' of New Vegas.

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More similarities with current complaints about Starfield, fast travel, and load screens aren't often spoken in the same breath as Fallout: New Vegas discussions these days, if ever.

Back in 2011, Josh Sawyer, the director of New Vegas, even received some physical 'trolling' in the mail. Fans complained that the game was unplayable at launch, something that, funnily enough, hasn't cropped up during 'why Starfield is bad' discussions.

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Fallout: New Vegas currently sits at a 10/10 on Steam, whereas Starfield has just seen its score on Steam drop to all-time lows. Further evidence that Starfield while down, is not yet out. When two examples of what are considered 'Bethesda at its best' have experienced EXACTLY what Starfield is going through, you start to see a pattern in the release cycles for BGS titles.

Redemption Arcs

Everyone loves a good comeback story, right? Just take a look at Cyberpunk 2077's recent rebirth and praise from fans. That game hit rock bottom hard when it launched; complaints of bugs, glitches, and broken mechanics had made CD Projekt Red's latest offering appear DOA. With the release of many patches and updates from the team, coupled with a significant new DLC - Cyberpunk 2077 is now being viewed in a whole new light.

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Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas are the pioneers of the redemption arc; both were showered with negative criticism at launch and have gone on to be considered two of the greatest games of all time. Starfield may be a while away from getting back into the majority of online commentators' good graces. However, with such a large team still working on the game and with DLCs and patches planned to improve user experience, we could yet see a turnaround in public opinion towards it.

If we look at other Bethesda Game Studios titles like Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and even Fallout 4, the cycle of hate to love seems to have been a factor for those games also. Does this mean that Bethesda plans these redemption arcs in advance? Well, that probably isn't the case; while coming back as a beloved title is obviously hoped for, I think the reason may actually have to do with Bethesda and their over-ambitious plans.

Cutting content and removal of features is commonplace in many video games. Rushing to a release date to please investors naturally leads to some of the planned elements for the game being cut back or removed altogether to meet deadlines. While understandable for most titles, Starfield is a bit of a different story; the team was given extra time from Xbox to improve and polish the game after having already delayed the release date previously.

What I feel has happened here and with many previous BGS titles is that not enough cutbacks could be made in time for launch. Todd and the company then use the first year of the game release as an additional QA period using the best possible testers - the consumers.

I haven't even commented on how 'modders will fix it' seems to be their mantra when BGS releases their games. It doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to this; it just means that I believe that the first year of Starfield should be looked upon as final testing to iron out issues missed and implement or put back in needed features the fans cry out for. Playing Starfield in 2025 will be a vastly different experience from playing the game at launch.

So is the criticism valid for Starfield? Yes, absolutely, AAA studios should be held accountable for issues with their products, especially now at the higher price point for premium titles. Does this mean that Starfield is dead in the water? Absolutely not. We are just unwilling participants in the final preview of the game evidenced by the same cycle showing up at launch for each and every BGS title in over a decade.

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Starfield will be looked back upon as a classic once all the fixes and DLC have been added. Still, Bethesda may want to rethink its strategy when it comes to future releases like The Elder Scrolls VI and Fallout 5, as today's gamers simply don't have the patience or tolerance for a premium game being fixed over years following launch. Time will tell if the traditional hate-love cycle will pay off for them yet again for Starfield, but it may be the last time fans will tolerate these methods.

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