Starfield's Early Hours Are an Uninspiring First Step Into the Cosmos

I should have stayed on Earth.

screenshot from Starfield

A strong start can make all the difference.

Anyone who’s toured Black Mesa via trolley in Half-Life or watched their own character die in Mass Effect 2 is going to remember the experience. A game’s intro is a message about what you should expect to spend your time doing and how it’s going to feel. Judging from Starfield’s intro, what I’m going to feel is bored.

You start off on a mine cart. You’re a miner, apparently, here on the moon of Vectera to collect space minerals with your gruff but jocular fellow miners. They share some tough, easygoing banter that you’ve heard better versions of in essentially any sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen, then hand you a laser and send you off to gather some rocks.

So far, I am not feeling the spirit of adventure.

Before you get to the fun part, make sure you fill out your timesheet.


To go back to Bethesda history, Skyrim’s intro puts you in a dragon’s line of fire pretty quickly, after building tension by leading you to the executioner’s axe. But a game doesn’t need to start with a bang for its intro to work. In Fallout 3, you spend a long time getting to know your character and the world they live in, starting from when they were a baby, before you finally get to the action. It’s a methodical way of building out the setting so that when you’re finally released, you have context for your character and the larger world. So that kind of slow burn must be what’s happening here, right?

Back on Vectera, the plot thickens. There’s been a lot of talk about cave-ins and the dangers of losing your helmet, both of which could lead into a pretty thrilling sequence. But that doesn’t happen.

Instead, you’re told to go find another rock. This one is a special rock, though. It’s the one you’re getting paid a lot of money to collect, and it’s messing with the gravity readings on some kind of sci-fi gravity reading device. And for this most important task, the one your entire crew is here for, your boss appoints you, the new hire who she had to explain the concept of breathable air to just moments ago.

Space adventures have never felt so mundane.


Still, she’s your boss, so you go pick up the rock. You find it in its own little chamber where bits of other minerals are suspended in midair, so you know this is more than just another rock — it’s a plot device. When you pick up the rock, the scene changes, and you’re shown a field of stars — a starfield, if you will — as if the rock contains the intro to a mid-budget astronomy documentary on PBS.

I’m reminded of Mass Effect. At the end of the game’s first mission, Commander Shepard comes across a similar sci-fi MacGuffin that beams a message into their brain. A disturbing mixture of computer parts and viscera fills their mind, heralding a threat that the Normandy’s crew will spend the rest of the game trying to stop. It’s not clear what it means, but it’s obvious that whatever gooey fate it foretells, it’s not going to be good.

In contrast, Starfield’s plot-driving vision looks like a screensaver. I’m not sure what it’s telling me, but I’m not particularly interested.

When your character wakes up from this un-portentous dream, it’s time for a big moment. Your first step into the light is a big deal in Bethesda games. The best version is in Fallout 3, when you leave the vault for the first time and let your eyes slowly adjust to the light, but every “step into the light” moment is calibrated for maximum drama.

I thought space would be more exciting.


Even here, Starfield just can’t stack up. You head out into a drab spaceport, where you meet the contact you’re collecting space rocks for. He’s from Constellation, a group of explorers that’s something like a low-rent version of Star Trek’s Federation.

When you hand over the goods, he hits you with shocking news: You’re going back to Constellation in his place. It’s not shocking in a narrative sense, but in a confusing-for-the-player sense. Somehow, having watched the space gif embedded in the rock you mined means you’re special, and that means you need to leave your job and start having space adventures.

Don’t get me wrong, gallivanting around the galaxy seems more fun than mining space rocks, but it comes so much out of nowhere that it sealed Starfield’s intro as an absolute failure. It’s not that I need Starfield to let me run off and join a gang of pirates or steal the rock for myself. It’s that I want to feel like those things are possible, and that it’s my character’s choice to pursue something greater than that. Or at the very least, I want to know what’s going on.

I’m not too eager to continue with Starfield after my unceremonious nomination as Keeper of the Plot, but if there’s a bright side to any of this, it’s that it’s got to get better from here.

Starfield is out now on Xbox, PC, and Game Pass.

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