Just over a week ago, I talked about how Starfield was getting a beating on Steam. From where I'm sitting, it's just a result of hype not meeting expectations. It's a decent game, it's just that 'decent' is a huge problem when we were all strapped in for the next big Bethesda RPG.
One thing that genuinely bothered me, however, was seeing a Bethesda developer responding to some of those negative reviews in a half-hearted attempt at damage control. It's not inherently bad for a developer to respond to criticism—maybe not advisable, but not unheard of, especially if it's taking fair critiques into account. That's not what's happening here.
As pointed out by Twitter user Juicehead (thanks, TheGamer), Bethesda is entrenched in a long spree of 'nuh-uhs' on Steam, for… some reason. The latest bout of developer replies having taken place yesterday, November 27. None of these recent replies, which I counted at least 10 of, even come close to acknowledging the game has some issues. Most use the same paragraph or two to target various criticisms. For example:
"You can take time to explore various planets for resources and items. You can also break the law by smuggling and selling contraband, Build your own Outposts and Starships and customise them to your enjoyment, Exploration and Roleplaying. There are many things to do and and explore." One of these is from a review that just said "Midfield", which feels like the equivalent of firing off a pre-written takedown to someone calling you cringe on main.
Some of these replies point players to the game's official Discord server to help them find "further ideas from other players" which… is not exactly what you want to hear. I was talking to fellow PC Gamer writer Joshua Wolens about this, and he put it so well I'm going to quote him here: '[it's like saying] we're not sure what's fun in our game, but these guys are putting their heads together over here and maybe they'll figure it out.'
Several reviews target Starfield's infamous, numerous loading screens, which shoot the fantasy of exploring space dead for some players. Here is what Bethesda thinks about that: "While there may be loading screens in between fast travelling, just consider the amount of data for the expansive gameplay that is procedurally generated to load flawlessly in under 3 seconds. We believe that shortcoming will not hinder our players from getting lost in the world we created."
A separate reply from the developer also puts forward the idea that fast travel "has its perks", since you "will always be given a visual of your ship launching and landing, thus being able to appreciate all the little details that make your customised ship look unique." You can customise your own loading screen. That's the rebuttal, here. In the same response, the developer also re-uses the "that's not boring" line I brought up last week.
It should be pointed out that Bethesda has done this sort of thing before, and are in fact still doing it with Fallout 76. I know less about this game and its issues, so I'm not going to speak to whether the response makes fair points or not, but the talking points are being similarly recycled. In fairness, most of 76's replies are just pointing reviewers to Discord servers or offering actual gameplay hints, which is still not great, but I can at least see the strategy there.
But with Starfield, I genuinely don't see the advantage. I am scratching my head. If I'd put 100 hours (heck, even 10) into a game and felt disappointed, getting a rote response like this would put me off Bethesda's catalogue entirely.
It's said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and perhaps these replies to Starfield reviews are just that. If Bethesda's usual response to disgruntled players is to offer them alternatives—places to go, things to do—I can see how that intent could warp into… this.
It's also applying a very typical social media tactic, where companies will interject with ways to help annoyed customers. But it doesn't work with a game like Starfield because the problem isn't a quickly solved one, like 'please fix my internet' or 'my package has vanished and your customer support sucks'. Bethesda can't really offer a solution that isn't updating the game, and these replies don't have the Fallout 76 ones' specificity, so it comes off more like a great big 'um, actually'.
I wish Starfield was the game we were all wanting it to be, but it just isn't. If these responses were well thought-out, if they showed some degree of grace, if they admitted that certain parts of the game weren't great but were being worked on, then that'd be fine. It might even repair some goodwill, even if those replies were copy-pasted.
As it stands, though, even if you adore Starfield, these replies are downright embarrassing. I can't help but find myself wishing the poor person(s) saddled with whipping these responses up would be given the sweet mercy of being able to log off.