Todd Howard says Starfield was 'made to be played for a long time,' but a month after launch I'm already drifting away

Astronaut on alien planet
(Image credit: Bethesda)

"It's intentionally made to be played for a long time," said Todd Howard in an interview about Starfield with the AIAS Game Maker's Notebook Podcast back in September. 

"It's one of things we've learned from our previous games," Howard said. "From Skyrim, from Fallout, that people want to play them for a very long time. So Starfield, I would say, was the most intentional going into it. This is a game people are going to play for a long time."

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Spaceman in front of a planet

(Image credit: Bethesda)

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I'm not doubting that statement, exactly, because I'm sure I'll be playing more Starfield in the future. But I am feeling disappointed that I don't want to play more Starfield right now, just a month after it came out. It's Bethesda's biggest RPG ever, and I already feel like I'm just… done. For a game I've been anxiously waiting to play since its announcement in 2018, that's a big surprise to me.

It's especially strange when I think about Bethesda's other RPGs. When Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout 3 and 4 came out, I kept coming back, week after week, month after month. I'd make up excuses just to spend more time in those games by roleplaying an NPC or pretending I was Santa. I'd follow my Skyrim wife for days just to see where she went, or play Fallout 4 without ever leaving Sanctuary. I couldn't get enough. I just loved being in those worlds.

I'm simply not feeling that same pull with Starfield. I've done main quests, faction quests, and tons of side quests. I've built a few ships and set up a few bases. I've explored the heck out of the galaxy and visited hundreds of planets. I've mostly enjoyed my time, but I'm ready to move on, and much earlier than I ever expected to. 

Space and time

(Image credit: Bethesda)

When it comes to Starfield's longevity, I think Howard was talking, at least in part, about New Game Plus. But as clever as Starfield's NG+ is—and it really is smartly done in how it ties into the fiction, especially with all the surprises it's hiding—I don't really see myself doing much with it.

Starfield isn't Baldur's Gate 3, where a single important decision may radically change your playthrough or lock you out of tons of quests. After my main and faction quest playthrough, I wasn't left with a lot of "what if'' questions in Starfield. By design, you can engage with all the different faction quests without impacting the others—being a space cop doesn't stop you from being a space pirate simultaneously. 

In some respects I appreciate that design, just like I enjoyed becoming the head of every guild in Oblivion with the same character. But squeezing everything out of Starfield in my first go-around doesn't give me much motivation to play through the game again.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

My criminal playthrough fizzled out quickly once it stopped feeling even remotely like crime.

Another issue I'm having is that freeform adventures are much harder to get into. After finishing the main quest, I created a new character because I wanted to explore the criminal enterprise of illegal smuggling. 

But it turns out smuggling contraband is incredibly easy: You can fly directly to a couple of different space stations that won't scan your cargo and sell your illicit goods with zero hassle or risk. It's also not particularly profitable because illegal goods don't sell for all that much. And thanks to fast-travel, it barely even feels like traveling, let alone smuggling. My criminal playthrough fizzled out quickly once it stopped feeling even remotely like crime.

With another new character I thought it might be fun to "strand" myself on a planet. I'd just pretend I wasn't given a ship and have to set up a little base to harvest resources and try to survive. Within a half hour of exploring, a ship landed right in front of me, and while defending myself against the space bandits who jumped out of it, I killed them all… which meant I could just help myself to their ship. Just like that, I could now go pretty much anywhere in the galaxy. My Cast Away adventure was complete almost as soon as it began. 

(Image credit: Bethesda)

I'm willing to admit my imagination might be failing me when it comes to creative alternate playthroughs, but I think Starfield's sandbox is failing me, too. As evidence, I see lots of fans sharing cool and creative ship building projects online, but I haven't seen many sharing creative roleplaying experience. At least not yet.

I'm not saying I'm done with Starfield forever. There will be at least one expansion and there are already thousands of mods with tens of thousands still to come, and plenty of those will open up new ways to play and new reasons to return. But for now I'm moving onto other games, and that's happening much sooner than I'd expected and hoped it would. Starfield may be light-years bigger than The Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, but to me it feels much smaller.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.