The moment at the start of Fallout 3 when you step out into the wasteland blew some minds back in 2008, but Starfield's intro isn't quite having the same effect. The short narrative sequence that casts you as a miner isn't quite as captivating as growing up in a Vault, and the simplified space travel and somewhat dull first hours that follow has players wrestling with one of Bethesda's most divisive opening acts yet.
The game opens with a surprisingly short intro sequence where your character's mining job is interrupted by a mysterious artifact and a band of space pirates. It all happens so fast that there's barely any time to express the kind of character you want to play as. Many players agree that Starfield's intro falls flat, and veers too far into absurdity with how quickly your character becomes a killing machine regardless of their choices.
"In 30 minutes I've just been given a ship and told to go to [Constellation's] headquarters," TankMain576 wrote in a Reddit post about Starfield's intro. "But then as soon as I'm in orbit it's, 'Oh no, you're going to go alone to exterminate an ENTIRE BASE of pirates before we get to looking at the thing in your head.' Sir, excuse me? I'm a miner."
Several people in the thread point out that Fallout 4 and Skyrim have similarly unrealistic intros where your character becomes a hero in less than an hour. But Starfield's hard sci-fi world—at least in the beginning—isn't as removed from our reality as Fallout's nuclear wasteland or the Elder Scrolls' Tamriel. Outside of touching the artifact, nothing magical happens. Even if you choose to be a former chef or professor as your character background, you'll be blasting pirates and flying through space in minutes.
After the intro, Starfield slows to a crawl. You're given a spaceship, a robot companion, and the freedom to travel anywhere you want, but the game doesn't give you a strong reason to visit anything in particular. You join Constellation, the group of explorers at the center of Starfield's main story, and meet a few of its members. The introductory missions aren't all that eventful until you've properly met everyone and things start to go awry. Other activities aren't much better.
Exploring planets isn't exactly as seamless as you might've thought for such a huge part of the experience. You can't land on them without fast traveling, and whether or not you find anything interesting on the surface is completely random. Base building is too resource expensive early on and you won't have many skill points available to unlock basic features like the boost pack.
Meanwhile, enemies will stand on top of objects and freeze in place, and weapon variety takes a while to open up. Not too surprising in a Bethesda RPG, but some longtime fans have said that the combat feels "outdated," "janky," and "slow."
"I appreciate Bethesda for trying to innovate with a new IP, but it feels like, while they want to push boundaries, they’re too afraid to let some aspects of their formula go," 1877cars4kids wrote.
In our Starfield review, Chris had similar criticisms of Starfield's opening hours: "Starfield's introduction is unusually straightforward for a Bethesda RPG, and the first handful of places you visit, including the game's capital city of New Atlantis, are pretty dull."
That was my experience, too. But once you wrap your brain around Starfield's structure—explore cities, bump into various side missions, and fly to mission objectives—and learn what is or isn't worth your time, the game starts to work better. Chris started to enjoy Starfield after 12 hours, and that lines up with when I was finally able to find skills and weapons I liked and missions that felt significant and rewarding.
Traits, like the one that gives you parents who routinely crash your hero's journey, develop over time and inject some charm in a sea of straight-forward side missions. You'll be able to dump more points as you level up into valuable skills, like Stealth and Persuasion, to customize your approach to different situations. More compelling characters show up to give you insight into the world, and the rewards for progressing the main story help answer the question of what makes Starfield different from Bethesda's previous games.
There are still annoyances in Starfield: the lack of local maps is driving everyone mad, bugs are plentiful, and that sneaky bucket trick from Skyrim doesn't work anymore. But other players who've persevered through the dull opening hours are reporting a similar feeling: it gets better after 12 hours.
"OK, 12 hours in, and I love it," Open-Let-1014 wrote. "Disappointed about the space travel, but everything else is top notch."