Starfield will end 2023 with a 'Mostly Negative' Steam rating: "A game that has an excess of nothingness"

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

What you need to know

  • Starfield, Bethesda's new gargantuan sci-fi RPG, has dropped to a "Mostly Negative" rating in recent Steam reviews. At the time of writing, only 34% of reviews from the last 30 days are positive.
  • This news comes a month after the game's overall rating on Steam fell from "Mostly Positive" to "Mixed."
  • Players have been very critical of the game's open world, as well as its gameplay systems and its dependence on lots of loading screens.
  • Bethesda has promised continued support for the Xbox and PC exclusive, with updates and the Shattered Space DLC coming in 2024.
  • Update 12/26/23 at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with commentary on Bethesda Customer Support posting defensive replies to negative reviews on Steam.

I woke up this morning with a gnarly stomachache from eating too much on Christmas day, and when I glanced at social media before rolling out of bed, I was surprised to see that one of 2023's biggest games didn't make it through the holidays unscathed, either. With less than five full days remaining in the year, Starfield — Bethesda's much-hyped space exploration RPG that finally released on Xbox and PC this year after its announcement five years ago — has dropped to a "Mostly Negative" rating in recent Steam reviews from the past 30 days, with only 34% of those reviews being positive.

This all but guarantees that Starfield will end 2023 with glaring red text on its store page, and the news comes about a month after the game's overall rating dropped to 69% (it's now 65%), bumping it from "Mostly Positive" to "Mixed" on Valve's PC gaming platform.

It's a bit of a shocking fall for Bethesda, which is famous for rich, engaging, and physics-driven open world games like Skyrim and Fallout 4. Starfield, with its upgraded Creation Engine 2, 1,000 different planets, introduction of new systems like ship combat, and modern gameplay refinements, seemed like it was lined up to be the studio's best-ever game, and also one that we'd be regarding with slack-jawed amazement for years to come. So what happened?

Though beautiful, Starfield's many worlds often offer little to find or do. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Criticisms vary, but pretty much everyone agrees on one thing: Starfield's colossal universe has the size of an ocean, but the depth of a puddle. Its many semi-procedurally generated worlds are beautiful to look at and offer plenty of environmental variety, but ultimately, there's very little to actually find or do on most of them. I can spend hours and hours getting lost in the dense, content-rich holds of Skyrim, but when I play Starfield, there's just this overwhelming feeling of monotony that permeates everything unless I have quests to do.

Then there's all the different mechanics in the game that generally aren't important or useful, resulting in the experience feeling bloated and unfocused. Research, crafting, cooking, outpost building, weather, disease — none of these systems drive you to make interesting decisions or have a meaningful impact, and many demand extensive skill point investments that just aren't worth it when I can easily get the best stuff by looting or buying from vendors anyway.

This review on Steam put it sharply: "Starfield is a game that has an excess of nothingness. An open world RPG that is so overstuffed with meaningless content that the seams are starting to split and the empty calories are spilling out."

The game has also gotten quite a lot of flak for the way traversal of its universe works, which essentially boils down to lots of fast travel loading screens accompanied by cutscenes of your ship taking off, landing, or jumping to lightspeed. It doesn't bother me much since nearly a decade of modded Skyrim and Fallout experience has gotten me used to loading screens, and I have no idea if a solution to reduce or remove them would even be possible for games like Bethesda's where everything is subject to Creation Engine physics. But compared to other modern open world games with seamless transitions, Starfield's definitely stick out.

Though not directly related to the gameplay itself, it's also worth noting that Bethesda Customer Support getting weirdly defensive about Starfield in Steam review comments has likely contributed at least somewhat to its reputation, too. I've never seen a developer attempt damage control by telling people they're wrong for feeling a certain way about a game like this, and frankly, it's embarrassing for Bethesda.

Starfield's main story quest is arguably the best one from any Bethesda game. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Now, don't get me wrong — Starfield is a solid game overall, and I think a "Mostly Negative" rating is rather harsh. It's got what I would consider the best main story in any of Bethesda's RPGs, and its branching side quests are just as great with awesome writing and plenty of varied choices and outcomes. The core gameplay and combat is also a ton of fun, despite the trivial mechanics that surround it. But I can definitely see where players are coming from with their negative reviews, and agree with many of their pain points (some of them are addressed quite well with the best Starfield mods).

Above all else, I'm left feeling disappointed about Starfield as we head into 2024. Todd Howard said it's "intentionally made to be played for a long time," but interest in Bethesda's biggest game already seems to be fizzling out, and overall player sentiments appear increasingly negative. This was poised to be the developer's best title yet and one of the best Xbox games and best PC games of the year, but for many, it fell short of expectations.

If Cyberpunk 2077 and its Phantom Liberty expansion show anything, it's that giant single player games like these can turn over a new leaf with continued updates — updates we know are coming in 2024, along with the Shattered Space DLC. Whether those changes and improvements will turn the ship around for Starfield remains to be seen, though.

Starfield is available now on Xbox Series X|S and Windows PCs via Steam and the Microsoft Store. It's on sale for the holiday season on both platforms, and is also playable through Xbox Game Pass.

Starfield | $69.99now $46.05 at GMG (Steam)

Starfield | was $69.99 now $46.05 at GMG (Steam)

Starfield is the largest RPG Bethesda has ever made, and while it certainly has its issues, it's still a solid game and one of 2023's biggest sci-fi titles. You can snag it right now for some big discounts thanks to the holidays, or alternatively, you can blast off to the stars with Xbox Game Pass.

Also at: Xbox ($48.99)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

  • fdruid
    Steam reviews, what can I say. One of the most wildly toxic environments. It's like giving kids a firearm.
  • nocturn9x
    fdruid said:
    Steam reviews, what can I say. One of the most wildly toxic environments. It's like giving kids a firearm.
    Or maybe, just maybe, the game just sucks? You don't get a "Mostly Negative" average review, consistently dropping for months, if you're just getting troll reviewed.
  • fdruid
    nocturn9x said:
    Or maybe, just maybe, the game just sucks? You don't get a "Mostly Negative" average review, consistently dropping for months, if you're just getting troll reviewed.
    A lot of people are playing that game. This sounds like those reviews from people who have a thousand hours into a game and end up saying it's bad.
    I've seen it happen too much, sadly. And if you read Steam reviews you'll know what I'm talking about. Not a lot of people have a real interest in explaining objectively why they don't like a game. A lot of external factors and silliness push the bias heavily. Sometimes is dev/publisher drama, sometimes is ideology, sometimes is the use of a certain anti-cheat software, etc. But all these negative reviews fail to mention whether the actual GAME is good or not. Which is what they should be doing.
  • Jez Corden
    nocturn9x said:
    Or maybe, just maybe, the game just sucks? You don't get a "Mostly Negative" average review, consistently dropping for months, if you're just getting troll reviewed.
    serious question, have you played it?