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Starfield’s $7 Quest: The Kotaku Review

by California Digital News

Taking a break from unraveling the mysteries of the stars in my repeated trips across the Unity into parallel replications of the universe, I encounter a new group that promises credits in exchange for dangerous and hopefully exciting quests hunting down the galaxy’s most wanted. I take up the challenge and…I lose the thread. Rigid video game structures and absurd pricing models snap me out of it. I’m not in space. I’m playing a much-hyped yet poorly executed RPG that I just pumped seven bucks into for 20 minutes of immersion-breaking gameplay. I do love a big open world to explore. And I do love science fiction. But is this the future of this game? I certainly hope not.

Following a round of much-needed updates, including the expansive inclusion of the Creations suite of mods ready to download for free or at a premium, Starfield is moving on from what originally shipped on September 4, 2023. With some excellent new features and user-made mods ready to mold and shape Starfield’s colossal galaxy into something very different, the game has the potential to grow into something impressive and immersive.

However, despite the promise and potential of these new updates, recent decisions by its developer, Bethesda, haven’t gone over well. Specifically, the inclusion of an official seven-dollar quest in the Creations suite easily brings to mind memories of over-priced horse armor. Reception over this paid DLC, which requires you to spend 10 dollars on an in-game currency before you can actually buy the seven-dollar quest, has justifiably been critical. Bethesda’s executive producer Todd Howard has addressed the controversy, saying that the studio is aware of the criticism and that it’s now going to “evaluate […] pricing” and what’s included in the game in the future.

Read More: Starfield’s Paid Mods Ignite A Review Bombing On Steam

But the quest remains in the shop for the virtual price of seven dollars. And while it is managed like a mod in the game’s Creations hub, it is also Bethesda’s first paid DLC for Starfield (ahead of the sure-to-be more substantial Shattered Space expansion expected in late 2024). It isn’t just a mod: There’s story content and voice acting. It’s a quest, it’s content, for the price of seven bucks.

So I’m going to treat this quest and its related faction with the seriousness that anyone should when being asked for money, and give it a solid review.

A woman talks to the player character in Starfield.

Screenshot: Bethesda / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

It all starts with the Trackers’ Alliance

If you’ve played Starfield at all in recent weeks, you’ve undoubtedly run into a new NPC who, like nearly all Bethesda NPCs for the last two decades, is here to offer you some work. She, like most job-givers in Starfield, wants you to play freelance cop and go hunt down people with bounties on their heads. After chatting with her, you’ll fast-travel-menu-maze yourself to Akila City where you’ll chat with some other bounty hunters, including the either clever or cringe-worthy “No. 1,” who sometimes calls themself “no one.”

Yes. That is the character’s name. It makes me imagine a backstory in which they come up with that name while listening to some godforsaken emo music as they paint their nails black, softly whispering to themselves that no one understands them before dramatically sighing. Hey, it’s a Bethesda game, headcanoning stuff is almost required (and at least that’s free…for now).

The protagonist of Starfield chats with a person in a space suit.

Screenshot: Bethesda / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Even if you choose not to shell out seven bucks for the new quest, called “The Vulture,” the Trackers’ Alliance grants you two things: A somewhat interesting, free quest that goes unresolved, and the ability to hunt down random NPCs who have bounties on their heads (where you can either take ‘em in or just murder them).

That free quest, titled “The Starjacker,” sends you out into the stars to hunt down a wanted man named Hanibal. The premise ain’t bad, and while it does boil down to just shooting your way through some random place in space, this bounty hunting concept is a decent way to make use of Starfield’s enormous galaxy.

Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of mystery to this. You’ll interrogate a dude and then be given a quest marker to follow before blasting your way through a zero-grav space station. Then you’ll find out Hanibal ain’t on this space station. Your bounty is somewhere out there in the seeming endlessness of space and you’ve got no leads.

While what you do in this quest isn’t anything special (shoot, shoot, shoot, Starborn power!, shoot, shoot, shoot), the way it leaves you with this unresolved task and no leads to go on in this massive space simulation is kind of neat, and it interrupts the flow of Starfield’s check-list style questing. It makes Starfield’s galaxy feel large as you’re left to imagine where in this 1,000-plus-planet sector of space this guy might be hiding.

But, then, that’s it. Well, until you fork over seven bucks and buy “The Vulture.” And much like “The Starjacker,” there are some neat ideas here. Hints of promise of how this massive galaxy could be used for interesting quests. Unfortunately, spending seven bucks just gives you more of that hollow potential.

A lifeless quest fit for a vulture’s feast

The quest has you hunting down a colony war vet, the titular Vulture, who has turned his back on the Freestar Collective. This errand will send you to two locations: a planet in the Narion system and the Paradiso resort. (If you used that super cool mod I told you about recently and made everyone at Paradiso mad at you, this quest is probably broken now. Sorry.)

A bounty hunter tracker board shows two targets.

Screenshot: Bethesda / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Every “challenge” in this quest, which I finished in about 20 minutes (more powerful builds, I suspect, could clear this in half that time, if not less), just consists of mowing people down. But at least it tries to inject some personality into its very brief runtime.

After arriving in the Narion system to find the Vulture, you’ll have a chat with a very scared dude who warns you that your quest to track down the assassin has put you “in hot water.” As if to prove the point, this poor sap’s warning is cut off mid-sentence as he’s offed by a shot from the Vulture’s sniper rifle. You’ll then attempt to chase the killer down, which, wouldn’t you know it, involves taking out a bunch of randos in your path.

Your pursuit will then take you to the resort of Paradiso. There, I accidentally agreed to handle the lost-and-found for the concierge before realizing I needed to go to an upper floor to check out the Vulture’s suite. There’s a neat moment in which, after searching his room, the Vulture, perched somewhere off in the distance, shoots out a window to try and get to you. As you dash out in pursuit, you’ll have to engage in a hallway firefight.

For a split second, there’s a level of urgency and activity in a place that’s otherwise a static, virtual diorama of a resort. That sort of action is something that Starfield could use more of. Exchanging fire in a place not meant for violence gave me some Cyberpunk 2077 vibes, and made Paradiso feel like a real place connected to this grander galaxy with competing interests that boil over into violence. All that’s to say, yes, give me a cool shootout in this bougie hellscape.

But once I got down to the ground floor, that immersion ended. I walked through the lobby of NPCs just standing around, saying random bullshit, undisturbed by the fact that loud-ass gunfire was happening two floors above them just a moment ago. I was once again reminded of how rigid and lifeless Starfield’s environments were.

A character weilds a sniper rifle in a spaceport.

Screenshot: Bethesda / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

And when I spotted the Vulture up in his sniper’s nest, people around me seemed to care less that I, a fully armed lunatic of a woman, was firing her gun at some random point in the distance. No one went running. No security guards urged me to drop my weapon. Nobody batted an eye as a gunfight raged on in this resort.

Starfield has always sort of been on rails. But “The Vulture” explodes the sheer level of lifelessness coded into this game. I get it, it’s no immersive sim. Still, how am I supposed to roleplay as a star-hopping bounty hunter, pursuing her targets in the middle of public environments and getting into high-stakes gunfights, when the world barely reacts to these events?

And as far as the actual challenge? I love a good sniper battle. But the game literally gave me Starborn powers that let me suspend enemies in mid-air, go invisible, and slow down time. I’m virtually a god in this allegedly grounded, realistic science-fiction world, and not in a cool way.

But “the Vulture” doesn’t just suck as a quest. And it doesn’t just suck as an absurdly priced DLC. It, and the Trackers’ Alliance, expose the deep flaws inherent in Starfield that a mere faction quest isn’t going to heal. Starfield needs more than simple content injected into its massive canvas. It needs to consider how its canvas helps or hurts otherwise relatively decent premises like hunting down a renegade war vet hiding in a populated area.

Note: clip has been sped up for brevity.
Gif: Bethesda / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

Starfield remains a rigid, clunky experience

Let’s rewind to the “Starjacker” quest for a second. In this quest, you’re asked to go hunt down this Hanibal guy, and a member of the Trackers’ Alliance tags along, keeping an eye on you and making sure you’re up to snuff for this kind of work.

You’re given a random ship to go on this job which, as soon as you sit down in the cockpit chair, becomes your “home” ship, thus warping in all of your crew and followers. Here I was trying to immerse myself in the premise of this bounty hunter faction quest, yet the second I sit down, Sarah pipes up with “I have something for you,” and as I get up, I’m once again stuck inside the cockpit because I can’t move past Sam’s damn daughter as she turns to talk to me again about the same damn books she’s reading.

All of this, combined with the absolutely lifeless reactions of the NPCs in “The Vulture,” make the experience of Starfield itself feel like a kitbashed collection of mods. There’s no authorship, no expression of a vision, no material worth investing your time in. It’s just rigid nonsense with clunkily intersecting systems.

If Starfield is to grow into something beyond an impressively sized canvas just waiting for you to roll your own space game by way of mods, it needs to have these foundational issues addressed.

It’s not even a question of whether or not “The Vulture” is worth seven dollars. Starfield itself is not worth investing seven dollars in right now, and based on the review bombing the game has recently suffered on Steam, it’s obvious that a lot of folks feel this way.


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