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I’m really sorry everyone, Starfield is 2023’s actual GOTY and it’s not even close

Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do.

The Frontier in Starfield.
Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

Warning: Spoilers for Starfield lie ahead.

I’m playing Starfield. My wife’s leaving me.

Or, at least it feels like she should be. None of the toilet paper I’m hoarding has been thrown at me. None of my other shitty belongings have been angrily flushed out of an airlock. No one’s crying. All she’s doing is glaring at me through narrowed eyes, a look of distaste carved across her perfectly-proportioned face.

“It was more about sticking it to the UC,” I tell her, having gone with the one answer that seems vaguely believable. Her expression doesn’t change. As we meander on through the exchange, it remains the same. I cycle through the responses I’ve been provided with to try and justify why I gave a bunch of credits to the Crimson Fleet, and, as though she’s rehearsed the exchange a thousand times, she shoots down every one.

Soon, the only options I’m left with revolve around embracing nihilism, telling her I only did it to make lots of money, or outright admitting that I’ve got no idea what the f**k I’m doing.

Because these answers, which are followed by a meaningless choice as to whether I want to tell her I stand by my decision, are the only ones that could ever make sense in a world as bleak as Starfield’s.

Once our little chat is over, Andreja doesn’t leave me. She’s there when I return to Constellation HQ and let two similar tongue-lashings from Sarah Morgan and Sam Coe wash over me. She doesn’t seem to care that, by the end of it, I’ve given up on trying to explain why I did what I did.

There aren’t any options that’ll let me tell them that I just find the pirates’ attempts at behaving vaguely like real people just a little bit more convincing than those of everyone else I’ve met in the Settled Systems. I can’t say that, having seen the depths of the corruption at the hearts of the United Colonies and Freestar Collective - the game’s colonial Coca Cola and Pepsi - there doesn’t seem to be any other way to try and counteract their influence on the cosmos than the imperfect one just offered to me. I can’t tell them that they don’t have to live in a galaxy without rebels.

Sarah Morgan in Starfield.
I'm so sorry Sarah, I wish I could explain things. | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

I can’t do these things because Starfield, like the real world I’ve been living in this year, doesn’t seem built to care about what real people might think or want. It’s not listening. Not necessarily because it hates us and enjoys the idea of watching us struggle, as comforting as that may be to think, but because it simply doesn't care if we live or die.

As I've wandered through its Godless universe, I’ve never actually been alone, but that’s exactly how I’ve felt. Despite the fact I’ve constantly heard my followers marching metronomically in my footsteps and felt the eyes of my crew on me as I sleep aboard my ship, they all feel so distant. They keep telling me how much they appreciate being in my orbit on a daily basis, but it’s as if they’re doing it through text on a screen, as they sit a thousand miles away from me.

I know they’re being genuine and I try to believe them. I really do, but it’s hard.

In our own insulated little bubble, we travel through a world that simultaneously seems incomprehensibly vast - in a fashion that reinforces exactly how tiny and insignificant you actually are more than it inspires cosmic wonder - and suffocatingly small. Inside this cavernous coffin, sold to us as Humanity’s home among the stars, there are only a few densely-populated systems which actually feel like that. Beyond them lie an overwhelming mass of places that are functionally close to empty or house ruins that might once have been something, but are now just home to nameless enemies purported to be gradually picking them clean. We’re in space, but the spacers have nothing to say aside from telling you to die.

It’s as though all of the real people have gradually been made redundant from 90% of the universe. They’ve been sent scattering back to the few remaining places where the lights are still being kept on or still traipsing through the wreckage, hopelessly trying to find something of value in the abandoned and the lost.

Everywhere you look, you see things that people have dedicated years of their finite lives to building and maintaining, seemingly cast aside for no reason other than that someone with power said so. If you’ve played the game for more than five minutes, you’ve encountered one of these people. “I failed, because I was more concerned about exploring the stars, rather than pushing a pencil,” Sarah Morgan says of her eight-year tenure running the UC’s navigator corps. “Because of my lack of foresight, all I ended up with was a shattered division and a bunch of excuses.”

A wall in the UC museum in Starfield.
So many lives, so little point. | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

The great bodies that ordered these shutterings sit fat and happy in their own little fiefdoms, having given up all out warfare in favour of meaningless posturing. They’re no longer really at war, just desperate to keep their coffers as full as possible and ensure loyalty from their captive audiences by convincing these populations that monoliths shrouded in their colours are the best to keep living in the shadows of and swearing fealty to.

This particular brand of nationalism feels just like the sickeningly chummy-sounding marketing miasma being pumped out by the various corporations that’ve spun their webs across UC and Freestar-controlled space. The galaxy is haunted by the ghost of the suffering caused by the end result of their attempts at expanding their influence across the interstellar frontier, so now they’re left trying to buy up and consolidate power in the withering husk of civilisation that remains.

Although I seem to spend most of my time just collecting various commodities and transferring them from one place to another, I do sometimes stumble across wondrous and beautiful things in the great dark beyond. There are breathtaking vistas and miraculous wonders out there, just waiting to be unearthed or re-discovered by people that might find joy in them.

I try to concentrate on these, no matter how large, small or somewhere in between they might seem. I try to take solace in their existence. To see it as evidence that, somehow, we are on the right path. Sometimes it works.

Eventually, I reach a point at which I feel like I’ve turned over nearly every stone and been stared at by every blank face in the vast expanse. I head for the unity, having put together the jigsaw puzzle that yields the nature of Starfield’s universe. Another version of me waits, surrounded by the glistening, dancing cosmic adornments of a corridor between worlds. In an unnervingly robotic voice they recount to me some of the consequences of the life I’ve lived.

The Unity in Starfield.
There he waits for me. To put an end to things. | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

Then, I walk into the shimmering mass at the centre of it all. No one and nothing comes with me. I stand alone, in a brave new world that looks pretty much exactly the same as the one I’ve just departed.

All I can do, much like the downtrodden masses of the Settled Systems, is gradually start trying to build something worthwhile once again, knowing that it’ll eventually end up abandoned.

I’m playing Starfield, and it’s 2023.

A Starborn in Starfield.
Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

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