While I really love almost everything about Starfield, one thing I disagreed with since the start was the immense focus of not just the structure of the game, but the structure of its main storyline to be fully in service to the concept of New Game Plus.
To talk about this, we’re going to have to get into spoilers, but I tried to wait long enough so many people will have at least finished the main campaign once.
About two thirds of the way through the main story, once you meet the Starborn and understand they are not aliens, but some sort of interdimensional humans, I figured I knew where this was going, given everything Bethesda had previously said about the “unique” New Game Plus concept.
I figured we were going to become Starborn ourselves and do the loop over again, now with knowledge of what’s coming, and the ability to make different decisions. So, mainly how a normal New Game Plus works plus a significant story reason for it. This is exactly what happened.
The problem is that the New Game Plus loop is in direct opposition to how most people play Bethesda games. You feel like you’re missing out on the core concept of the game if you don’t do New Game Plus to find out the changes and tiny bonuses and occasionally wacky things like otherworldly openings (with the rest of the run being exactly the same). But if you do this, you lose almost everything in the entire game.
New Game Plus works better in single player games that are not heavily reliant on looting and crafting and building. But even in those games, you often get to keep the weapons you’ve acquired in new playthroughs, maybe upping the difficulty as you go.
In Starfield you lose everything. All your weapons and armor, all your credits. Every quest is wiped, and New Game Plus only gives you the chance to skip the main quest. But it’s not just that. In a game that encourages creative ship and base-building, you lose all of that, all your designs and materials and whatever you’ve built to that point. And for a game that encourages exploration, you lose all your survey data on however many worlds you’ve bothered to catalogue.
Why…would they design the game like this? I understand that many people start new save files in Bethesda games to do new characters, make new decisions and try different builds. But you do not erase your old character to do that. And in this version the one thing you cannot do is try a new build, because Bethesda will not let you remove any of your skill points and put them somewhere else for any reasons. So if you were a combat character and you want to start exploring and base-building better instead, you have to crawl your way through higher levels to get those skill points now, which takes way, way longer than before.
What all this leads to is that at a certain point, if you want to “max out” the game like you would a normal Bethesda RPG, you have to just pick a spot and settle down. For me, that was NG+2, as I was tired of losing all my progress, and speedrunning NG+ loops, which is possible with campaign skip and easy artifact finding, was not enjoyable either once I realized the “alternate” starts were random and they didn’t do anything significant except give you a funny intro.
I don’t think structuring New Game Plus around losing every bit of progress minus your skill points was a good call for a game like this, and it marred the ending of what I thought was otherwise a great game. I also think the main storyline suffered for it, as it ended without any real answers as to who set this loop up in the first place with all these temples and weird artifact tech, because it sure wasn’t the human Starborn. Maybe that answer is in DLC, but I don’t like that either. This whole concept could have been a lot better.