Playing Starfield after playing quite a bit of Star Citizen earlier in the year has been a fascinating comparison study in game design and development. Both games have comparable, enormous visions, but they’ve approached these visions in structurally distinct ways.
In Star Citizen, space feels big. It takes a lot of real world time to do anything or go anywhere. With a focus on physicalized and persistent simulation, things feel substantial and distances feel large. It does a lot of what I’ve heard folks are missing from Starfield.
And yet, if you actually play Star Citizen, while you’ll find many of these elements of game design that are missed in Starfield, you’ll find that it is precisely these elements that separate a shipped and playable game from a persistently pre-release, frequently unplayable one.
Starfield is full of jank, with all the bugs I’m used to from playing Bethesda’s other games. But also, and more importantly, it’s full, period. There are things to do, people to talk to, planets to visit, and actual completable activities to do there. It doesn’t just have systems—it has gameplay.
And it’s Bethesda gameplay, sure. I’m here for it, but you don’t have to be. But in comparison to the alternative vision, it becomes so clear why Starfield made all the choices it did. In short, Starfield traded simulation for a game, and it’s better for it.
Star Citizen has been in development since before production on Starfield began. There’s no sign that it will be released anytime soon, nor even that it will make it out of Alpha in the near future.
I think the vision of the game is marvelous, but as someone who works in game production, Cloud Imperium’s roadmap terrifies me. As Star Citizen is currently tracking, Bethesda could very well release a Starfield 2 before Star Citizen has a full release.