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PSA: Play Starfield’s campaign before doing side quests

I know, I know, that’s not how you play Bethesda games...

in a screenshot from Starfield, an astronaut walks beneath floating pieces of debris on a rocky planet Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via YouTube
Ari Notis (he/him) is a guides editor at Polygon, where he writes, edits, and shepherds service-oriented articles about the biggest games du jour. He previously worked at Kotaku.

Bethesda games typically open with a big bang, so it’s ironic — and potentially off-putting — that the studio’s first game in literal space does not. Know that Starfield does eventually get its explosive narrative moment. You’ll just need to get through a few campaign missions first.

Compared to the intros of Skyrim (dragon immolates a small village) and Fallout 4 (humanity immolates Earth), the opening hours of Starfield are almost offensively low-key. You’re cast as a space miner, and you spend time doing menial space miner things: wandering around a cave, pointing a laser at a rock, fighting off some space pirates. You might get aspirations of striking out on your own, seeing what wonders the galaxy holds. Don’t. If anything, prioritize the campaign — at least for the first few missions.

After completing the initial two missions, you get three missions at once: “Back to Vectera,” “The Empty Nest,” and “Into the Unknown.” You can tackle them in any order, but I’d suggest going with the latter. I hit “Into the Unknown” second, and dawdled my way to it, not starting the quest until roughly 20 hours into the game. Knowing what I know now, I’d have made it my top priority to complete “Into the Unknown” as soon as I could. That’s when you get a chance to see what Starfield is all about.

That is, in other words, when the Cool Shit happens.

[Ed. note: Spoilers follow for Starfield.]

An astronaut walks toward a glowing orb-like structure referred to by Bethesda as “the temple” in Starfield Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Just so we’re on the same page here: You get space superpowers. Yes! Space! Superpowers!

“Into the Unknown” tasks you with investigating a gravitational anomaly in a temple on an uncharted exoplanet. You solve a brief environmental puzzle by flying around with your jetpack (sorry, “boostpack”). And then you get the ability to create a localized area of low gravity, which causes any nearby enemies to temporarily levitate for a few seconds. It sets off a series of quests where you seek out more temples, acquire more powers, and evade a clandestine group that does not want you to acquire said powers.

Almost instantly, Starfield’s narrative switches from an interstellar chores list to a sweeping space opera with real backbone. The main quest is suddenly injected with enough intrigue to justify all the star-hopping (which can, admittedly, be tedious at times). And, again, space superpowers!

Still, it’s baffling just how buried this aspect of the game is.

With Skyrim, dragons and “Fus Ro Dah” were a linchpin of the game’s marketing, so you knew going in that you should get yourself some superpowers ASAP. With Starfield, you could quite legitimately go your entire playthrough without realizing you can levitate people with your mind or summon a giant fireball on command. If a colleague hadn’t pointed me toward “Into the Unknown,” I can’t say how long I’d have put it off. (The main quest isn’t exactly compelling at first!)

If you play Starfield as so many people play Bethesda games — by going off the beaten path and getting completely distracted by the meatier side quests — you’ll miss one of the coolest parts of the game, or at least spend dozens of hours without it. And, speaking from experience, you’ll kick yourself.

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