Starfield and Baldur’s Gate 3 are both RPGs that were released in 2023, but that’s where the similarities end. Starfield had that Bethesda hype, the enormity of Skyrim behind it and the stars in its future. Baldur’s Gate 3, however, had been slow burning in early access for a few years, but the excitement was generally contained to dedicated CRPG circles.
Larian Studios pushed the PC release date of Baldur’s Gate 3 forward by a few weeks – a completely unheard of practice – in order to avoid a clash with Bethesda’s hotly anticipated spacefaring RPG, but in the aftermath of both games, maybe it should have been Starfield worrying about clashing with Baldur’s Gate 3 rather than the other way around.
Note: What a year for massive RPGs, huh?
Baldur’s Gate 3 has critical and commercial acclaim up the wazoo, and while Starfield succeeded in the latter, it’s widely understood to have messed up the moon landing and ended up stranded on an empty, desolate planet where there’s nothing to do. The games have had opposite trajectories, but it’s the developers’ approaches to post-launch feedback – constructive or otherwise – that interests me most.
Bethesda developers have been clapping back at bad Steam reviews for weeks now, with copy-pasted responses about building new characters or respeccing into different builds in order to enjoy the monotony of space travel. While responding to reviews is an encouraged practice, especially in the indie scene, in order to supposedly boost your visibility on Steam, these petty responses from a studio the size of Bethesda come across as petulant and childish.
Compare this to Larian. Baldur’s Gate 3 is by no means perfect, as anyone who’s reached the final act will tell you. Some companions, who are so well written throughout, have dissatisfying conclusions. Bugs become more egregious as you progress past the areas developed in early access. But does Larian whine on social media if you bring up something that’s wrong with the game? No, it writes it all down on one very big piece of parchment and tries to fix it in its next big, timely patch.
That’s not to say Bethesda hasn’t patched Starfield at all – you can eat food now! The health points it restores are still barely noticeable on your health bar, but at least you can eat it, right? I’m being a little uncharitable, but that comes with the territory when your developers get so defensive on social media.
Larian has the bonus of having developed much of Baldur’s Gate 3 in early access, so it knows what it’s doing when it comes to taking on board feedback and shifting development appropriately in light of it. The hardcore fans who have followed this project from EA know how things look before Larian takes that feedback on board, and knows what to expect when fixes are implemented. The community has swelled way past the size Larian could have imagined, but those core players are still there, and are likely imparting crucial knowledge of how things work to the newcomers. This is another area where Bethesda falls flat: managing expectations.
It’s the Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco all over again, where fans will dizzy themselves rabid poring over trailers and tidbits because they put 1,000 hours into Skyrim and want to do the same in space. Huge companies with loyal followings should have learned from CD Projekt Red, and should market their games appropriately. Instead, we got Todd Howard purporting quotable one-liners about Starfield’s size and scope. I and others were worried about the claim of 1,000 planets from the moment the words came out of his mouth, but it seems many people imagined 1,000 Jemisons and Neons populating Bethesda’s universe.
Early access certainly played a part in helping Larian to manage expectations surrounding Baldur’s Gate 3, as evidenced by the fact it seemed to appear out of nowhere and generate excitement after it was released, more than before. But even in the aftermath, its communication has been clear and all responses have been published through official channels, rather than individual developers picking fights on Steam.
Larian has come out of this situation looking graceful and composed, whereas Bethesda looks ragged and defensive. Both of their RPGs have issues, but Larian’s responses have given players hope, and its quick fixes have generated immediate goodwill that the game will keep improving based on the feedback given. Bethesda, on the other hand, looks like a studio that resents its playerbase and can’t handle criticism even where warranted.
Suddenly, players are hesitant about The Elder Scrolls 6, and already chattering about what Larian could be working on next. There is a world in which both games are masterpieces and Starfield gets a v2.0 update a lá Cyberpunk 2077 to redeem it in the eyes of fans. But with the studios’ current responses to players, Bethesda needs to be careful that it doesn’t alienate its entire fanbase before its next title releases.
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