As I wrapped up the Freestar Rangers questline in Starfield, a system-hopping detective romp that I thoroughly recommend to players starting out, my eyes drifted to the United Colonies Vanguard quest I'd neglected starting two dozen hours earlier. Would the Vanguard still want my company after I'd climbed the ranks of their biggest competition? Surely they'd at least give me the stink eye as I approached the help desk dressed in full Freestar cowboy getup, I thought.
Nope. The Vanguard rep didn't give a second thought to my Ranger badge, and even brushed off the brash comments of my companion, and noted UC hater, Sam Coe. In fact, the game treated me as if my history was a blank slate, and it seems like the same goes for the rest of the Starfield factions. Starfield will let you join every team without any repercussions, so don't worry about pissing them off.
On one hand, this is great: faction quests are the bread and butter of Bethesda RPGs, and it would be a bummer to get locked out of a huge chunk of content because you chose a side early on. I probably would've regretted going with the Freestar Rangers because, even though it was fun unraveling a galactic conspiracy, I'm already having a better time being a UC Vanguard errand boy. I'm glad I won't have to spin up another playthrough just to see what it's like to be a Crimson Fleet pirate, too.
According to Bethesda, that constant availability of content was exactly the goal.
"We really wanted to make sure you can play through all the faction lines independently of each other," explained lead quest designer Will Shen in a promotional video last year. "We really want the stories to be a little more personal. You're influencing the direction of where this faction is going to go."
On the other hand, the "one of everything on the menu" approach to Starfield's factions does soften their impact. What does it mean to be a Freestar Ranger if a few hours later I'm prancing across the galaxy in UC blue? I'm never truly committing to a role in Starfield, unless that role is "guy who does literally everything."
Even if getting to do all the quests is ultimately for the best, I think I should at least get called out for all my flip-flopping. Getting to wear every hat at once is empowering, but not exactly immersive. When Starfield treats me like I'm the center of the universe, the fantasy breaks down and the whole world starts to feel artificial. Something as minor as a snide remark about loyalty from my Vanguard boss would go a long way toward suspending disbelief.
The flip-flopper life is nothing new for Bethesda's writing style, but it does feel outdated among other great modern RPGs that have come out since Bethesda last finished a game. Baldur's Gate 3 constantly asks you to make decisions that affect what you'll get to do later in the game, which can be harsh, but also has me excited to see what I missed in a second playthrough. CD Projekt Red is closer to Bethesda with buffet-style questlines in Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3, but I like that both V and Geralt are often cast as temporary allies or incidental spectators to clashing factions. You get to be non-committal in a way that makes sense for your character, and without the part in Bethesda games where you literally swear an oath to a faction you're probably gonna ghost for the next hundred hours.
The bright side is Starfield has zero barriers to seeing all the good stuff it has to offer. At around 30 hours in, I'm a prodigy Freestar Ranger, a top prospect of the UC Vanguard, and as of last night the newest member of Neon's most pathetic street gang. My spacer is a walking contradiction, and though the world will never acknowledge it, at least I know it.