Bethesda jank kills Starfield’s most emotional moments

You’ve just told a woman that her husband is dead, but you’d never know it by looking at her thanks to Starfield’s unconvincing face tech.

A Starfield character sitting on a bench.

There’s been a lot of discourse around the Starfield character models and face tech recently. Well, there’s been a lot of discourse around Starfield in general, and its reception has certainly been the hottest topic I’ve witnessed since starting in the industry. Personally, I’ve tried to stay on the edge of it. Despite being a Fallout and space game fan, the pre-launch buildup to the Bethesda RPG game left me cold. With Starfield on Game Pass, though, curiosity got the best of me and I’ve given it a try, kicking any FOMO to the curb. During that time, one key issue has held it back for me, and there’s no greater example of this than the sad case of Claire Mensah.

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There are some elements of Starfield that I’ve enjoyed so far. Exploring planets for flora and fauna and scanning your surroundings is pretty fun, and this is how I found the audio log slate containing the final words of Roy Mensah. The emotional, well-written, and beautifully voice-acted log above almost brought me to tears as I listened to the final thoughts of a man lost in space. No details are given of his last job. Instead, this is about him, his family, and his love for them. He emotionally details how proud he is of his son as he apologizes for never seeing him become a father – a “better” one than him, he says. It’s about his regret of not spending more time with them while he still could, and for putting too much time into his work. It’s a powerful moment, one you may never even come across due to how inconsequential an activity it is in the grand scheme of Starfield. This emotive event, this attention to detail, is what pushes a game towards greatness for me. What happens next tarnishes it to the point of ruination.

A screenshot of the Roy Mensah audio log, featuring the subtitle "All I can think about... is your smile when you're happy... your tears when your heart's been broken... like mine is now..."

Naturally, you need to deliver this message to the rightful recipient – it already feels a little intrusive that you have to listen to the private message before you can deliver it, even though it quite clearly says “For Claire Mensah, New Atlantis” on it. The first problem here is, thanks to Starfield NPC interactivity, you just happen to instinctively know who this “Claire” is. Enter The Viewport in New Atlantis and there she is, almost as if she’s waiting for someone she had no clue was coming for her. This, I could let slide.

What I can’t forgive, however, is Claire’s unmoved, unemotive face. Starfield’s facial tech, and its failure to sell believable emotion, is never more apparent than when you’re telling a widow that her beloved husband has passed and that you pinched an audio slate from his cold, dead body. We now see this wife, this mother, whose voice says she is certainly supposed to be devastated, as she looks straight at you, not an ounce of sorrow in her eyes, her mouth, her demeanor.

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All of a sudden, this poignant side quest shoves you from any immersion and reminds you that this is a videogame. Once you’ve passed on the log and Claire emotes – vocally, at least – that she can’t bear to continue this conversation, she struts off, face straight, head held high, just as she was before her life was shattered. It’s a disappointing end to what had all the makings of an unforgettable encounter.

We have come to expect emotion, narrative, and drama from games today. In some cases, the writing might be there. The voice work might be there. But, in the case of Starfield, there is evidently something missing when it comes to making its characters – facsimiles of people – actually look emotional. It’s like this key part of what constitutes drama is still being neglected, or considered secondary, when its absence can totally undermine a strong performance or writing.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to like Starfield, as our Starfield review attests to. Some of the Starfield creatures and Starfield plants are lovely, but when the underlying tech betrays what could have been a stunning side quest, it’s very much a case of missed potential.

Still looking for more? While a good Starfield wiki can be a handy source of information, our new Starfield Database goes further, offering you daily news, searchable databanks, and even interactive tools.