Starfield is an action role-playing game developed and published by Bethesda Game Studios, releasing in 2023. First announced in 2018, the game takes place in a space-themed setting. It’s the first new intellectual property developed by Bethesda in 25 years.
In Starfield, players can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at any time. The game features an open world in the form of an area within the Milky Way galaxy, containing both fictional and non-fictional planetary systems. You’re able to land on more than 1,000 planets and an unspecified number of moons and space stations. The majority of the landscapes within the game were procedurally generated.
The largest city in the game, New Atlantis, is the largest fictional city Bethesda has developed. As you explore the game world, you encounter various non-playable characters, some of whom have the option to join the player’s crew.
At the start of the game, you can customize your character. As the player progresses, they gain experience and level up, allowing them to unlock abilities found in five distinct skill trees: Physical, Social, Combat, Science, and Tech. Each skill can be ranked up by completing related challenges. Prior to landing, you can scan planets and asteroids to view their natural resources. These must be extracted or harvested to fulfil crafting recipes. Outposts can be erected by the player, which can serve as homes or facilitate resource-extraction operations.
Additionally, you can construct, purchase, or commandeer spaceships. At various spaceports located on planets, the player can buy and sell parts and spaceships, or have their own repaired.
During combat, you can opt to allocate power to weapons systems rather than their ship’s “Grav Drive.” Both hostile and peaceful NPC-piloted spaceships can be boarded. The player can plunder, commandeer and destroy ships.
Would you consider yourself to be a fan of other Bethesda titles like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Well, how about Fallout or Skyrim but in space? If that sounds like your cup of tea then look no further than Starfield. If that sort of thing isn’t your jam and you’ve never enjoyed a previous Bethesda RPG, this won’t change your mind. All of the elements that you’ve come to expect from the developer are here, the good and the not so good.
Let’s be positive and talk about the good aspects. Firstly, the game looks fantastic. There’s a level of photorealism to almost every object on display. I’m aware there has been some criticism aimed at Starfield for what I am praising it for right now but I just don’t agree. I know that all modern video games are expected to have unbelievable visuals but I’m still impressed when I see it. I’m probably showing my age but I grew up with graphics that are terrifying by comparison. Simply put, anyone that claims that Starfield isn’t a massive step up in that department is just a liar. The fine detailing on just about everything is really quite wonderful. Whether it’s the armour, weapons or unnecessarily good looking food items, the effort is there to see. That’s not even taking into account the striking beauty and scale of the many, many galaxies and planets.
On the other hand, there are flaws in this department. Certain textures are low resolution and downright ugly when looked at up close. The NPC’s are most certainly improved from previous Bethesda RPG’s, looking quite lifelike at certain angles. I was particularly impressed by the lip-syncing via the astounding amount of spoken dialogue. Still, there are NPC’s that are seemingly void of any life altogether. They come across very robotic in their movements and the less said about some of their terrifying stares the better. There’s a glaring lack of emotion and expressiveness to their reactions. The game engine that Bethesda uses for their games is being pushed to the absolute limits here.
The gunplay is solid; I don’t have many complaints here. However, I cannot deny that I missed the V.A.T.S. system used in the Fallout franchise. There’s a nice variety to the weaponry but nothing as memorable as the Fat Man launcher sadly. I found myself using the same one of two weapons with little need to change.
To me, it feels like there is an illusion of choice when it comes to tackling combat scenarios and missions. Those who enjoy a more stealthy approach may struggle. The enemies are almost too good at detecting you. I didn’t put enough upgrade points into that particular skill tree I suppose. I’d say another criticism is the games slow levelling system that sees upgrade points feeling very sparse. I know this is designed to encourage replays but too many of the better skills are locked away. This is another area that really needed to be refined.
I don’t know about you but one of the reasons I love Bethesda RPG’s is the stories that are delivered within their worlds. Unfortunately, this might just be the weakest aspect of Starfield. Sure, there are moments of grandeur and excitement but these moments are too infrequent. I’m actually a little shocked that there is such a lack of interesting quests in the game. I only found a handful to be particularly memorable which is hugely disappointing considering the scale and potential. The best way I can describe the missions in the game are basic and predictable. I wouldn’t call any of them bad at all, just uninspired and average at best. The main storyline is intriguing for sure but it is another area that feels a bit like they could have done more there.
The companions are okay, just okay. I didn’t like how strict the game is in the ways it handles the morality system. The game promises freedom to be who you want to be, just make sure you’re not a bloodthirsty pirate because everyone will hate you. I suppose that’s realistic but it isn’t much fun either. I found most of their personal missions to be mundane, except Sarah’s which is a real highlight. Let’s put it this way, none of them are making anyone’s top 50 favourite video game characters.
There are temples that you visit to acquire what are essentially “Shouts” from Skyrim and man, it’s as lazy as you can get. There are 20+ and they all have you doing the exact same puzzle with no variety at all. Worse still, most the powers don’t feel very necessary or useful to me; the words “tacked on” come to mind. It’s a shame because the visuals during these puzzles are great but it’s just weak as hell.To me, Starfield is at its best when it comes to exploration. There are some truly stunning landscapes and the cities/towns are delightful to explore. Still, Starfield does its best to make even this feel like a chore with a god-awful map system. Not only are there no local maps to speak of in built up locations but the maps on planetary surfaces are insanely mundane. Do they expect you to memorize these massive locations? Good luck finding the store you need. The in space exploration is fairly pointless. The realistic scale means you cannot go anywhere without fast travelling. Other than the pretty looking planetary systems, it’s another lacking area. Space combat can be fun but it’s often a cumbersome experience at best and feels again, “tacked on”.
As someone who has extensively played No Man’s Sky, I can’t sit here and pretend like the lack of seamlessly landing/taking off from planets isn’t a disappointment. I still remember the first time I experienced that in NMS, it totally blew my mind. In my opinion, that game blows Starfield out of the water when it comes to space travel. The loading screens didn’t bother me as much as some people. I found the ones that take place during fast travel fairly swift but having them in place for entering so many buildings is unforgivable Bethesda.
Most of these issues that I have highlighted became more glaring as I got deeper into the latter stages of the game. I want to make it clear; I really enjoyed my time with Starfield. The early stages of space exploration were delightful. The first time I landed on Earth or the moon will likely go down as some of my all-time favourite gaming moments, it’s beautiful. The game has an amazing sound design that adds nicely to that feeling of wonderment. My favourite moments in Starfield came during these more quiet and contemplative segments of gameplay. It was at these times where I felt that I truly understood what Starfield was intending to deliver. It reminds us just how small we truly are in a seemingly infinite universe.
It’s a just a shame then that almost everything else in Starfield is such a mixed bag of dated mechanics. The foundations are there for much more to come but what is there right now feels a bit bare bones. The finer details are lacking and there needed to be a lot more refinement in a number of areas. The cumbersome menus, the procedurally generated landscapes that often feel repetitive, the ridiculous storage management system, I could go on. It’s a shame, I really want to love Starfield and in some ways I do but it’s a hard game to love at times.
The Final Score - 7/10