Starfield | Game Review | Bethesda's Newest Release | Wading Through the Stars
Starfield is finally in our hands. Did Bethesda manage to launch their latest RPG into the stars, or did it crash and burn? Find out in this review.
They've finally ventured beyond Skyrim's shadow. Starfield, Bethesda's long-awaited interstellar adventure, offers a vast universe but feels somewhat familiar.
- Massive Universe: Starfield presents a massive universe with hand-crafted settlements and intriguing stories.
- Great Visuals: The game showcases an evolution in visuals, with an '80s sci-fi aesthetic that nails the atmosphere.
- Creative Shipbuilder: The shipbuilder feature allows players to construct unique spaceships, adding a layer of creativity to the game.
- Lackluster Combat: Combat in Starfield, especially gunplay, feels lackluster and less satisfying than previous Bethesda titles.
- Repetitive Gameplay: The gameplay loop can become repetitive with the usual RPG activities of talking to NPCs, taking quests, and exploring.
- Long Loading Screens: Some loading screens drag on, and occasional crashes disrupt the otherwise consistent performance.
They’ve finally done it. After more than a decade of re-releasing Skyrim in various editions of a myriad of consoles, Bethesda Game Studios has finally allowed something new to squeak through their doors. Starfield, the long-awaited interstellar adventure, is here.
The legendary studio has made a sizeable hullabaloo out of the fact that this marks their first new IP in 25 years, but I’m still not sure if that’s supposed to be taken positively or negatively. It's also the first game they've released since Fallout 4 (nearly eight years ago), which is something of an accomplishment on its own.
Having seen the literal new universe they’ve created for Starfield and where this new narrative goes, it definitely feels like something they wanted to hit hard after two-and-a-half decades of sequels.
But, did it stick the landing? Find out in this review of Starfield on Xbox Series X. Since, you know, that’s one of three places you can play it. Thanks, Microsoft.
The Return of a Legend: Bethesda Game Studio's Newst RPG
I usually dedicate this next portion of my reviews to talk about the developer of the game I’m reviewing, but it’s unlikely that Bethesda needs any kind of introduction for our Starfield review. They’re the purveyor of genre and era-defining Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, the last two Fallout games, and well, that’s about it. Unless you count IHRA Professional Drag Racing 2005. I don’t.
Bethesda has subsisted mostly on its publishing side over the past few decades, but when a new game that they developed is launched, it’s usually something of a cultural moment. Starfield is no exception. The promise of the studio’s signature storytelling and gameplay spread out among “more than” 1,000 planets had everyone chomping at the bit to play it, myself included.
So, why was I so surprised to find that Starfield, the game we all waited so long for just… kind of feels like another Bethesda game? Just the next one in a long line of Bethesda RPGs?
Story of the Cosmos
Starfield pits you as a nobody - a lowly space miner - who happens to come into contact with a mysterious artifact. That artifact has implications for all life in the known universe, and it falls on you to track down more artifacts across different star systems. It’s new narrative territory for a Bethesda game, but not new for most gamers by now.
While they were making Starfield, Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky came, flopped, and was rebuilt into one of the most expansive, feature-packed games about life beyond the stars ever made. So by the time Starfield started asking me to do the things I’d been doing in No Man’s Sky for the last seven years, I was hoping it had a little more up its sleeve. And it does. Much, much later though.
The comparisons to No Man’s Sky don’t end at Starfield’s narrative, but more on that later.
The standard RPG fare applies to Starfield’s opening. You’ll create a character using a substantially detailed creator system, select one of several interesting backgrounds that determine how you’ll play the game, and then pick up to three skills for a few spicy experience modifications.
My personal build of a Beast Hunter with an adoring fan led to some interesting interactions, but the surrounding game felt very standard for Bethesda. The main story quest missions (or “errands” as I’ve started calling them) got dry pretty quickly, but thankfully there are plenty of interesting random encounters and tons of dense side missions to pad out the experience. In classic Bethesda fashion, some of the best content in the game is in the side content.
I’ve seen some people suggest that you beeline through Starfield's main questline so you can enjoy the side content and post-game sooner, and I’d say that’s not a bad course of action. Once you slog through several dozens of hours of main story quests, the ending payoff and how the post-game is structured are very interesting. Does it make all of those rote missions worth it? Not for me, but it seems to be working for many others.
In terms of visuals, Starfield is a clear evolution of what Bethesda has brought to the table in recent games. The stiff dialogue interactions complete with full-on face zoom-ins are still there, but the lip-synching and subtle facial animations are on a whole other level (as well they should be).
A big controversy going around just before and right after Starfield’s release was the fact that you can’t really explore entire planets all at once, and despite there being hundreds upon hundreds of planets you can observe and interact with, most of them are barren and not really worth visiting.
All of that is true, but it’s 1.) accurate, and 2.) playing to Bethesda’s strengths. Rather than randomly generating a bunch of nonsense for you to see on every planet that doesn’t serve any purpose for Starfield itself, you have a handful of planets with well-designed, hand-made settlements full of people and things to do. Every settlement or village I encountered had a cool story to tell.
Every planet I visited, both inhabited and uninhabited, looked pretty cool. And that was good enough for me. A major standout is the massive, gleaming hub world of New Atlantis, which contains spires of shining glass and architecture that gave me hope for a future we might not ever get to see.
We’ve come far enough in video game technology and hardware that environments can look about as real as they need to, so everything comes down to art direction and performance these days. The design on the space stations, planets, and outposts in Starfield are all what I would call “generically sci-fi”, but I mean that more positively than it sounds.
There were plenty of times when I could have fooled myself into thinking I was playing a pretty awesome Alien game (something that doesn’t happen very often these days), or even an Outland game (something that has never happened as far as I can remember). Being a sci-fi nerd, Starfield was always going to scratch a certain itch for me. But having it absolutely nail that 80s sci-fi aesthetic makes it that much better.
In terms of performance, there’s not much to complain about. I played Starfield on my Series X, and the game ran at a pretty solid clip the entire time. The game is of course locked to 30fps which had some fans up in arms, but it's fine. I didn’t notice any dips even when the action got heavy, which is what I assume Bethesda was aiming for.
I do think some loading screens went on just a little too long, and I had the game crash on me at one point, but the actual minute-to-minute performance is consistent if not all that particularly impressive.
So Many Things to Do
Again, if you’ve played a Bethesda game, you know what’s in store for you in Starfield in terms of gameplay.
Talk to NPCs, take on quests, explore.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Not all missions will require you to fight, and Starfield’s persuasion mechanic gives you a chance to avoid altercations completely if you’re a smooth talker. Persuasion seems like it probably works on hidden dice rolls, and having played a ton of Baldur’s Gate I enjoyed trying to persuade NPCs of just about anything even though my build wasn’t particularly suited to that.
However, when you do have to fight, the combat doesn’t feel how you might expect it to.
They could have just used Fallout’s combat system since that’s been pretty successful, but Starfield’s fights feel different. And not in a particularly satisfying way. Gunplay felt kind of limp and not satisfying to me - which is a shame since there is also a Borderlands-style, procedurally generated gun attribute system that looks really cool. I just didn’t enjoy shooting things as much as I have in other Bethesda games including Fallout 4, and melee combat is similarly less visceral than you might hope.
Combat feels like it’s there because it has to be, while the No Man’s Sky-style flora and fauna scanning felt like a fun, relaxing addition. You’ll occasionally have to fight the inhabitants of the planet when you scan them, but the feeling of “charting out the cosmos” and its secrets was pretty successful for me. But I’m a sucker for that stuff.
Before I wrap up this section, let’s talk a little bit about what should really be Starfield’s headlining feature, the thing that makes the entire game worth playing in my opinion - the shipbuilder.
In the ship-building mode, you use a variety of parts to construct your own spaceship with very few limitations. Well, it starts out a little limited since you can’t technically build a ship from scratch, but if you take one of your ships and delete all the parts, that’s kind of like a blank slate!
You buy and sell parts, and you get access to more as you progress through the game, but the number of possibilities with even the base parts are impressive. People have built full recreations of Star Trek and Star Wars ships in addition to wildly imaginative original creations. It’s like a Lego system that allows you to build things you can actually explore and fly in! The space combat was another weak point for me, but experiencing Starfield's space exploration and zooming across the galaxy in a ship I built was worth the time I spent building it. Who doesn't love some good space adventure?!
Starfield: Failure to Launch
Starfield isn’t the savior of gaming some people thought it might be. It has a handful of problems, and there are aspects of it that aren’t as fun as they were in other games from the same studio.
However, it is still wildly expansive, full of content, and feature-packed to the point that just about anybody can find something to love about it. There’s a reason PlayStation fans are upset, but at least they have Spider-Man 2 right around the corner.
I don’t know that I would pay full price to play Bethesda's latest RPG, Starfield, but as an incentive to try out Game Pass on PC and Console, it can’t really be beat. For those looking for an epic space adventure, you could definitely do a lot worse.
Overall Score: 7/10
Product collection: Fallout
What is Starfield?+
Starfield is Bethesda's latest RPG, an interstellar adventure set in a vast universe, marking the studio's first new IP in 25 years.
What is the gameplay like in Starfield?+
Starfield offers typical RPG gameplay, including talking to NPCs, taking on quests, and exploration. The game introduces a persuasion mechanic for non-combat interactions.
Is Starfield any good?+
Starfield is recommended as an enticing addition to Game Pass on PC and Console. While it has its problems, its expansiveness, content, and features make it worth trying for those seeking an epic space adventure.
Is Starfield available on PlayStation?+
No, Starfield is not available on PlayStation. It's an Xbox exclusive title, as Bethesda is now part of Xbox Game Studios following Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax Media in 2021.
What was Starfield's release date?+
Starfield was released on September 6, 2023. Players can now enjoy the game's interstellar adventure as it has already been launched.
How is the combat in Starfield?+
Combat in Starfield, especially gunplay, is criticized for feeling lackluster and less satisfying compared to other Bethesda games. Melee combat is also mentioned as less visceral.
How does Starfield compare to No Man's Sky?+
Starfield shares narrative and exploration elements with No Man's Sky but offers more structured storytelling. It prioritizes handcrafted settlements over procedural generation, giving depth to fewer planets. While both have merits, Starfield leans on Bethesda's RPG strengths.