Starfield – Review

Bethesda Studio’s latest flagship title Starfield has finally launched (see what I did there) and after spending a considerable amount of time with it I have finally made my evaluation because, oof, this was a difficult one to judge.

First announced back in 2018, Bethesda kept details close to their chest, promising a universe of exploration and questing. When the first showcase dropped it did look pretty and the gameplay looked solid, but there was a thought in the back of my mind “This is looking like No Man Sky“.

Spaceship Traveling in hyperspace

You begin your journey as a miner on a backwater planet and during a requested expedition you discover a supposed alien artefact. Upon touching it you are given a vision which overloads your senses. Waking up in the infirmary, the buyer has come to collect and upon hearing of your vision claims you must now join his organisation “Constellation“. After a brief encounter with pirates, he agrees to stay behind in your place so you take the ship and a robot to meet with the other members of Constellation.

Members of Constellation around a meeting table

The problem with this intro is that there’s no sense of player urgency in comparison to other Bethesda titles, we’re not chasing after a family member, and we’re not a prisoner on the run. We could have been happy mining then this dude just pops up saying “You must join Constellation cause this is bigger than you.” Blah, blah. To which my honest response was “Nah mate, I’m fine“. Although the game did give this dialogue choice, even if it was a false choice and I was railroaded into the main plot.

person in a space suit sat in pilots chair

This was another problem, I felt like the plot was happening to me rather than advancing because of me. Upon reaching Constellation you’re given a brief rundown of their mission – to search for extraterrestrial life – and are tasked with finding more pieces of this artefact. This is how the main plot progresses for the first few hours, a member joins you, you rocket off to a planet, a complication happens, you resolve, find an artefact, return, rinse and repeat.

After about a dozen hours or so an interesting twist happens and a new adversary is introduced, however, this was a dozen hours of just the main plot so, yeah, it has a definite pacing issue.

third person combat shooting
first person shooting an alien "dinosaur"

The side content is where the writing really shines though, with interesting mini-stories and faction quests, with dilemmas that wouldn’t feel out of place in Star Trek. The shipbuilding is very robust but also has limits, like power distribution and weight, so you can’t just go making a mammoth warship. Base building and weapon/armour upgrading is a call back to Fallout 4, but this somehow feels slightly worse and too extensive to be intuitive.

Spaceship engaged in combat in outer space. Debris is floating about

The main reason for this is the absurdly limited carry weight everything has and the staggering huge variety of crafting materials. True to form every location has thousands of lootable containers each with what feels like randomised contents. A lot of it is junk but you’ll be swimming in weapons, food, first aid and crafting mats only to have the dreaded “over-encumbered” flash in the top corner. While this doesn’t slow you to a crawl like in previous games, it does limit your oxygen (stamina by another name) and disables fast travel. Yes, you can offset this with companions. Yes, you can spend upgrade points to improve capacity. But these are solutions to a problem that didn’t need to be in the game.

star shaped space station

The hand-crafted locations are great with a real variety to them. We have New Atlantis, which you will visit a lot and feels very Starfleet headquarters, Atlus, a western-feeling outpost, and Neon, a very cyberpunk micro city on an oil rig. However, outside of these, the planets run into the same problems as other games of this genre: they are very barren, very similar and feel very copied/pasted with features. I personally ran into the same building with the same enemy layout within the same biome. 

first person shooting

To be clear, when you land on a planet you’re not given free rein, you have a roughly 5km square map and once you hit the edge you must take off and land in a different area to experience a change in biome. This is an obvious limitation in the engine used as there still isn’t a seamless transition between cells (outside and inside) and you will be seeing that load screen a lot.

The game feels very “Bethesdary“. Animations are very familiar and faces appear more emotive in conversation but still feel robotic when they reset to default between every sentence. The only new addition to gameplay is the ship flying and combat which is passable. Different size ships do feel different to pilot, and combat does have a slight auto aim which helps in dogfights. There is also a system targeting mode which feels like “VATS” from Fallout.

ship landed on a planet, outpost behind

Outside of the questing and the building, the moment-to-moment gameplay is pretty much whatever you want from it. I’ve seen people happily catalogue planets, fauna and flora, there are bounty boards that refresh constantly, and I once had a friend tell me they enjoyed hunting down pirates, stealing their ships to sell on for profit. This is when I realised the type of game this could be. Outside of the dull opening hours and the drab planets, Starfield could become a true space sandbox where many an adventure could be had like Skyrim and Fallout before it. The game lore even has a reason to start a new game plus playthroughs.

player character looking over a barren landscape which is what 90% of what this game is

My final thoughts are this, if you play No Man’s Sky, Elite Dangerous, or Star Citizen, Starfield isn’t going to drag you away from it – they all do what they do better. If you thought The Outer Worlds would have been better with ship piloting and more exploration then it’s a maybe. Heck even if you like other Bethesda RPG’s it’s a maybe. It’s a Bethesda game stretched over a far, FAR too large skeleton, so much so that you can see through in the areas it’s too thin. But it is still a Bethesda game.

7/10 star rating

Platforms: Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft Windows

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Publishers: Bethesda Softworks





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *