Do you recall the wonder you had as a child waking up for Christmas, knowing SOMETHING was there but not exactly what it was? So the mystery surrounding it was like a crescendo at an opera, just steadily rising. All the instruments are starting up, the curtains pull back, and then in your room, the sun begins sneaking through the window. The crisp cold air has a stillness that could let you pick out your own heartbeat without effort. Then comes the moment when you enter the living room. After that, it’s nearly indescribable since each experience is so uniquely different, all sharing some sort of variations of excitement. If that description excites you, then understand that is precisely how I felt when I ventured through the first 20 hours of Bethesda Game Studios’ new space-faring title, Starfield. Sadly, beyond that it didn’t hold as much hope as I had put into it, but still had a lot to enjoy for those who like to explore.
Bethesda Game Studios (BGS) is well known for its two major franchises – Fallout and The Elder Scrolls both with multiple entries over decades. I and fellow writer Ayla Ruby are fans of Fallout so I was excited for the opportunity to immerse myself in another fun RPG, but in a setting I adore, SPACE. (see examples: Among The Stars, Shatner Trek: Where No Actor Has Gone Before, and Review: A Million Miles Away). So playing Starfield was right up my alley.
I’ve given hundreds of hours to Skyrim, Fallout 4, and Fallout: New Vegas. What attracted me to these games was the countless entertainment I got from each one. Starfield capitalizes on that premise by opening up the game more, by providing planets and moons to explore individually. If this is seemingly familiar, perhaps you’ve played a little bit of No Man’s Sky!
Couple that sense of exploration (and it is NOT a 1:1, let me clarify that now) with the storytelling you’ve become accustomed to in BGS settings. If you played Fallout 4 you’ll immediately recognize the gunplay and melee weapon swing animations when it comes to combat. Naturally, I fell in love with the literal universe presented to me recently. I’ve logged probably 500 hours cumulatively across the other Bethesda titles and see myself hitting triple digits in this one. As of this writing, I’m halfway there.
[Warning: Spoilers from Bethesda Game Studio’s Starfield are below!]
The story of Starfield
One key thing to note here is that your decisions obviously affect the story. With that being said, I’m going heavily into spoiler territory and warn you now.
The simplest explanation is hard to deliver due to the nature of this story. Artifacts that are long metal boards exist deep within caves across the galaxy. Upon your character interacting with one, visions, voices and distort gravity and reality around you. It’s vaguely similar to the trip that Doctor Strange first takes when The Ancient One presses his forehead. This chance encounter leads you to join Constellation, a group of individuals pursuing knowledge of the Artifacts.
Constellation has a variety of (former) members from most major factions. This puts Constellation in a prime position to have contacts throughout the “Settled Systems”’ which is the area that extends 50 light years from our Solar System. This ranges from the UC “United Colonies” and Freestar Collective to smaller factions like the cultish House Va’ruun, the Crimson Fleet space pirates, and the unethical Ryujin Corporation.
As nature intended, you run into just about all of them since you have to run around and collect even more Artifacts as part of the main quest line. In the middle of collecting said artifacts, these mysterious “Starborn” appear and attack you each time you track down a new Artifact. It trickles through a history of man’s achievements amongst the stars. The ending is rather flat and by far the most disappointing part of the game.
Some improvements necessary for Starfield
Fallout 3 had significant outcomes for the different factions depending on how you handle the final objective. Starfield lacks that oomph of a memorable finale, instead, it morphs it into a New Game+ option. Coupled with forgettable companions and locations it just lacked the thing that clicked for the other Bethesda franchises.
The most accurate explanation I saw was in passing on X/Twitter (I think?) that said everything is actually quite good but it just lacks some little thing to pass it over the threshold into GREAT. The ship building, outpost building, companions, story, space travel, locations, enemies, factions, reveals. None of these were bad but I can’t really name any of the creatures, unlike the ease I have with Deathclaws and Draugrs.
Something that shouldn’t be a hassle in an RPG is navigating menus or managing inventory. I found issues with both. They lack clarity and instructions on how to do more efficient traveling, a lot has to be figured out by yourself or stumbling across one of many “Things you may have missed/16 Tips for Starting Starfield” YouTube videos.
Luckily, I play on PC, and Bethesda games are easily and quickly modded. After 40 hours I had enough and enlisted a good friend to help me get some Quality of Life modifications. I went for StarUI for my inventory, spaceship animation skippers, Navigation Menu 60 FPS lock, and Undelayed Menus. I did have more but these four alone made a massive shift in my enjoyment, no longer did I have to wait to get up into space or eat my alien stir fry to heal mid-fight. It’s become customary to go for mods in Bethesda titles but I opted to give the vanilla game at least an opportunity.
Graphics, gameplay, & gunplay
Bethesda Game Studio took advantage of what they adopted in Fallout 4 with the animations and physics of combat. Many sound and visual effects were absolutely reused from the past, especially the airlocks in place of vault doors. A big point of contention is the “exploration” of planets and how they are randomly generated. Simply put, you select a spot on the planet/moon (that isn’t water) and you will land with a sizable area around you that is discoverable. It does have a cut-off point and you would have to go back to the map and select a new point to advance beyond it. As far as the “random generating” it’s mostly structures, mines, and pirate outposts that eventually spawn in the distance and then appear on your scanner tool interface.
Visually, the game looks great for the current year but I already foresee similarities that time will not be kind to it. The ships, mines, and research facilities all look great and appropriate for the futuristic look but keep it functional over aesthetical. As in, the ships look more like hauler trucks with gravity drives rather than funky shapes and saucers.
The marquee location, New Atlantic City, is very clean and open and operates with a nice speed rail that quickly takes you to commercial or residential districts and back to the spaceport when you’re ready to resume your adventures. But nothing sticks out or is interesting enough to hang around in, I found myself turning in my quests and then heading back out immediately. Even with densely populated crowds, it was far better being in my ship or mining gold on a random planet.
Final verdict on Starfield from Bethesda Game Studio
I intentionally stayed as blind as possible going into this game so I knew the bare minimum: space combat, weapons, and starships. I wasn’t familiar with a single faction or companion beforehand. Even then, I still felt a bit disappointed when I made the push and opted to finish the last mission, “One Giant Leap”.
If you have Game Pass, sure give the game a try but I wouldn’t rush out to purchase it on it’s own when the chance to try it is much cheaper. I’ll say the game does open up a lot more after you complete “Into the Unknown” because by then you have a semblance of what the story is doing.
At first, it’s mostly fetch quests, I know I know, it’s very standard in RPGs. But at least with Skyrim, you have the backdrop of a civil war and the return of long-exist dragons. There was no pressing reason to complete the main quest aside from learning the whole story and seeing what the result of my actions would be. Rather than a montage of the impacts, I was transported to a parallel universe and allowed to resume as if I hadn’t just doomed an entire universe.
When I took the game as my own, I actually thrived. I spent around ten hours just doing side missions and collecting resources. Lowering the volume of dialogue and effects and letting the soundtrack guide me through dozens of star systems was very calming.
At times there would be surprise encounters that lead to different funny or awesome resolutions. A tour passing by requested to ask questions to the captain (me), and after agreeing to do so I was paid a couple thousand credits and was also hit on by one of the passengers. It’s the funny small moments that were highlights in my time playing. It was also quite relaxing to step away from running to point A, then B, and finally C, and back to A.
As I played more into a nondescript role of venturing into the void of space, I encountered some of my favorite moments. What shined brightest for me was going through fascinating planets and moons within our Solar System. Imagine my surprise when I was surveying the moon and saw the option to put my ship down at the Apollo landing site and see the planted American flag! Or having a random ship remind me that MY ship’s extended warranty is about to expire.
Overall, I found the game worth my time but it’s mostly because it resonated with elements like space and exploration. Those looking for Star Citizen or No Man’s Sky might find it lacking heavily in modification and navigation. A lot of what works in this game does well but lacks enough to make it a title that needs a DLC injection or more time for mods to expand an interesting new IP. I didn’t find myself that satisfied with my conclusion and did choose the New Game+ option, perhaps a second playthrough might warrant more for me if I go outside the main quest line.
Starfield is available for PC and Xbox and is currently included in the Xbox Game Pass subscription. Have you played Starfield? Join the conversation on our Discord or give us a follow on Twitter or Twitch!