Starfield feels like a game that people have been waiting a long time for. Waiting, in the sense that it’s been ages since Bethesda has put forth an original IP outside of the world of Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series, and waiting in the sense that Microsoft has quite a lot to prove in the prestige exclusive space. Thus, Starfield exists to satisfy that itch for something different and it’s finally here.
As someone who didn’t pay much attention to the pre-release spectacle, I was ready to go all in and see if this new experience was more than what it seemed on a surface level; if it had taken some proven RPG formulas and evolved them further for the modern age. The answer to that question is somewhat complicated and it became something I thought about often as I made my way through the game.
At its core Starfield is a tried-and-true Bethesda game. What I mean by that is, if you’ve played Skyrim, Oblivion, or Fallout 4, things will be familiar to you right out of the gate. They certainly were for me, having played those other titles previously, so easing into the character creator and then the opening of the narrative was easy enough.
Unlike those other titles, however, Starfield starts you off as a lowly spacer, content to investigate a mysterious artifact during a mining operation. Cue some classic science fiction mystery and you’ve got yourself on your way to more habitable planets and the chance to join a special organization looking for such objects: Constellation.
The main story will pull you along, having you planet-hopping from one place to the next in order to uncover more of these items. Because it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to be looking for a lot of them after seeing the display at Constellation’s headquarters. There’s quite a lot of this and I did feel it got repetitive for many hours until a certain turning point in the narrative puts everything on its head.
The repetition lies in the fact that you'll be spending a lot of time chasing after those artifacts and it is largely the same formula throughout with grabbing the quest, heading to a specific planet, fighting off some random space pirates or mercenaries, and grabbing the goods before rinsing and repeating.
From there the rest at least kept my interest – I really wanted to see where the specific sci-fi elements ended up and I wasn’t disappointed. Without going into spoiler territory, it feels like a proper inspiration was taken from classic films in the genre but with its own twists and cleverness.
That said, you can plow through the story fairly quickly, about 20 hours straight through. The meat of the Starfield experience then lies in the vast amount of side content, and there is a lot of it. There's enough here that you can wander off and not even touch the main scenario. Between building up your ship's crew, helping or hurting people for your own gain, or simply scanning planets for resources, these activities really help sell Starfield's grand scale.
It wouldn’t be a Bethesda game without factions, so you can spend time joining up with the Rangers as I did for some outlaw-hunting fun. There are a few others too and the litany of choice given to you is just as far and wide as there is to do things in this game.
Beyond that, just traversing throughout the universe will net various side quests that take you off the beaten path and I found that it was easy to go off on those sorts of tangents, ones I would spend hours meandering and looking for this optional content and talking to my ever-present companions.
Aside from these quests, Starfield breaks the mold by offering up an incredible amount of locations to explore, gather resources from, build outposts, collect spaceships, and further customize your character.
To that end, you’ll spend Skill Points towards different attributes for whichever playstyle you want to favor whether it be in Physical, Social, Combat, Science, or Tech traits. Certain abilities are locked away in here too like access to a jetpack, so be sure to check those out as you earn points so you don’t miss out like I did at first.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the other core gameplay loop in Starfield – that is, the combat system. It’s something you’ll be spending a lot of time with and this is the part where I feel is a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Your main weapons of choice are a variety of guns and sometimes melee weapons, with the former taking up most of your inventory space.
Gunplay is shockingly basic, and at its worst, it’s all just clunky and a lot of times repetitive to the point of boring - a revelation that surprised me considering its prominent place in the core gameplay loop. Whilst there is an additional element that comes into play, it doesn’t open up until hours later, even if you’re strictly doing the main quest, so you’re left with the complimentary systems tying back to those Skill Points picking up all the slack.
Which for me worked out fine in a way, because I did start to really favor using more persuasive efforts to get out of risky situations.
Of course, there’s a beefy New Game Plus mode to consider with further quests and mechanics that make me question why some of it wasn’t at least in the initial playthrough, but I suppose there has to be some incentive to do that mode to begin with.
On the presentation and performance side of things, Starfield can be a mixed bag. Many interstellar backdrops look amazing, as do certain environments. There are other visual elements related to the story that look stunning and complement the space opera-esque soundtrack.
On the other hand, character models are serviceable, but their animations have a lot left to be desired, often left with stilted mouth movements and a lot of desync between audio and lip flaps. Other performance woes include several bugs that I encountered, ranging from random freezes to NPCs straight up forgetting they were supposed to be allies, and trying to shoot me down. Certainly, it could be worse but those issues are there and can hopefully be fully patched out eventually.
Starfield Review | Final Verdict
But even with those issues, Starfield is at least worth taking a look at if you have any sort of interest in the science fiction setting. I think that’s what sold it the most for me, as someone who puts a lot of value in things like narrative and the outlying world-building. There are rough patches even there but for a new concept and new IP, the foundation is there to expand on it and perhaps build something greater in the future.
Like any Bethesda game, the side content is king and your mileage is going to vary depending on how much you like digging into the micromanagement aspects with the spaceships, resources, and exploration. If you’re more interested in quests, there’s plenty to go around outside of the main scenario so stick to those for more of the interesting writing bits.
It’s easy to get sucked into doing just those for hours and hours and I think that type of content is ultimately Starfield’s biggest strength and its test in the face of time and its contemporaries.
Starfield was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 43 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Space setting used to its fullest
- Incredible depth of side quests and content
- Plenty of player choice and dialogue options
- New Game Plus shakes things up for multiple playthroughs
- Solid soundtrack and audio direction
- Performance woes and various bugs
- Repetitive main story
- Stale combat for at least a good chunk of the game
- Some frustrating design decisions