Starfield Review – The Elder Space Scrolls Minus Bugs


Starfield is a game that requires little introduction. For years, Bethesda provided players with huge worlds to immerse themselves into with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, and the prospect of being able to have a similar experience in a space setting was more than enough to get every role-playing game fan excited about what the development studio was cooking up. The hype surrounding the first new IP from the developer in decades was so high that even multiple delays didn’t dampen fans’ enthusiasm worldwide.

After a very long wait, Starfield is finally here, and it is safe to say it can meet every Bethesda fan’s expectation, although those expecting the game to lean heavily into the space simulation genre like No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous may end up a bit disappointed. For better or worse, Starfield is a Bethesda game through and through.

While facial animations are hit-and-miss, the game’s locations are gorgeous.

Despite giving players almost complete freedom to write their own story inside the game’s world, Starfield, much like the latest games from the studio, does feature a central story that is actually quite engaging. After creating their custom character through a character creator that offers a wealth of options regarding body type, face features, background, and traits, with the latter two featuring some very interesting options for role-playing, such as the Starter Home trait, which grants the character ownership of a small house but with a credit mortgage to pay back, players will be thrust into a regular day in the life of their character, toiling away in the mines as a worker for the Argos Extractors. This work day, however, turns very special when the miners discover a mysterious Artifact that gives the main character visions of something extraordinary.

Soon after discovering the artifact, the main character gets approached by Constellation, a group of explorers based in the city of New Atlantis who are also seeking the artifacts. Joining them, the main character will travel all over the Milky Way to find more of these mysterious items, eventually having to face some revelations that have massive implications for the entire universe, all the while living their life however they want, meet all sorts of individuals and essentially shape their own destiny.

It is difficult to say why Starfield’s story is among the best in Bethesda’s history without spoiling anything. The mystery surrounding the Artifacts, and the discoveries that players will make as the adventure proceeds are well-presented and keep the experience engaging, thanks mostly to solid writing and good pacing, especially if one ignores the vast majority of the optional content available in the game, so even those who aren’t too keen on getting lost in the game’s world will have a good reason to play Starfield. Choices also matter quite a bit, giving great replay value to the main quest.

Truth be told, however, no one should go for the main story quests and ignore the wealth of possibilities Starfield offers, even if they are not interested in building settlements or completing random missions for Credits. Much of the game’s side content, which includes Faction and Companion missions, provides excellent world and character building, allowing players to delve deeper into the world’s big and fascinating lore. Even just looking around structures, buildings, and so on can provide additional information on the world and its rich history, thanks to documents scattered all over.

On the other hand, companions are more hit-and-miss, but that is mostly due to personal preference rather than limited or bad character development. I feel some, like Barrett, will be universally liked thanks to his constant willingness to joke even when things get tough, while others, like Sarah, may not be as popular. Again, though, your mileage may vary in this regard.

At any rate, one thing that Bethesda got right is how integral they feel to the adventure. Companions don’t just follow players around and help them fight off enemies. They comment on current happenings and often interact in dialogues with other NPCs; they banter with each other on the ship if assigned to it as crew. More often than not, these interactions are very interesting and develop each character further. All companions are also romance options, no matter the gender of the main character, so that is a definite plus regarding role-playing possibilities. As they join the player, it feels like they are just tagging along for the ride, but their motivation for doing so gets clearer as the relationship with them is deepened through various quests. Companions also always react to what the player is doing as well, and they will leave if the player is doing something they don’t like. Sam Cole, for example, will abandon you if, for some reason, you end up fighting and killing people belonging to the United Colony or Freestar Collective factions.

Starfield’s story doesn’t feel at odds with the side content as with some other RPGs.

Despite the high quality of Starfield characters and story, they are not the game’s best features, as the gameplay manages to top it, though with some caveats. At its heart, as already mentioned, the game is a Bethesda game through and through, so those who played Skyrim and the latest entries in the Fallout series already know what to expect.

At the start of the adventure, you are given a story to follow and main quests to complete, but the game allows players to ignore it to write their own stories with their choices and actions. In this regard, the game’s premise works incredibly well, as the story has no sense of urgency, at least in the beginning. Collecting the Artifacts is definitely important for Constellation, but it is not a matter of life and death, so being able to do your own thing doesn’t feel at odds with the main quest, unlike other RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077.

And how do players go and do their own thing in Starfield? In many different ways. You can stay true to Constellation’s goal and start exploring planets using the ship gifted to you by Barrett, you can join the Crimson Fleet pirates and become the terror of the Milky Way, you can build outposts on inhabited planets, you can take the odd job here and there to become a proper mercenary, or you can go where your heart takes you, and experience the many, many stories this world has to tell. While the main quests are usually the most complex in terms of narrative and gameplay, many are the sidequests that could rival the main ones in terms of content. Almost all of them, except for the basic fetch, exploration, and extermination faction missions, have some very interesting stories to tell and must be experienced to make the best out of the game. They can also be completed in a few different ways, and the choices made during them can have a lasting impact on the world and characters.

Mechanically, Starfield definitely ups the ante compared to the latest game by Bethesda. Using either a first-person view, which I feel works best, or a third-person over-the-shoulder view, players traverse a lot of different locations, ranging from futuristic cities to barren alien landscapes filled with all sorts of dangers, occasionally engaging with foes such as other humans and alien creatures. The locations generally have a good size, but unfortunately, going from one place to another isn’t seamless, as areas are separated by loading screens and boundaries. While this is disappointing, it is unlikely that any player will reach planetary boundaries while playing the game normally, given that there are no vehicles for planetary exploration, and walking long distances on foot not only takes a long time but is also pretty pointless, especially given the game’s great fast travel system that allows quick traversal of massive distances with a few button presses or clicks. It is definitely more annoying when entering structures, as it does break immersion a bit, having to go through a loading screen when entering a cave, mine, or even a shop in a city, no matter how quick the procedure is.

What sets Starfield apart from all previous games by the studio are the space exploration and combat mechanics. While pre-release footage hinted at these mechanics being close to those of space simulation games like No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous, this isn’t exactly the case. Like on-foot exploration, traveling seamlessly from a star system or even from one planet to another is impossible. Instead, players pick their general destination via a menu, get transported automatically to the vicinities of the chosen planet, and then open up another menu to pick a landing site where the ship will land automatically. You can, however, pick any landing point on a planet, and the landscape generally reflects the rough outline seen when scanning from orbit, so this seems to be a design choice dictated by hardware or software limitations rather than the unwillingness to go the extra mile and create a seamless universe comprising of over 1000 planets.

While the exploration is not fully seamless, that doesn’t really impact the actual experience.

Space combat, on the other hand, doesn’t disappoint. While it does feel rather simplistic at the start, with only a limited amount of options, space battles become much more exciting as players familiarize themselves with the energy system, which lets the user dynamically shift the ship’s energy to various systems such as engine, shields, weapons, and grav drive. You may also acquire skills that unlock better mobility and other mechanics, including a ship targeting system not too dissimilar from Fallout’s V.A.T.S., which enables precise targeting of specific components of an enemy ship. Destroying the grav drive, for example, prevents ships from warping away to another system, while damaging the engine allows players to dock their ship to that of the enemy and board it for an old-fashioned assault. With a deep ship builder system and tons of different weapons and parts, the space combat and ship mechanics are a definite highlight of the Starfield experience and one that many will spend a lot of time in.

Traditional combat also sees a major improvement in Starfield over previous games. On the surface, gunplay doesn’t feel that much different from that of Fallout 4, but the devil is in the details. There are tons of different weapon types, which can be modified for some unique effects, and the smooth shooting animations make fighting enemies feel satisfying and rewarding right from the start. Additionally, the much better RPG systems allow for deep customization of the main character, with tons of different skills that unlock new options, such as a stealth meter, the ability to use the boost pack for flying around, improved damage for all weapon types, and more. What truly makes the combat shine, however, are some special abilities that can be unlocked after reaching a certain part in the story, which further empower playstyles, giving players all the tools they need to play their character in any way they want. Crafting and modifying equipment to further refine builds feels like a major time investment, but it does pay off in the end.

While the Starfield gameplay is mostly solid, there are a few issues here and there outside of the separated zones that impact the experience a bit. For starters, the beginning of the adventure is incredibly dull. While the story kicks in quickly, not presenting an extensive tutorial segment like Skyrim did, combat takes a while to start feeling good, as players need to unlock some skills to make things fun. The fact that weapons found at the start of the game aren’t terribly satisfying doesn’t help, as it makes enemies feel like bullet sponges.

At some point, players who go off and do their own thing may have the exact opposite issue, as there is no level scaling for enemies whatsoever. If you start completing side content and ignore the main quest, it is likely you will end up being so powerful that nothing will be able to stand in your way, even at the highest difficulty setting. There’s a certain type of fun to be had in breaking the game’s balance, to be sure, but those seeking a challenge are unlikely to find it in Starfield unless they limit themselves on purpose. Of course, modding may eventually resolve this type of issue through other means.

Starfield has less bugs than any Bethesda Game Studios title to date.

From a technical standpoint, Starfield delivers in a rather surprising way. Gone and far are the days of broken Bethesda titles littered with all sorts of bugs, as the game has got to be the least buggy game ever made by the developer, as promised before release. While there are a few bugs, it’s only natural for a game with this sort of scope, and they are minor and mostly inconsequential. We’re talking about stuff like the camera not functioning properly during dialogues or the occasional enemy freezing in its tracks for a few seconds or wonky physics, so nothing that truly impacts the experience. The multiple delays, the smaller number of target platforms, and Microsoft’s help allowed Bethesda to polish its title like never before.

Starfield is also one of the few PC games to be released without major performance issues in the past few years. While native 4K, high, or ultra settings are just as demanding as in every modern AAA title, the game runs great even on a non-top-of-the-line hardware with some tweaking. At 4K resolution, medium to low settings, FSR2, and Dynamic Resolution, the game ran at a respectable 60 FPS or so on the machine used for the test (i7-10700 CPU, RTX 3070, 16 GB RAM). Lowering the resolution to 1440p, increasing the settings to a combination of medium and high, and turning FSR2 off, the game ran at an average of 85 FPS in open fields and combat and around 100 FPS in smaller, closed-off areas. These average framerates are also accompanied by no stuttering whatsoever, which isn’t exactly the norm nowadays. Again, it is clear how the additional development time and the smaller number of target platforms have done wonders for polishing.

Starfield definitely runs great on PC, but how does it look? While character models could have used with more detail, especially facial expressions, which are stiff and not particularly good in most cases, the locations are absolutely gorgeous. Big cities like New Atlantis give off the space metropolis vibe they are expected to do, while other cities like Akila and Mars’ Cydonia have unique features that set them apart from the rest and make them memorable. Neon is easily one of the game’s visual highlights: a unique and cyberpunky city on a water planet that is sure to become a fan favorite. Planet’s landscapes fare just as well as other important locations, although many of them do feel a little same after a while, but that is to be expected, given the huge amount of planets included in the game. Still, some look downright impressive, thanks to the new Global Illumination system, photogrammetry, and the great artwork.

At the start of my journey in Starfield, my experience was admittedly rather dull and boring, but as I collected more Artifacts and got involved in the sprawling sci-fi universe created by Bethesda, I started warming up the game, getting to the point that I have some difficulty putting it down. While Starfield refines more than innovates the typical Bethesda formula, it is undoubtedly one of the best games ever made by the studio and one of the year’s finest titles.

PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.

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With an engaging story, well-developed characters and lore, and a huge amount of meaningful content, Starfield is one of Bethesda’s finest games and one of the best role-playing games released in the past few years. The lack of seamless exploration and real innovation of the typical gameplay formula from the studio are noteworthy, but those willing to forego these issues will find a reactive and sprawling sci-fi universe to lose themselves in for hundreds, if not thousands, of hours.

  • Engaging story filled with space mystery
  • Well-developed companions
  • Excellent ground and space combat
  • Huge amount of meaningful content
  • Extreme freedom to be whoever the player wants to be
  • Some stunning vistas and locations
  • Great performance on PC and minimal amount of bugs
  • Lack of truly seamless exploration hurts immersion
  • The first few hours of the game are a little dull
  • Though refined, the gameplay formula is still the same as in the other games from the developer

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