Starfield is a massive sci-fi RPG from Bethesda Game Studios, the same developers behind the celebrated Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises. Nearly a decade in the making, this expansive space adventure is one of the most anticipated games of 2023, but does it deliver the goods? Released exclusively on Xbox Series X/S and PC, Bethesda’s latest RPG promises to whisk you away on a stunning sci-fi journey, offering endless hours of questing in the cosmos. Let’s find out if Starfield was worth the wait, or if it’s an overambitious mess.
Unraveling the Secrets of Space
Starfield is set in 2330, nearly 150 years after the Earth has become uninhabitable, forcing humanity to settle on nearby planets and form the United Colonies system. Splitting off from the U.C., other factions have also emerged, like the Freestar Collective Rangers and the mysterious House Va’Runn.
Playing as your fully customizable character, you begin as a miner working on a distant moon, but your life is upturned when you discover a strange artifact that grants you an enlightening vision. Linking up with Constellation, the last organized group of space explorers, you set out to discover the true secrets of the universe.
Like most other games developed by Bethesda, the main quest is just the tip of the narrative iceberg, as there are endless stories to discover in Starfield. Although it takes quite a while to get going, the main quest offers an interesting look at the vast cosmos, touching on tons of sci-fi tropes along the way.
Bethesda has created an engrossing world packed with interesting lore to learn, further enriching the story as you delve deeper. I also have to commend the massive, diverse cast of characters, which are all notably well voice-acted, making it easy to get immersed in the experience.
Sci-Fi the Way You Want
To put it bluntly, Starfield is very reminiscent of Fallout 4‘s formula, but with a ridiculously larger scope and overhauled gameplay mechanics. To elaborate, this first-person/third-person RPG presents a sandbox of sci-fi goodness to explore for your entertainment, with an emphasis on player freedom and expression. Apart from following the main story, you can pilot your personal spaceship across the galaxy, surveying planets and picking up side quests, all while role-playing in your desired fashion.
As you defeat enemies, explore new locations, and loot everything in sight, you’ll earn experience points that can be used to purchase new perks. You can also enlist the help of companions (and even romance a few) to join in your adventures or brave the stars alone, the choice is yours.
Although you can sweet talk your way through some conflicts with persuasion or avoid them entirely with stealth, you’ll eventually have to put your proverbial dukes up in combat. Melee weapons are available, but firearms are the name of the game, and keeping your inventory stacked with medpacks is a necessity.
Bethesda has learned from their previous mistakes and delivered a combat experience that feels fluid and fun, whether you’re in first-person or third-person perspective. There’s a good variety of weapons, including both traditional and futuristic guns, which can be extensively modified to fit your needs. Crafting is prominent but completely optional, allowing you to create medicine, food, and other helpful equipment by combining various resources.
Better yet, Starfield can be visually stunning at times, and unlike some of Bethesda’s other releases, it’s pretty light on glitches. On Xbox Series X, the technical performance is up to par, although the game is capped at 30 frames per second, which could be a deal-breaker for some.
Apart from a handful of odd graphical glitches, I haven’t encountered any disruptive gameplay bugs, which is a nice change of pace compared to the industry standard. That said, Starfield‘s visuals are far from perfect, featuring occasionally awkward facial animations, muted color palettes, and other quirks. However, the overall experience is satisfyingly immersive and ripe with discovery, despite a few bumps in the road.
Across the Universe and Back Again
Sometimes, the best thing to do in Starfield is venture off the beaten path and check out anything that looks interesting. In the first major hub city of the game, New Atlantis, you can discover dozens of side quests, visit various shops and businesses, and even buy a home. You can also sign up for the Vanguard volunteer pilot fleet, which is one of the four joinable factions in the game, each with a dedicated quest line to finish. Faction quests offer some of the best content in the game, especially some of those found later in the game, such as the high-tech Ryujin Industries or the outlaw-style Freestar Collective Rangers.
Ambitious space explorers can disregard quests completely and set expeditions to nearby planets, which you can travel to in your own customizable spaceship. While you won’t do a lot of actual space traversal in your ship, you can engage in battles and hail other ships while orbiting one of the 1,000 planets in the game. Fast travel options are abundant and you can instantly jump from planet to planet, but you can often find new content while perusing planetary orbits.
Planet surface geography and secondary locations are procedurally generated, which offers a significant amount of explorable area, but at the cost of feeling a bit barren and lonely. That said, there are many planets that offer beautiful vistas, hidden quests, and awesome locations, but you’ll likely see the majority of them while progressing through the main plot and completing faction quests.
Fans of base-building will also be supremely satisfied by Starfield‘s scope and freedom to create settlements where you want. You can land anywhere on any planet (as long as it has a physical surface), pop up your scanner, and start building an outpost. Various characters you meet around the galaxy can be hired onto your crew and assigned to your ship or outposts, letting you create trade centers, research bases, resource mines, and more. Constructing your outpost and decorating every building is remarkably intuitive, utilizing a modified system similar to the settlement creator in Fallout 4. Best of all, outposts, resource mining, and many of the more nuanced gameplay mechanics are entirely optional, so players can engage with them as much or as little as they like.
The Bottom Line on Starfield
Starfield, like many of Bethesda’s other landmark RPGs, offers a humongous world full of quests, characters, mechanics, and quirks. If you enjoy games like Fallout 4 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this new sci-fi odyssey will likely scratch that signature gameplay itch. However, Starfield doesn’t redefine the Bethesda formula, but rather embraces it to the core, which might feel underwhelming for some players. Combat is satisfying, the customization is extensive, and there are tons of quests, but none of that matters if you’re not hooked by Bethesda’s tried-and-true gameplay loop.
Ultimately, I had a fantastic time with Starfield, but your mileage may vary. As a science fiction fan and quest completionist who especially enjoys first-person games, it’s an absolute win. Some aspects of the Bethesda formula are starting to wear thin, but in my opinion, the immersion and player freedom outweighs the feelings of repetition. Even after spending over 100 hours in the world of Starfield, I’m still interested in returning for more. It may not be as groundbreaking as expected, but Starfield remains a sprawling interstellar adventure with some grand stories to tell.
- Customize your ship, weapons, and suit to your heart's desire
- So many quests, stories, and locations to experience
- Shooting mechanics feel fluid and fun
- First and third-person perspectives are both satisfying
- No local maps cause navigational headaches
- Infrequent graphical and gameplay glitches
- Procedurally-generated locations become repetitive
- Uneven story pacing