We’ve cleared liftoff on Starfield, the first new IP from Bethesda in decades. Is it everything that we’ve seen and more? Let’s dive headfirst into the vast expanse of Starfield – a game that’s so immense, it feels like exploring an entire universe with the space suit on your back. Bethesda’s knack for creating expansive worlds and the allure of a sci-fi setting make Starfield an absolute dream for fans like me. Now, you might wonder, how on Earth (or should I say, in the cosmos) do you review a game of such epic proportions? The truth is, in small steps, because there’s just so much to see and to do, that one playthrough, let alone three, four, or even five, doesn’t seem like it’ll capture everything available.
First things first, let’s address the sheer magnitude of Starfield. This game is colossal, much like the starry canvas it draws inspiration from. As a fervent admirer of Bethesda for years, the promise of freedom and immersive world-building has always been a draw for me. And when you layer that with the allure of a sci-fi universe, it feels like a no-brainer that you’re getting one heck of a rollercoaster.
Your adventure into the cosmos begins on a mining rig, where you encounter some basic mechanics and the laser cutter tool used to mine for alloys and minerals. Your manager assigns you a section of the mine to clear out to earn your cut of credits, but it isn’t long before you come upon an unknown piece of metal. Instantly, your character begins to hallucinate with lights and music, overloading your senses and inevitably leading to blacking out. Upon reawakening, the familiar Bethesda character creator displays on the screen.
Craft Your Spacefarer
The character creator in any game is a pivotal point for immersion. Starfield opts for sliders, allowing you to craft a unique version of you or a character you’ve envisioned. The options are as diverse as the cosmos, from scars and freckles to makeup and many hairstyles. And that’s not all – you can define your body type, walk style, and even your preferred pronouns. Bethesda’s attention to detail shines here, making your character feel like an authentic part of this cosmic odyssey.
From here, you’ll select your Background. Backgrounds provide a layer of depth to your character. With perks and dialogue options tied to your chosen Background, the impact on gameplay and roleplaying is tangible. Traits, however, are the hidden gems that can drastically alter your playthrough. From Empath, which rewards kindness, to Hero Worshipped, offering a loyal sidekick, your choices shape the universe around you. There are 17 traits you can select from, with only three traits allowed; thankfully, they all promise a unique experience with each playthrough.
My character, Ikaris, is an Explorer who excels with lasers, astrodynamics, and surveying. I selected Hero Worshipped, Wanted, and Serpent’s Embrace for his traits. The first trait earns you a fevering fan who gives you praise and items while also being a nuisance. The second trait allows you to deal extra damage when your health is low, and Bounty Hunters may randomly show up to attack you. The third trait I went with grants a boost to health and endurance if you continually jump, but it also decreases if you don’t continually jump. The traits are a double-edged sword, offering an incentive to select them at the expense of an adverse effect that might turn your experience on its head. Thankfully, the traits are an excellent way to shake up the experience.
Starfield’s introduction is brief, albeit slow, but there to jettison your character into the unknown. The journey commences with an explosive encounter – space pirates hot on the heels of Barrett, the intrepid explorer who has just disembarked his ship after being signalled to pick you up and take you to New Atlantis. Battling these relentless foes is just the tip of the iceberg. Barrett soon entwines you in a web of an enigma, centring around the Artifact – a piece of the puzzle shrouded in intrigue. With victory achieved, the path leads to Constellation, a society of explorers fixated on deciphering the riddles of these mysterious artifacts. The torch of exploration is passed to you as Barrett bestows control over Frontier, your first interstellar vessel, guiding you towards Jemison, the planetary abode of New Atlantis and the Lodge’s headquarters.
There’s a distinct lack of hand-holding, as Bethesda invites you to decipher their intricate systems independently. The story also opts for a restrained approach, holding its cards close to its chest, teasing you with breadcrumbs that only unfold as you venture further. The obtuseness of the storytelling is a departure from recent Bethesda titles, but it’s all part of the experience.
A sense of the unknown has always lured humanity
Ensuring your arrival at Constellation’s headquarters is your first companion, Vasco, an industrial robot suited for the challenges of space exploration. I half expected your new partner to help explain many of the intricate systems you’d be dealing with, but sadly, Bethesda leaves you to your devices to explore and learn the various in-game techniques. That isn’t to say everything you’ll encounter is passive, as major systems like space flight reveal themselves early on.
However, my instance took me to a nearby planet where the Crimson Pirates raided a local base for its supplies and where the regional leader was holed up. The enemy had targeted my character for downing his ships earlier, and I needed to find him to get them off my back to continue my journey. Once I touched down on the planet, a mechanic handled by fast travel, it is a bit of a shame that I will touch upon later. Once you land, you can get off the ship and explore the surface. I started cultivating resources like silver, lead, iron, and various fauna. As you collect data to fill out your database, you learn what the planet holds and where resources are. I also came across several animal types that were both friendly and hostile. You can either engage or ignore enemies, but taking them down and scanning them is preferred.
My trek to the dilapidated research camp took far longer than I intended because I continually found quests to tackle. Simply moving in a direction can often lead to new quests from characters, and while the quality is objective, I had a lot of fun handling the investigations. However, as distracting as quests tend to be in a Bethesda game, I had a mission to complete and a space pirate to obliterate so that he couldn’t follow me throughout the system.
There are many familiar elements from previous Bethesda games here, like scouring a base for supplies — coffee mugs, first aid kids, slippers, various foods that restore health- precisely as you remember in Fallout or Skyrim. It’s hard to ignore potentially expensive items lying around when trying to finish a mission, but that’s why we all enjoy these experiences. I searched the entire first floor and picked a Digilock on the second floor to discover a rare assault gun before moving on and finding the nest of space pirates.
Simply strolling from one mission to another is akin to opening Pandora’s box, with many side quests sprouting up like cosmic constellations in your path. If you’re one to tackle quests methodically, be ready for an avalanche of distractions. It’s a testament to the dedication poured into Starfield – there is abundant content, and the majority is genuinely engaging.
Astonishingly, the game doesn’t just serve a multitude of quests; it’s filled with characters who breathelife into this vast expanse, with some of the voice talent having spent half a decade working on this game. Bethesda’s narrative prowess shines as these characters boast intricate backstories, voiced performances, and depth that resonates through their digital personas. The character design marks a leap forward, with models that exude realism. While facial animations might occasionally falter, the sheer scale of named NPCs makes it forgivable, especially given the overall craftsmanship. Bravo to the voice actors who authenticate every dialogue exchange, even with the most seemingly minor NPCs.
Dialogue takes center stage in Starfield. The departure from Fallout 4‘s minimalist dialogue options is a welcome addition. Instead of vague three-word choices, there are fleshed-out sentences that feel like proper answers to the questions you’re asked. When skill-based dialogue options emerge, they’re elegantly signalled with prompts like Persuade, ensuring you’re in complete control. This injection of lore and story into dialogue is an absolute triumph, showcasing Bethesda’s dedication to crafting immersive narratives. The ability to diplomatically dodge boss battles with well-crafted dialogue choices is one of my favourite ways to approach these encounters.
Starfieldpresents various combat options, each embracing the freedom of choice. Unconstrained by predefined directions, the game organically invites you to explore your combat preferences. Whether that means wielding melee weapons or firing rifles, Starfield doesn’t impose a particular path, granting players the agency they crave. While combat mechanics draw inspiration from Fallout’s approach, Starfield emerges as a polished iteration. The aiming experience might feel slightly floaty, particularly with a controller, yet the refined design outshines its predecessors. If anything, I find a level of floatiness you’ll encounter when using ranged weapons, and so far, what I’ve experienced doesn’t compare to the gunplay of Call of Duty.
Starfield Offers A Ton Of Player Autonomy
In a refreshing departure, Starfield discards the conventional skill point system, introducing gear as a critical determinant of your capabilities. From spacesuits to boost packs, your equipment dictates damage resistance, energy shielding, and more. While initial stat boosts are subtle, the real excitement lies in modding your gear. Of course, you need to craft at workbenches, and modifications amplify your gear’s capabilities, granting you intriguing powers — invisibility or elemental rounds, to name a few. While not as modular as Fallout 4’s weapons, this gear customization offers an enticing playground for creativity and experimentation.
You must evolve your skills through the perk system to navigate this cosmic odyssey. Starfield divides perks into Social, Tech, Combat, Science, and Physical trees, progressively unlocking tiers as you master each. However, this isn’t an easy ascent – to access higher levels, you must fulfill specific prerequisites. Landing stealth kills or employing the jetpack in combat are just a few examples we’ve seen in several videos from Bethesda. This dynamic approach prevents hasty skill spamming and lends weight to your choices. Perks become invaluable tools, enhancing damage, carrying capacity, and unlocking vital mechanics like pickpocketing and boost packs.
Starfield unfolds in instanced spaces beyond a planet’s atmosphere, which is underwhelming. The nearby planets and stations seem tantalizingly distant, requiring us to navigate through menus and loading screens to reach various destinations – step into the ship, depart from your current location, initiate travel, dock, land, and disembark. Thankfully, the loading times are manageable and short.
Now, here’s where Starfield truly shines – outpost-building. This facet of the game beautifully complements the exploration aspect. Establishing outposts on planets becomes essential for maintaining supply lines and resource management. While this might sound clinical, Starfield injects style and comfort into these functional buildings by offering a rich selection of furnishings.
An outpost in Starfield can resemble a futuristic oasis amidst the cosmic void adorned with glass, metal, and antennas against the backdrop of a dusty planet. It’s a testament to the game’s potential for creative expression. However, you’ll likely struggle out of the gate because I don’t feel the system is adequately explained. Thankfully, learning on the fly is best practice as you begin to piece together your first settlement.
My time has been joyous with the experience, and while I don’t feel it has hit the highs of The Elder Scrolls:Skyrim, I’m finding many things to love about Starfield. The companions are incredibly fleshed out and brought to life by some excellent actors. The main narrative also seems to be better than I anticipated, and the plentiful sidequests are some of the best I’ve played from Bethesda. I’m finding it hard to pull away from my Xbox for the first time in ages, and yet I have no doubt I’ve barely scratched the surface of the true Starfield experience.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Xbox/PC
Without a doubt, Starfield is arguably the most technically sound game Bethesda has delivered of this size, and it feels like Xbox has its first undeniable win in recent memory.
The main narrative and side quests are exciting and thoughtful
Companions and NPCs are some of the best we've seen from Bethesda
Packed with a ton of replayability, Starfield rewards autonomy
Travelling through space isn't as fun as it looks thanks to clunky controls