After achieving success with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, Bethesda set out to create yet another blockbuster hit. Of course, the studio has taken 29 years to release an entirely new IP, but that only makes its eventful launch exciting. So far, the talk of the town has been that Starfield will be the new The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in space. That, combined with the many years we’ve had to sit tight and wait for launch day, makes this review all the more fun to dive into.
And so, like a Labrador wiggling its tail, waiting for that fervent instruction to eat its dinner, we too couldn’t wait to break apart all there is to love, like, and hate about the so-called glorified looter shooter with RPG elements. Here’s our Starfield review, Dig in.
Easy Does It
I’ve come to enjoy a quick roll of events, like many gamers, I’m sure. And I don’t mean dishing out everything in the first half and leaving nothing for me to chew on in the last. No. I mean, straight off the bat, let me know what I’m getting myself into so I can decide whether this is a journey I am willing to stick with, come rain or come shine. Starfield is anything but… It starts slow, and I mean really slow. Maybe it was the high expectations I had coming in that kept me asking myself, “So, where does the fun stuff start?”
I guess Bethesda's E.M.O. has always been an immersive world. You enter Skyrim and feel like you really are a slice of the Tamriel pie, like you really do belong there. Starfield, though, doesn’t feel immersive at all. I can’t quite put my finger on it because the world itself isn’t exactly horrible. It’s not the most groundbreaking one, either. But I think it’s the way walking the earth doesn’t feel endearing, boarding the train, steering the spaceship, or fast traveling from one planet to the next.
Skyrim in Space?
If you want to go to a shop on another planet, for example, you press the “M” key to open the galaxy map screen, then click the star you want, the planet, the planet's moon, the landing spot, and then sit back and wait for the fast travel, boarding, docking, and so on cutscenes and black screens to load. But you never actually step foot on the ship. You could take the longer route and enter your ship, walk over to the cockpit, strap in, open the navigation screen, select a planet, watch the ship jump to your destination, and then select a landing spot to set down your spaceship. Either way, it doesn’t sound fun, does it? Not when a massive aspect of exploration is fast traveling from planet to planet through cutscene after cutscene.
A game like No Man's Sky, for example, has you fire up your ship's engine, break through a planet’s atmosphere as you arrive on uncharted space ground, and then fly back toward the ozone layer onto the next one. You feel like you’re actually moving across the stars, accompanied by goosebumps all over your arms. There are other things to suggest Starfield was perhaps not meant to be an exploration game, like the lack of swimming, instead of gliding over the water.
Beyond the Eye Can See
It’s no question whether this is Bethesda's biggest world yet. There’s so much ground to cover. Literally, you have over 1,000 planets and 100 Star Systems you can explore. This might even be one of the biggest games of 2023. You’ll have places with unique weather, species, and space stations. It's true that some of the planets are barren wastelands. But you’re not forced to explore them. You can stick to the hand-crafted content, and still enjoy a whopping stretch of Starfield’s universe. And so, thinking of the potential Starfield has to have made gamers truly feel like space explorers is lost on me.
Besides a lack of immersion, Starfield also seems to lack intrigue. I won’t delve much into the story because it’s a straightforward one. From the strung-dry colonial domination of space to the strive to become the leading frontier in science and technology through exploring uncharted space grounds and claiming territories for mines, research labs, and whatnot, I feel I can summarize the plot into one statement and leave it at that. Starfield is a conquest for artifacts. Okay, cool artifacts. That’s it.
No Man’s an Island
Fortunately, you don’t have to explore all the planets alone. You can bring a companion with you. They have “okay” designs. They certainly don’t match the expressive animations of The Last of Us and God of War. But can at least show a good enough amount of emotion. They’re also well-acted and varied enough to switch them up. However, most of them have uninteresting personalities, which kind of stinks because your companions make up your space crew, and you’re free to go as far as to romance them.
That frustration is to some extent soothed by character creation, where you can choose skin tones, hair color, facial hair, eye color, jaw, chin, etc. A fun part is the freedom to choose your character’s backstory and traits. And then watching as your choices evolve in the game. Neon Steet Rat, United Colonies Native, and Hero Worshipped are some of the example traits you can choose. And these are the only sources of charm I could rely on.
Let’s rip the band-aid off, shall we? So, there are complaints that are pretty hard to ignore. The most compelling one is the lack of local maps. You never know your way around, unless you commit to memory the layout of the cities, which are usually huge. Secondly, there’s a lack of an inventory system, which is bewildering seeing as a third of Bethesda's games are usually inventory cruises. You could end up hoarding stuff, all stored in your pockets, storage base, or with your companions, yet having no easy way to shuffle it around.
Best for Last
With all that said, Starfield is a game you can play for hours upon hours on end. That’s mainly due to the frantic, fun, unending missions—and often mischievous ones at that. You can steal spaceships, literally kill everyone on the crew all the way to the captain, and take over. Or, start smuggling human organs for profit. You can work for a crime boss or overthrow him to become the baddest drug kingpin the galaxies have ever seen.
Because Starfield is free-form, allowing you to craft your own adventure, you realize halfway into the game that you don’t have to follow the beaten path to make the most of your time. You can buy a spaceship, recruit your crew, and venture into space to do whatever you like. To be clear, Starfield is mission-structured. But the missions have no set-in-stone way to handle them.
If you’re the type of gamer to talk your way out of situations, you can do so. Yet you can also take an up-and-close and personal approach. Depending on the path you choose, you can build upon your persuasion skills to get better with time or have your combat side shine more. The latter is where the fun lies, where you unlock new weapons and skills and combat encounters become more explosive, so much so that Starfield just might be better called an FPS shooter.
Starfield is one of those games that racks up high expectations and then disappoints upon launch. When you advertise a game as the next “Skyrim in Space,” we’re going to expect a fully immersive adventure. And when we don’t get that, the verdict is even harsher. From the start, Starfield fails to capture your attention. Whether it’s the straightforward story or the dull environment, you find yourself constantly wondering when it’s going to get better. Only in the second half does the core of the gameplay start to sink in.
You start to sort out the boring from the exciting. Like the planets that are over 1,000, and only choosing to go to the interesting ones. Or, the never-ending missions, and only going for the rewarding ones. Because ultimately, Starfield is a free-form game that lets you choose your own path. Over time, your character’s traits start to take shape in your journey. And your choice of gameplay starts to curate the gameplay experience to your liking. Of course, Starfield would be way greater if it didn’t take hours to uncover its hidden gem, leading to the conclusion that the game is likable but not necessarily ground-breaking.
Starfield Review (Xbox Series X/S & PC)
Space Lovers' Newest RPG
There’s no denying that Starfield is a hidden gem that’s extremely fun and rewarding. However, the fun part takes a while to kick in – several hours “while” – that can make some gamers switch off too soon. Starfield has been described as “Skyrim in Space.” In some ways, it honors Skyrim, but in others, it may have to return to the workshop for more welding.