Review – Starfield

Starfield is a big leap of faith for Bethesda Game Studios (BGS), their first new franchise in 25 years, and for Xbox, as their biggest first-party release, arguably for the Xbox Series X and since the Zenimax merger. Role-playing games are my favourite genre. Bethesda Game Studios’ historical hits are a huge part of my childhood and love for video games. Starfield had a lot of expectations for me; I was nervous, excited, and altogether scared. I’m about to hit 200 hours of playtime in Starfield’s vast galaxy; what makes Bethesda Game Studios’ special shines brighter than Sirius (the brightest star in the sky), but their strange design decision hinders the overall experience.

Starfield’s content was partially a mystery despite the 45-minute direct and everything we knew about Starfield before launch. There were hints of No Mans Sky’s planetary exploration, material farming and survey system, but more traditional BGS systems like outposts, factions, companions, smuggling, and a mysterious artefact. I got the same overwhelming feeling from the Starfield Direct that I did playing the game for the first 10 hours as Starfield slowly peels back the layers of its systems and a truly immense amount of hand-crafted content and emergent exploration on any planet you can embark on. During this time, I wasn’t sure what to think about Starfield; I didn’t know if I liked it, I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t be doing, I was truly lost in the stars. It wasn’t until I arrived in Akila City in the Cheyenne system with Sam Coe my new companion. We stopped a bank robbery together by persuading our way inside, taking out the robbers and saving the hostages, one of several ways to resolve this scenario. I then decided that I wouldn’t leave Akila; I would stay here at the Freestar Collective faction’s capital city and see what the is to do. Another 10 hours went by, and I finally understood what Starfield was. It’s a BGS game first and a space exploration game second, and that’s what I love about it.

A common criticism of Fallout 4 was that it wasn’t an RPG; it was an action game masquerading as an RPG by adding a skill tree and having a dialogue system that consisted of yes, yes, but sarcastic, and no, but actually yes. Starfield is the complete opposite. Nearly every quest I’ve either stumbled across or completed in the main story has had multiple ways to complete the objective. Some of them are unmarked, like, say if you need a particular item from someone, rather than pay for it or complete a task for them, I can just pickpocket it, provided I have the required skill. Backgrounds and traits that you pick during Character Creation heavily play into these choices and consequences and options that are made available to you. A small example of this is the Kid Stuff trait that adds your parents into the game, although you have to send them money each week. I didn’t expect much from this minor decision I made in character creation, but my parents appeared multiple times with unique dialogue throughout different locations and main story moments, making funny parental-like comments about my dangerous hero journey. I’ve created five different characters with totally different backgrounds and traits to see what options have become available to me, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

This is also reflected in the varied mission design. The main story and faction questlines are some of the best-written and designed BGS quests they’ve ever created. During a United Colonies faction quest, I had to sneak around activating defences and turrets, avoiding a massive alien threat that was stalking me. Another quest had me sneaking through vents with a voice in my ear telling me where to go and when to stop and wait for patrols to pass like I was James Bond. A main quest called ‘Entangled’ felt like I was transported straight into Dishonored, and I cannot wait to do that mission again on my other characters. The freedom of Starfield’s galactic setting allows BGS to flex their creative muscles in interesting and unique ways that they have not done before.

Combat is also a massive improvement over their previous titles; guns are weighty and have a great kick and recoil to them. There is a huge variety to choose from, plus different weapon types like ballistic, electromagnetic, laser and particle beam. Each has a unique feel, sound and playstyle that I enjoyed. While enemy variety is lacking, being only humans and alien creatures, enemies react well to being shot and shooting an enemy in the boost pack for it to explode is always satisfying.

You may have noticed we’ve barely touched on the ‘Space’ element of this Space RPG, and that’s because it feels like an afterthought in the game as much as it is in this review. What is there is space is a very solid combat system where you allocate power to various systems and fly around ships, dogfighting and boosting your shields to stay alive. However, these interactions and other random encounters that can happen, while enjoyable when they do, don’t feel like a core part of the game. The ‘space’ in space is a small three-dimensional area around a planet or star yard that you can fly around freely; if you want to travel elsewhere, you need to open your menu to access the star map and select the location, then watch the cutscene as you travel there. There is very little actual space travel in Starfield; it’s more like hiring a carriage in Skyrim to travel you to a major city quickly. For how much effort has clearly gone into Shipbuilding and making every ship look and feel unique, you spend very little time flying your Millennium Falcon knockoff.

The UI, especially the inventory UI, feels like it’s wasting so much space, and it’s sometimes unclear when you’ve got multiple inventories open which one you’re actually in. As with all BGS games, you’ll spend a large part of the game in menus due to the inventory management system, and adding additional inventories to manage, like your Ships Cargo Hold and your companions, adds further complexity and annoyance to this system when there is a lot of waste space on the inventory screen or overly large icons that could be made smaller to fit more information on the one screen without having to navigate around.

This year is filled with incredible role-playing games, and you can safely add Starfield to that list; while there are some shortcomings that I didn’t like, overall, this is an incredible role-playing experience that any fan of the genre or BGS games should expect to invest hundreds of hours into, not only in the base game but as expansions and mods are realised in the years to come. The present and the future are bright for Starfield, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Starfield is available now on Xbox Series X\S, Xbox Game Pass for PC and Steam.

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Jordan Tyack
Jordan Tyack
Jordan Tyack is a writer passionate about video games, MCU, basketball, reading and everything in between. His favourite genres are RPGs and the occasional shooter games. When not obsessing about the Miami Heat, Jordan can be found drinking wine with his cats and watching a good movie.

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Starfield is a big leap of faith for Bethesda Game Studios (BGS), their first new franchise in 25 years, and for Xbox, as their biggest first-party release, arguably for the Xbox Series X and since the Zenimax merger. Role-playing games are my favourite genre....Review - Starfield