Nearly 30 hours in, I have barely even scraped the surface of what Starfield has on offer. All I can say is, Starfield is a game that keeps you wanting for more. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Bethesda title, and so far I’m loving it. Starfield is a unique blend of every Bethesda game I’ve ever experienced. It’s Skyrim at its core, mixed with a blend of Fallout 4 and just a sprinkle of The Outer Worlds.
Now, as a Bethesda fan, you may think I’m a bit starry-eyed, meaning this review could be biased, but that’s far from the truth. If anything, as much as I am a dedicated fanboy, I feel that I’m also one of its biggest critics, simply because my expectations for the studio remain incredibly high.
It’s Skyrim at its core, mixed with a blend of Fallout 4 and just a sprinkle of The Outer Worlds.
I’ve also grown to be a bit of a sceptic since the release of Cyberpunk 2077, but where CDPR failed to deliver on its promises, for the most part, Todd Howard and his talented team have succeeded in what they’ve set out to deliver; a beautiful, narrative-driven space RPG that’s chock-full of endless discovery and open-ended opportunities – it ticks all the right boxes for me… and then some.
Of course, the game is not without flaws, which I’ll get into, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. It’s truly the most ambitious title from Bethesda Studios to date, and yes, the Creation Engine upon which the game is built continues to deliver breathtaking landscapes, intricate, interlocking RPG systems, and bountiful customisation options, yet it is quite evident that the little engine that could is slowly starting to show its age.
Customisation and RPG Elements
At the outset, character customisation is incredibly detailed, and you’ll likely spend over an hour refining facial features and choosing a personal backstory. There’s so much here to personalise the experience, and I think it’s safe to say that the choices you make are varied enough to warrant a second or even third playthrough.
The same can be said for ship customisation, and while I’m not much of a ship-builder, I can already foretell there will be those experienced enough to make pop culture-inspired throwbacks, of which I am eager to mimic. From the Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighters from Star Wars, to massive Enterprise-class vessels inspired by Star Trek, there’s a lot to unpack here, and modders will have a field day with the ship-building system alone.
The RPG elements can be considered a follow up to Skyrim’s experience-based levelling system. Every ability has to be earned. These include multiple skills spread across five main categories. Each time you level up, a skill point is attained and can be spent on an additional ability, and there are challenges that need to be completed in order to level up that corresponding skill tree.
It sounds convoluted but it’s relatively simple, and these challenges are in line with your play style. Are you a smooth-talking criminal? Then the Persuasion skill tree in Social skills will help you negotiate, persuade and better engage with NPCs. Challenges within this skill tree include anything from completing five successful speech challenges. In essence, play the way you want to play and get rewarded for it. Skyrim deluxe.
Bethesda’s combat system is as smooth and fluid as ever, yet both character, enemy animations and AI have improved ten fold. Enemies will now scatter and seek cover when being fired upon, while downed adversaries will call for help, and the last foe standing will hilariously turn tail and run for the hills.
Gunplay, on the other hand, is much improved since Fallout 76. There are a wide variety of weapons at your disposal, each with their own unique reload animations, and firing feels and sounds punchy. Melee attacks have weight behind each swing. Even though some enemies are spongy at times, there’s enough variation in weaponry to keep the fight engaging and entertaining. Time to get stuck in.
Gameplay and Performance
While there are bugs, this also happens to be the most polished game Bethesda has delivered thus far. Instead, what you all may have gathered thus far is that the game has a few technical limitations.
Firstly, despite the 1,000-plus explorable planets, it’s not a space simulator akin to No Man’s Sky or Elite Dangerous. For the most part, you’ll be journeying from point A to B via fast travel, load screens (thankfully, quick) resolve into hands-off, flashy landing and take-off sequences. This can break immersion and make exploration feel self-contained, much like Mass Effect, rather than one cohesive open world.
Thankfully, the game runs surprisingly well, despite my lowly AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT and Ryzen 5 5600G combo averaging about 40fps at 1440p, with medium settings and FSR turned on. For the most part, frame rate, at the very least, was consistent and smooth, even in the most demanding areas, and besides a few weird camera angles when in conversation, I never truly ran into any game-breaking hiccups.
Even at these settings, the game remains a visual treat thanks to its beautiful volumetric lighting, highly-detailed textures, and clever use of shading and colour filters coupled with realistic-looking rock formations. The NASA punk-art style creates both a nostalgic yet futuristic aesthetic. Couple that with a stellar soundtrack and deep sound stage, it becomes enthralling just moving from location to location, taking in every minute detail along the way.
Exploration and Cities
What Starfield lacks in open-endedness, it surely makes up for in depth. Every major city you encounter is fantastically designed, and it’s clear there’s an enormous amount of love and painstaking attention to detail present throughout. As much as Bethesda is renowned for incredible writing, it also has a knack for visual storytelling.
it becomes enthralling just moving from location to location, taking in every minute detail along the way.
For instance, New Atlantis, the first city you encounter and the base of operations for the duration of the main questline, is home to the United Colonies, which is the first of many factions you’ll encounter on the journey through the Settled Systems.
As you first step off the Frontier’s landing pad, you’ll immediately be enamoured by the vast city skyline. It has the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis with several distinct districts you’ll soon get lost in. The streets are pristine and clean, depicting the militaristic values of its faction and the upstanding citizens within. Though like any other major city, you’ll soon find that not all is perfect; there are criminals, both daring and white collared, ready to run amok.
The city of Cydonia on Mars, meanwhile, serves as the Settled System’s largest mining colony and a stark contrast to the bustling metropolis that is New Atlantis. It’s not even a major settlement, and most of your time here will be spent underground where most of the inhabitants claim a ‘temporary home’ in the hopes of making enough credits to eventually settle somewhere far more hospitable.
It’s dusty, noisy and decrepit the deeper you get, and even through the beautiful musical score, you’ll hear pipes rattle from within its industrial-themed halls, while the narrow hallways are filled with folk deep in conversation, either making their way to the city’s one-and-only watering hole, or toward deep and dangerous mineshafts. This place wreaks of impending doom. Bethesda has the brooding atmosphere nailed down perfectly.
You’ll then eventually make your way to Akila City, one of many belonging to the Free Star Collective space. Redolent of old-town blues, it’s a wild-west frontier surrounded by dangerous uncharted territory. Here you’ll find whisky-sipping space cowboys, gun-toting rangers, hickory-textured saloons, and a blend of dusty cobbled streets, rustic interiors and dry and arid vistas.
Meanwhile, Neon City is a dystopian, Cyberpunk-esque pleasure town inspired by major corporation takeover. There’s glitz and glamour akin to a futuristic Tokyo or Las Vegas, intertwined with abject poverty, and neon-filled streets.
Almost anything goes in this capitalist state, including shady backdoor dealings, corporate espionage, and everything in-between. There are more cities and little towns to discover, complete with unique side quests to random encounters, but it’s best I leave it to you to find them all. You won’t be disappointed.
Attention to Detail
Oh, lest I forget the clutter; you’ve got to love the clutter, because not everything serves a direct purpose. From food items to books and notes that reveal lore and in-game history, to tongue-in-cheek sci-fi references through posters and intricately detailed models and toys, plus hand-painted artwork and self-portraits found in fancy interiors. Everything you’ll encounter, whether useful or not, certainly makes for a lived-in, authentic world.
Even the procedurally generated bits feel handcrafted, while the planets you’ll happen upon are often barren and devoid of life, you’ll quickly discover points of interest within arm’s reach. This could lead to massive underground hideouts, cold and lonely mining outposts, or a sneakily hidden smuggler’s den, and even dangerous pirate bases. Explore, explore, explore.
The darkness of space is filled with cargo haulers and patrolling battleships, at least in the expanse of the Colonised and Settled Systems. While, beyond the abyss, from time to time, you will find large space freighters and star yards, or a chance to encounter luxury cruise ships, all of which you can choose to embark. Not forgetting the countless dogfights against dodgy enemy combatants who you could board and choose to commandeer, or smash into smithereens. Have it your way. The possibilities and scope is near endless.
Starfield will leave you thinking about the game long after the controller is set down.
Last but certainly not least is the storytelling. The game’s narrative starts off slow and this may deter some players, but if you stick at it, you’ll soon find a rich and captivating story full of twists and turns that draw you in with intrigue and a sense of child-like wonder. Get past the initial few hours and be rewarded for patience. Characters feel three dimensional, each with their own backstories to discover, and I admit struggling to choose which companion to cosy up to on a quest.
The detailed facial animations also bode well for the many superbly voice-acted dialogue options. Missions retain an open-ended structure that allows you to sneak silently, go in guns blazing, or use charm and avoid combat entirely. The choice is ultimately yours, and that’s what makes a great RPG.
The universe and its lore is captivating throughout. You’ll find yourself mid quest and then suddenly be drawn in by a random conversation in a random city or town. That conversation leads to a long-winding side story, and then you find yourself miles away from what you initially set out to do. That’s where Bethesda truly shines; the ability to suck you into its world where you’ll be hooked for countless hours. There’s a lot of fun to be had, should you choose to find it, or create it.
In the end, despite its flaws, Starfield remains a Bethesda game through and through, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’re an RPG fan, this is must-play material. Starfield will leave you thinking about the game long after the controller is set down. There will always be one more quest to complete, one last outpost to raid, one more planet to explore, and one more mystery to unravel.
Starfield is out now on Xbox Series S/X and PC, playable through Xbox Game Pass, or available to purchase for £69.99.