Release Date: September 6, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Adventure RPG
In 2018, Starfield was revealed to hungry Bethesda fans everywhere. While this adventure would be based in the future, many were wondering if we’d have to wait till the in-game year of 2330 to play it. Luckily, that wasn’t the case and this space RPG is on the brink of release. What’s interesting about a game like Starfield is that similar to Fallout and Skyrim, the experience is largely what you make it. I went into the game with little expectation; I was mostly looking forward to seeing how Bethesda as a team has evolved over the years. That said, this is an experience that gives what you put in. All your actions will be rewarded, but frustrating menuing and a lack of tutorials will leave many in the cold depths of space wishing for a lifeline.
From its opening moments, Starfield wastes little time thrusting you into its story. After playing so many hours, it’s hard to remember the humble beginnings of my character. Thankfully, the opening is probably the most heavy-handed and confusing part of the main campaign. You’re a newly recruited minor who stumbles across an artifact with significant power when it’s grouped with similar artifacts. This leads to an attack, and you’re given a ship because, evidently, you’re the only one who can complete the mission. So, in the span of 10 minutes, you started your first day on the job, found an artifact, got attacked by some unknown enemy, and then were given a ship by a stranger.
Thankfully, the opening is the only time you’ll be this confused about the game’s narrative because the story cleans up nicely in the following scenes. The main campaign is epic and leads to some awesome space adventures alongside some of the most well-written party members that I’ve met in a game before. Bethesda really knows how to craft a universe and make each character, no matter their role in the plot, have a story tell. The sheer scope and dedication to detail in crafting such a grand experience that the player can even alter based on in-game choices deserve applause. There are many deep introspective moments of discovery paired with a sense of silliness and humor that makes these characters feel real.
What’s more interesting is how your party and the NPCs react to events. Perhaps it’s just a few lines, but they’ll comment on your actions or local happenings. While I feel like the game can be enjoyed from beginning to end by only playing the main campaign, there are so many things to do to distract you from that path.
However, this requires that you know how to play a Bethesda game. Nothing is explicitly taught to you on how to navigate dialog choices, what causes negative or positive impacts during dialog, which items are needed and why, explanation on storage, explanation on general exploration, and material farming. Let’s just say this game sucks at teaching you what to do. There are a few tutorials on navigating the menus and piloting a ship, but the core of what makes Bethesda games enjoyable has been left out. I can recall Fallout III having an excellent tutorial of the basics weaved into the opening chapter, but here, you’re thrown into space within a matter of minutes.
So, looking at this from the perspective of someone who knows how to play a Bethesda title is your best bet to hit the ground running. Further, if the developer was trying to craft this game for core fans of their previous titles, they nailed it. The sheer amount of events that take place in this universe is vast. No experience will be the same, which makes it difficult to warn or push readers to any significant event because the idea that you can shape a narrative to your whim is exciting. That said, this is an investment, and Bethesda seems to want all of your time.
Landing on a planet will reveal a few key locations, but it’s up to you to investigate these spots and interact with NPCs to pick up intel or new missions. I took a break from the main campaign early on to finish what I thought would be a short side quest. However, this seemingly low-effort quest turned into a multi-part adventure that led to the extermination of a deadly alien.
Still, I did notice one thing after being away from the main campaign for so long. The smaller quests did not receive the same environmental love that the main quest did. The locations and planets visited while on sub-missions aren’t as detailed or lively as the places you’ll visit throughout the main campaign. However, the lack of detail of the environement is not found in the writing for each NPC encountered. While it’s possible to click the first response of the dialog tree to easily get through conversations, there are deeper paths to discover that lead to more insight into the mission or possibly a shortcut. Not rushing is your best friend, but you’re able to leave a conversation whenever you’d like.
Character skills and traits also come into play while navigating this universe. When creating a character, you’re able to fine-tune their core traits which adds benefits but also may have a negative effect. I found the initial character creation tool easy to navigate, but there could have been more hair options.
When you level up, you’ll receive a skill point used to unlock skills. First off, unlock the boost; you’ll thank me later. Further, you’ll want to improve your speech skills and unlock the ability to see when you’re hidden to steal from people. There are skills available for combat and tech as well, with each skill level requiring minimums to be met before you can unlock the next level. Once you’ve unlocked at least level 1 of each skill within a tier, you’ll gain access to a new tier. There are plenty of benefits to be found in this skill tree, but it’s ultimately shaped by you. I found the benefits to be clever and useful, with more than enough ways to improve the core experience of gameplay.
the characters are fleshed out, but their relationship with the player isn’t always strong. While you grow into the campaign and become a piece of it, I can’t help but wonder why I was doing it all. My character had no strong ties to any mission, and the amnesiac-style opening scene never sat well with me and lingered in the back of my head. I was having fun, but I didn’t feel connected, especially when it came to the optional romance routes. Still, it’s possible to force this connection by making this story your own. The adventure is there; you just need to invest yourself to find it.
As your knowledge of Starfield’s many systems opens up, you’ll be ready to dive into the vastness of the menus. Sadly, the menuing in this game isn’t user-friendly or presented in a way that ever makes sense. I guess the only word to describe it all is ugly. The equipment screen in the game is just a mess, and you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to stay underweight as you mine resources and collect items. My best advice would be to spend some time creating an outpost where you can dump all of your excess items because iron is heavy.
This also ties into my initial thoughts that this game wants you to be an explorer of worlds. You need to spend hours collecting resources, creating, crafting, and building to squeeze the most out of what this game offers. However, I’d advise you to wait until the mid-to-end game to invest yourself in creating an outpost and material hunting since you’ll have a better understanding of the universe and how to quickly gain resources. That said, most of these systems are available to you from the beginning of the game. You’re free to spend your time as you wish, and that’s not a bad thing because this game is so damn pretty.
Now, I will say the uncanny facial expressions of the characters can be a little alarming, but it doesn’t bother me at all. The in-game textures and environments are just lush with detail. There’s so much to see and so many different environments to discover. As you travel around the universe, you’ll learn about the different styles of dress and local politics to make the entire universe feel diverse and, yet, still connected. Still, one element of gameplay that really took me out of the experience was the many loading screens between areas. I get it, but I would have enjoyed a more cohesive experience, especially when I’m exploring a planet and have to load between sections of a town.
My menuing woes aren’t over either. I can’t tell you how many times I got lost navigating this thing. I think there are three different ways to get to the fast travel screen, but managing equipment and just getting an understanding of where to go to get where is confusing. The shortcut wheel is pretty interesting as it allows you to equip a large number of weapons. However, this requires you to Favorite them. I feel like these options should be separated, where I’m allowed to equip to the shortcut wheel, but also Favorite weapons that I don’t have equipped so I don’t accidentally destroy them.
Firefights are pretty fun, as there are usually multiple ways to go about encounters. While enemies early on seem like they take 50 shots just to take down, this does become balanced once you gain access to more powerful weapons, skills, and modifiers. The enemy AI is decent, but they still manage to do some goofy things from time to time. Further, there were some areas where enemies just liked to gather. On a different note, I found there to be a decent number of enemy types that made traveling to different planets fun, if only to see what kind of creatures I’d be facing off against.
The combat mechanics extend into space, where you can get into dog fights. Don’t be concerned if you suck at this during your first encounter. I was more confused than I ever have been in a game. Basically, your ship has points that you have to allocate to various areas of the ship. You’re essentially powering up parts, which allows you to control the power of weapons, your shield, and speed. However, you learn that if you turn everything down, you can get past enemies, and this approach does work, but it leaves you vulnerable. My suggestion is to get the tracking skill early on. This allows you to aim a specific part of an enemy ship to cause damage.
Space fighting is another area of the game that gets better in later hours. For instance, within the first hour, you’re able to actually modify and purchase new parts. However, this, paired with learning to fly, craft, and create outposts, becomes very overwhelming early on. Luckily, you can forget about it for most of the journey, and when it becomes necessary, you’ll have all the information to jump in and understand what your ship needs. This did cause me to want to restart my game to know everything I knew 30 hours in at the beginning of the game.
The amount of possible experience to be had is up to you. Starfield’s main campaign becomes the tutorial for the real adventures that await players who put in the time. It’s an experience unlike any other, and it all feels very Bethesda. There are issues I have with how items are managed or how difficult it is to Fast Travel sometimes because I’m lost in the menus, but none of that stopped me from being eager to jump into the game each day and see what I can find.
What makes reviewing Starfield difficult is how much our experiences will differ. I tried my best to play through the game as a casual player would, but I can’t really get a grasp on how one would approach a game that opens up completely within the first hour. The experience as a whole is undeniably fun, but you have to be open to hands-on learning. Further, many of the systems don’t even need to be touched to get through the campaign. Bethesda clearly put all their ambitions into this experience, and they all seemed fleshed out, which puts even more pressure on the review. I’m sure you won’t read a review that approaches Starfield the same, which only emphasizes that this is a unique experience, whether it’s for you or not.
Starfield is a true space adventure that only Bethesda can deliver. It’s an experience catered to the fans of large expansive RPG narratives, but this one takes it a step further to stretch across an entire universe. There are minor systems and menus that cause confusion, and the lack of real tutorials paired with a flimsy opening holds back the opening hours. Still, the experience is undeniably memorable, and the writing for NPCs makes up the best moments. Although the many systems can be overwhelming, this is a game full of discovery for all who play.
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