Starfield has been through a ton of ups and downs, from being hyped up as the successor to a seemingly immortal Skyrim, to being the ultimate Xbox Series system seller – with the obligatory “I hate Bethesda for selling out to MS and stealing the game from PlayStation players” argument thrown in too. It’s a game that had a lot going for it, but that might have been to its detriment.
Starfield is a good game, though perhaps more reminiscent of Mass Effect 1 & 2 than Skyrim – and that comes with good and bad elements. Mass Effect was once the gold standard for space opera/shooter hybrid, but the original trilogy is now almost 12 years old, while Andromeda didn’t exactly do the trilogy justice.
Starfield‘s half-skill, half-stats-based shooting coupled with galaxy-hopping, fast-travel-dominated quest structure can feel very Mass Effect – a potential problem in a game longer than the entire trilogy combined.
Starfield begins with the usual hero’s journey trope. You’re a space miner, doing a dangerous job for little pay – which was weird given that I chose to build my character as a specialist xenobiologist. Why am I on this resource-rich moon, what went so wrong in my life that I ended up here? You don’t have a ton of time to contemplate that though, as within the first 30 minutes you find a mysterious artifact, it gives you some weird vision of floating through the universe, you’re gifted a ship, and are thrust into the wider galaxy to unravel the mystery. Familiar no?
Maybe I’m being unfair as many games start this way, but it is a curious jumping-off point given the obvious comparisons. Thankfully, the game quickly sheds its Mass Effect-ish themes as while you’re tasked with unravelling this mystery, you really don’t have to. I mainlined the Constellation questline for about 20 hours and then just said, “sod it, I’m not exploring another temple, let’s just do whatever the game will allow”.
And there has to be something said for the freedom to just grav-jump around a galaxy, exploring, shooting, stealing, negotiating, and just living out your fantasy life as there’s no shortage of interesting faction questlines and infinite procedural activities. It suddenly became a relaxing diversion and, well, more like a life sim than a sci-fi shooter. I could finally understand this is how those lifers in Skyrim feel sinking untold thousands of hours into that game over the last decade.
Having said that, the galaxy is a bit too true to life. NASA research suggests the universe is pretty much a barren and lifeless wasteland, so exploring the several hundred planets and moons Starfield has on offer can be very, very tedious. I had explored about ten planet and moon landing zones thoroughly when I realized how repetitive and unrewarding it was (great for screenshots though) before heading back to the structured main quest.
At launch, No Man’s Sky was accused of bait-and-switch marketing with the procedurally generated worlds that looked nothing like the end result, but Starfield – a game with a massively higher budget – demonstrates just how tough it is to create enough assets and a complex algorithm to create an interesting galaxy full of interesting things to see and do.
At least the main quests, faction quests, and many secondary quests are good when they are good, but can also become fairly mundane when you’re tackling your fiftieth one. The complex factions and frequent moral ambiguity in some quests sometimes reminded me of the best of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – where all you could do was role-play and hope that your decisions wouldn’t come back to haunt you.
Sadly, it doesn’t take long to realise many of these quests also use procedurally generated locations, and you’ll soon recognise the layout of facilities and even the objective location. When you are building a sprawling world, some repetition is to be expected, but the boring landscapes all blur together and I was shocked at the limited number of location types – especially when successive quests could send me into identical facilities.
I guess to their credit, many locations are well-designed and give you the opportunity to sneak around, pick digi-locks, target hazards in the environment, or hack robots to thin out the enemies. Several major quest encounters can also be resolved through dialogue confrontations, but honestly, I didn’t spend too much time as it wasn’t much fun. It might remind you of Cyberpunk 2077, but it is nowhere near as refined and actually feels like a step back from the skill- or trait-based dialogue options in prior games.
Another step back is how unexciting exploration is. Presumably, to reduce boredom/tedium, fast travel on the surface and even between systems can be done via menus. Open the map, select a marker, and wait for the cutscene to finish – making space travel so safe and boring is quite an achievement.
Unexpectedly, combat is where Starfield shines. Gone are the attribute-heavy mechanics and clumsy aiming of Fallout 3 & 4 that all but forced you to use VATS. Even the refined third-person gunplay in Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda don’t hold a candle to Starfield when you’ve got the camera pulled back.
It feels like Bethesda tapped into id Software or Machine Games expertise and had them design or advise on the gunplay. Cover-based fighting, automatic leaning, and hit markers all complement the obligatory numbers game that an RPG/FPS hybrid demands. What’s even better is the simple space combat. Piloting your ship is a breeze but – like X-Wing vs TIE Fighter – you have to divert power between weapons, shields, and engine to maximize your chances of coming out of a fight intact.
Of course, combat means XP gain, gear drops, and crafting resources. Starfield has plenty of gameplay systems to explore. Each level unlocks points you can invest in the sprawling skill tree. Credits and loot are plentiful enough so you can frequently purchase new weapons, mods for gear, upgrades for your ship systems, and eventually build a ship from scratch. If you have the patience, you can even set up outposts that mine, refine, and transport crafting resources.
The shipbuilder system was a particular highlight and a creator’s dream – well, once you have the right skills and enough resources. We have already seen someone build a mini Star Destroyer, while some players have used it to break the game and reveal some typical Bethesda jank. As an example, one player figured out the enemy always aims for the centre of your ship, so they built a ship of only corner modules and became basically invincible in space combat.
Starfield can be an attractive-looking game, with some beautiful vistas back by an incredible soundtrack. Performance, however, was another reminder that this is a Bethesda game. Before the day-one patch, my Steam review version kept crashing during the tutorial and I mined that damnable artifact more times than I care to count. After a week and a half of patches, the game finally ran well on my high-end rig at 1440p with “Ultra” settings. Since then, I’ve never seen the framerate drop below 120fps even though the game doesn’t yet support all the DLSS3 features of my GTX 4090.
Overall, Starfield is a good game, but the desire for another Skyrim, the expectations from the Microsoft buyout, and the desperate hope for an Xbox system seller have all made it all but impossible to live up to the hype. If you mainline the story to experience the NG+ variations, or just go for a freeform zen playthrough as an explorer, you’re guaranteed hours and hours of somewhat repetitive fun. If you were hoping for something that’ll finally satisfy the console fanboys, you’ll probably need to wait and see how the next Microsoft exclusive pans out.
Starfield was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC.
Starfield (PC) ReviewStarfield (PC) Review
- An expansive galaxy to explore
- You can leave the main quest behind
- Firefights - both in space and on the ground - feel near perfect
- Ship building is interesting and expansive
- Quests often repeat location types
- Most planets and moons are empty and boring to explore
- Full of typical Bethesda bugs