For the past two decades, Bethesda Game Studios has been synonymous with two iconic franchises: The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. This renowned studio has consistently delivered sprawling, choice-driven RPGs that have left players immersed in worlds filled with boundless freedom.
However, Bethesda has decided to break free from the comfort of its well-established franchises and venture into uncharted territory with Starfield, its first new intellectual property in many years. Starfield represents Bethesda’s most ambitious project to date, and it’s nothing short of monumental.
This game leverages the lessons learned from their previous titles and propels players into an expansive open galaxy where they can craft their own spacecraft, journey to distant solar systems, engage in intense dialogues, and even potentially alter the fates of entire civilizations.
Starfield has it all, and its potential seems limitless. So, does this game truly reach for the stars, or should players have remained safely ensconced in their fallout shelters?
The game begins with the player assuming the role of an unassuming miner who stumbles upon an enigmatic “artifact” that grants them glimpses of a grander cosmic tapestry.
This discovery sets the stage for the entire narrative of Starfield as the player is recruited into Constellation, an exploratory organization. Along the way, they encounter various factions vying for control of these artifacts, including space pirates and collectors.
Regrettably, many of the primary story quests fall somewhat flat. It’s only in the later stages that players are treated to some truly unique and exhilarating adventures, though getting to that point can feel like a bit of a grind.
The majority of missions typically involve traveling to a planet, locating an artifact, possibly battling space pirates (or bypassing them if you’re aligned), and returning the item to headquarters.
However, there are captivating story elements, notably the introduction of an exceptionally advanced faction, which, while significant, is somewhat underutilized in the narrative. Despite its somewhat abbreviated main plot, the meticulously crafted world of Starfield deserves commendation for its attention to detail and variety. The world comes alive through engaging side quests and unexpected encounters that breathe life into every corner of the galaxy.
In classic Bethesda fashion, players are tasked with making consequential decisions, both significant and seemingly trivial, that shape their journey. These choices range from matters of life and death to minor interactions that can either irritate or delight individuals.
The repercussions of these decisions can manifest in various ways throughout the game. For instance, taking sole credit for a discovery might lead to a former ally turning against you.
A captivating cast of characters populates the game, including cultists, pirates, explorers, miners, and more, each contributing unique skills and abilities, although these are primarily focused on spacecraft and outposts. Most characters seamlessly integrate into the story, with opportunities for romantic entanglements.
However, a few characters, like Sarah, the initial major ally, come across as bland and uninspired and some would say even emotionless. Players have the freedom to carefully curate their party, selecting companions that resonate with their preferences.
Starfield encapsulates Bethesda’s signature gameplay elements, incorporating gunplay reminiscent of Fallout and special abilities akin to Skyrim. While forging relationships and traversing the cosmos is undeniably the game’s most enthralling aspect, the combat system is more than serviceable.
Players can adopt various playstyles, from melee to stealth-focused to full-on assault, and combat can often be circumvented through dialogue. This is a true RPG, offering a plethora of skills to develop, encompassing negotiation, bribery, and piloting, among others. However, the manner in which skills and their upgrades are unlocked may leave some players dissatisfied. Instead of a straightforward point-based system, players must complete specific tasks to unlock skills.
For instance, achieving ten stealth kills is required to unlock level 2 stealth. This approach can feel repetitive, especially when some prerequisites have already been met. Additionally, the restriction on accessing higher-tier spacecraft due to these requirements can be frustrating, necessitating extensive galaxy-spanning combat for progression.
In terms of spacecraft traversal, Starfield deviates from expectations. While fast travel systems exist, the game doesn’t always clarify whether players can directly land on previously explored planets or must approach from orbit, often resulting in contraband scans by defense forces.
Space traversal in Starfield resembles titles like Elite Dangerous or No Man’s Sky, albeit in a more simplified form. Unfortunately, it feels somewhat clunky and underdeveloped, with players often seeking to avoid combat whenever possible.
The ability to purchase or construct highly customizable spacecraft adds depth to the game but falls short in terms of gameplay mechanics.
Discussing technical issues in a Bethesda game is practically a tradition, but Starfield surprisingly emerges as one of the studio’s more polished titles. While we encountered few problems, it’s not without its imperfections.
Graphical glitches, such as floating geometry, characters awkwardly interacting during conversations, and NPCs walking away mid-discussion, remain present. While many of these issues are amusing, some significantly impact gameplay, like broken waypoints that persist until a particular mission is completed or unresponsive NPCs preventing the completion of side quests.
These glitches, while frustrating, are still an improvement over past Bethesda releases.
Turning our attention to planetary exploration, it’s an area where Starfield leaves much to be desired. Despite the multitude of solar systems awaiting exploration, only a handful of planets are available for landing.
The real issue lies in the repetitive nature of these planets, most of which offer cookie-cutter caves, pirate facilities, and gravitational anomalies. Even the side quests tend to follow a similar template.
When players do stumble upon a planet with a unique setting, it feels like a breath of fresh air, but these moments are few and far between. It’s possible that the sparsity of unique planets is due to the uneven distribution of colonies across the galaxy, with the western region being notably denser than the eastern.
While this aligns with the idea that human presence diminishes as one moves further from their origin, it results in a galaxy that often feels barren, filled with copy-and-paste content that emphasizes astronomical lore over gameplay variety.
Additionally, the absence of a comprehensive map system to identify major cities within solar systems forces players to rely on memory or trial-and-error to locate their destinations.
Starfield represents Bethesda’s daring step into uncharted territory with a new intellectual property. While it stumbles in some aspects, such as the repetition of planetary exploration and certain narrative elements, it excels in others, particularly in crafting an immersive world filled with engaging characters and opportunities for player agency.
Starfield is a quintessential Bethesda game, offering a blend of familiar gameplay mechanics from their previous titles and introducing players to a vast, open galaxy ripe for exploration. Despite its technical quirks, which are par for the course in Bethesda titles, Starfield is a commendable effort, demonstrating the studio’s commitment to pushing boundaries and delivering memorable RPG experiences.