Welcome to our long awaited Starfield review! In the 24th century, humanity finds itself in a world vastly different from the one it once knew. For nearly two centuries, Earth has been forsaken, transformed into a desolate and uninhabitable planet due to the collapse of its magnetosphere. During this time, human civilization has scoured the cosmos, discovering hundreds of planets of varying habitability, each offering new opportunities for settlement, labor, and prosperity. Remarkably, the catastrophic transformation of Earth hasn’t deterred humans from carrying forward their ingrained vices.
Setting the stage
The initial era of extensive collaboration, marked by the Union of the Colonies, ushered in an era of peace and prosperity across all colonized planets. However, this golden age was eventually eclipsed by turbulent times—wars and secessions began to tear at the fabric of unity. Two decades following a harrowing conflict that pitted the Union of the Colonies against the Freestar Collective, with the latter emerging victorious, a fragile armistice was signed. Presently, the lingering echoes of past enmities and deep-seated mistrust define an uneasy peace between the two factions.
The main quest of Starfield epitomizes the game’s shortcomings. Despite its romanticized depiction of interstellar exploration, the narrative aspirations fall short, offering stories that underrepresent the spacefaring premise. You commence as a lowly miner working for a faceless corporation, soon stumbling upon an “Artifact” that triggers enigmatic visions of greater galactic significance, reminiscent of a “leaving-the-vault” moment akin to Fallout. This leads you to join Constellation, a small organization tasked with pursuing these Artifacts and unveiling their purpose. While the game attempts to infuse personality into its characters, the consistently weak writing and generic dialogue renders these characters, who occasionally display intriguing facets, mostly two-dimensional.
The narrative scenario revolving around Artifact collection fails to hold water, especially as the game extols the virtues of science but haphazardly tosses around scientific concepts in dialogue. All the while resorting to inexplicable supernatural forces accepted by everyone in-game without question. The game lacks the weight and impact necessary for characters’ descriptions of groundbreaking discoveries that could reshape history. It falls short of providing a thoughtful exploration of humanity’s place in space, even when attempting self-reflection. I didn’t expect Starfield to lecture me on quantum physics, but I hoped for a story that would genuinely respect the scientific philosophies that make the genre captivating.
The main quest’s wild goose chase lacks compelling narrative motivations and relies heavily on a predictable formula. You frequently find yourself in mining facilities, shooting your way to locate Artifacts that your colleagues coincidentally discovered on the other side of the galaxy, occasionally necessitating conflicts with space pirates as a convenient adversary. Alternatively, you may fast-travel to distant star systems to retrieve clues, follow illogical riddles, or engage in conversations that could have been streamlined. Nevertheless, some of these detours lead to noteworthy moments, such as navigating the cyberpunk-inspired city of Neon’s gritty underbelly, where dystopian archetypes thrive.
Choices that matter
Engaging in tense conversations adds some variability to the moment-to-moment experience, but the outcomes tend to be largely identical. For instance, when resolving a bank robbery in a remote planet resembling the American Old West or negotiating with a space pirate for a crucial item, the impact of your choices remains disappointingly superficial. Even if a situation escalates into a shootout, the game’s characters barely react to the violence. This highlights the illusory nature of choice, where moral dilemmas amount to vague variations in philosophy. This issue persists through the story and into the final encounters with Starfield‘s main antagonists.
Towards the end, the main quest begins to shine as it transitions from its RPG-light storytelling to full-fledged shooter action. Nevertheless, as is customary in Bethesda games, the main quest serves as just one aspect, with Starfield excelling in its side quests. Here, you step away from the wonders of space and immerse yourself in the problems of various factions and the inhabitants of the scattered cities and towns across the galaxy.
Throughout various questlines, both in the main story and side content, Starfield‘s RPG elements reveal their limitations. Dialogue options elicit slightly different responses or provide additional information but seldom influence the overarching narrative trajectory. Once you grasp the underlying mechanics, you can gauge what you can get away with, realizing that quests largely follow a set path. You might have the chance to use an arbitrary Persuasion check, represented as a minigame detached awkwardly from the actual conversation, or bribe your way through objectives, but these options serve as shortcuts to the same outcomes.
Build your character
Players begin customizing their character using the Biometric ID, choosing from 40 presets. This system resembles a gel electrophoresis band, which reads DNA, and you can change your character’s appearance and Biometric ID later at a Genetics facility.
While players can select up to three traits, these are entirely optional and come with advantages and disadvantages. Some traits cannot be combined, such as introvert and extrovert traits or allegiance to particular religions in the game’s universe. Background choices for your character offer ample diversity, including ties to factions, family background, and previous career experiences. Each background provides various modifiers to your in-game experience, such as financial responsibilities or access to equipment.
Starfield features a total of 82 skills divided across five Skill Trees: Physical, Social, Combat, Science, and Tech. Each tree is dedicated to a specific skill type. For instance, the Social Skill Tree unlocks Persuasion and Intimidation, enhancing interactions with NPCs. Investing in the Combat Skill Tree enhances your proficiency with various weapon types. Each Skill Tree comprises four tiers. Access to higher tiers and their associated skills requires a specific number of Skill Points invested in the respective tree. As an example, to access the Xenosociology skill at the highest tier, you need to allocate sufficient Skill Points to the Social Skill Tree.
You gain one Skill Point per level, which can be used to unlock a new skill or improve an existing one. To advance a skill and unlock additional bonuses, you must spend a Skill Point and complete a Rank Challenge, with four ranks available for each skill. These challenges are tailored to the specific skill, becoming progressively more demanding as you progress to higher ranks. For instance, the Rank 1 challenge for the Security Skill is to “Pick 5 locks,” while the Rank 2 challenge becomes “Pick 15 locks.”
Put them to work
You can assign crew members to your ship, but you cannot designate specific tasks for them, leading them to wander aimlessly through the corridors. While they possess skills that complement yours and boost ship systems, their actions occur behind the scenes and do not influence their behavior. Occasionally, they engage in dialogues that add an enjoyable touch to the game.
Starfield’s redeeming qualities come to the fore when it shifts into a shooter mode, offering satisfying gunplay and a diverse selection of weapons to experiment with. While it may not rival the likes of Destiny 2, Starfield’s shooting mechanics represent the best Bethesda has offered. Engaging in intense firefights while zipping around with a jetpack and switching between various weapons to tackle different foes makes for an exhilarating experience. When combat hits its stride and maintains high-level intensity, it compensates for the game’s shallow RPG systems.
To complement the spacefaring fantasy, you have your own ship for dogfights. Ship combat can be challenging, requiring you to manually allocate resources to functions like engine speed, weapon power, and shield strength. As you delve into the intricacies of piloting, upgrade your skills, and acquire better ship components, ship combat becomes more gratifying, particularly when confronting formidable enemy fleets that demand tactical maneuvering. While these encounters are relatively straightforward, certain quests provide narrative context that elevates them beyond mere afterthoughts.
Orchestral musical score
Starfield’s audio design is a standout feature, featuring a soundtrack by composer Inon Zur that blends orchestral pieces with electronic elements and ambient synths. The result is a musical score that transitions seamlessly from scenes reminiscent of Blade Runner to those evoking Interstellar.
Visually, Starfield impresses with cutting-edge rendering techniques, creating a realistic and immersive universe. The use of photogrammetry for 3D models, along with volumetric lighting and the Creation Engine 2’s global illumination, contributes to a visually stunning game. The design marries space with reality, incorporating retro-futurism and a vibrant color palette, making it one of Bethesda’s most visually appealing games to date, especially when running with detailed lighting and reflections.
Starfield certainly has its standout moments. The gratifying gunplay adds an element of excitement for combat, particularly when it’s seamlessly integrated into the more captivating questlines, creating memorable setpieces. While its portrayal of space exploration is somewhat limited, there remains a sense of novelty in navigating the galaxy, getting up close and personal with star systems, and occasionally stumbling upon engaging side content worth pursuing.
However, Starfield grapples with the challenge of providing a cohesive and unforgettable RPG experience within the vast expanse of stars it offers. Despite its apparent admiration for scientific philosophy, the stories and characters it presents offer a relatively mild and sterile vision of our potential spacefaring future. Stripped down to its core, Starfield adheres to a tried-and-tested yet somewhat overused formula. It lacks some of the depth found in its predecessors. It seems more preoccupied with quantity than quality, keeping the overall experience at a surface level.
- Captivating side quests that take you on unexpected adventurous journeys.
- Impressive gunplay and an enjoyable array of weapons that result in exhilarating battles.
- Exploring the vastness of the galaxy and uncovering new planets offers a fresh and exciting experience.
- A lackluster main storyline with uninspired writing and character development.
- A rather uninspiring portrayal of space exploration and the future of humanity in the cosmos.
- Superficial RPG mechanics that fall short in terms of dialogue, quest resolutions, and the ability to shape outcomes
- A cumbersome map system that hampers navigation to important locations.