| Reviewed on a CLX Gaming PC via Xbox for Windows with an RTX4090 |
I know, I’m a couple weeks late to the party — a lot happened the week of Stanfield’s early access; my twin sons were born and while I was supporting my wife in delivery, it was then that I was granted a review code. All of it felt surreal, and one I’m truly grateful for, but considering my circumstances, I didn’t have nearly the time I hoped for to play Starfield. A couple hours here and there, some days without playing, and I managed to play just over 30 hours’ worth, only to have an unfortunate glitch happen to me; all of my save files, all of it, mysteriously wiped from my machine. I spent far too many hours trying to fix the issue because this happened while I was still playing — I figured out that OneDrive and other cloud backing services were the culprit. All resolution needed me to restart my machine. So, in the end, my progress dissipated.
Now, I wasn’t that deep into the main quest, but I explored a ton and grabbed a bunch of great loot, put an insurmountable effort into ship building and just finished the Vanguard faction questline. I was close to giving up, but I couldn’t help the itch I had for Starfield — Bethesda not only crafted a great game but the best Bethesda game to date; and so, my journey to uncover the mysteries of the Artifacts continued. I pushed on, skipped some dialogue and caught up in just 13 hours. I trekked through and paced myself afterwards. 64 (additional) hours later, I can safely say Starfield is meant to be played by everyone, flaws and all.
Let me start by saying that ever since Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I’ve fallen in and out of love with Bethesda games. I especially loved Skyrim but despised Fallout 3 and New Vegas (I KNOW!). Absolutely adored Fallout 4 and still enjoy my time with Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. I don’t particularly think Bethesda does anything perfect, but they do everything great. The ability to have companions, base building, modding weapons, skill tree, dialogue choice, paths, exploring, looting, loitering, deceiving, romancing and so much more is what makes Bethesda amazing at what they do and it’s all present in Starfield and more. It has the beauty and wonder we all come to expect thanks to the newly minted Creation Engine 2.
Now, I’m going to dive into why I think this game is great but be forewarned, it’s nowhere near perfect and I’ll detail my gripes soon enough. But man, is it a must-fuckin’-play.
Starfield takes you on a journey through the stars, challenging you to explore the wonders of the universe and find meaning to it all. You stumble upon a strange metal Artifact that emits odd gravitational anomalies. This embarks you on a quest to uncover its mysteries — and although, for an RPG, the main storyline isn’t long (roughly 11hrs) it serves a deep purpose to the overarching plot. There’s plenty to do in Starfield, I’m talking side quest, missions (yes, they’re different) activities, factions, random events, space battle, spacecraft building, interest, exploration, base building, crafting, mortgaging, even jobs like being a security or a miner. To a degree, most of these are actually better than the mainline quest as they’re deeply well crafted (even if the character interactions are still rather dated, more on that shortly.) When it comes to everything you adore about Bethesda’s method to having the player make their own journey, it’s here and more.
I was slightly disappointed by some outcomes regarding the mainline story however, but I have a deep sense that Bethesda will bring a lot of my hopes to light in the coming expansions (or even NG++++) – not to say that this game is incomplete, not in the slightest, but rather some definitive answers were not what I hoped for. You will be accompanied by richly written characters such as the combat robot VASCO, a charismatic scientist Barrett, an ex-smuggler Andreja and more. All with immeasurable amount of background detail coupled with excellent voice acting. Each companion can be fitted with gear, used as storage, romance options, all with them reacting to your every action, good or bad. Much like what we expected in a Bethesda game — however, the way the characters physically react during conversations and action moments feels animatronic at best. When conversing, they are zoomed and centered to your screen with their eyes looking directly into your soul — and although the Creation Engine 2 is wildly improved with some remarkable facial animations, they don’t feel alive. Part of their bone structure doesn’t move, making everyone feel too robotic. Additionally, and I blame Larian Studios for this, the lack of body language is ever present; you will have deep conversations with a breadth of unique characters all exhibiting zero personality. You can hear the amazing voice work, but you can’t see/feel the difference. That is one of many elements that makes Bethesda’s latest excellence feel very dated.
The Settled Systems
Starfield was built within Creation Engine 2 – a massive upgrade to the previous engine that powered games like Skyrim and Fallout before, which boast a slew of major improvements regarding almost every facet of its capabilities. Everything from scope, lighting, rendering, models is vastly improved alongside new tech like Random Generation properties. One of the most noticeable upgrades to me is its incredible lighting system. Creation Engine 2 brings a level of realism to the interstellar environments that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the radiant glow of distant stars to the intricate play of shadows within space stations, every element feels vivid and authentic. This is a major step up from any of their previous games where modders would have to step in to fix the problem. It’s unfortunate that there’s no in game brightness/contrast/HDR setting to tinker with as some elements sometimes look too saturated or too dark. That could be by design due to the nature of simulating different planetary situations.
Edit: Bethesda just gave an announcement regarding these complaints, which I would suspect they’re working on many QoL improvements.
Starfield showcases Bethesda’s commitment to craftsmanship through an unprecedented attention to detail. Every inch of the game world exudes meticulous design, from the intricacies of spacecraft interiors to the (mostly) lifelike flora and fauna on planetary surfaces — even if there’s no physical interactions with large bushes and blades of grass. The universe feels tangible and lived-in which helps with the overall immersion. This level of detail not only enhances the visual experience but also contributes to a sense of believability within the game’s expansive universe. Creation Engine 2 demonstrates its prowess in optimization with a vastly improved performance compared to its predecessor. Starfield runs mostly seamlessly, even on modest hardware configurations (runs beautifully on my ROG Ally as well), offering a smoother and more responsive gameplay experience. It’s not perfect however, there are some game breaking bugs and visual glitches a lot of people experienced between powerful machines and Xbox Series X’s — I had an issue with losing over 30hrs of progress because of a OneDrive glitch as I mentioned in my opening, but never with performance thanks to my CLX Gaming PC build. The biggest issues I was dealing with was my companions walking between folks I’m conversating with or them sprinting wildly through the fields for no apparent reason. I know a lot of people are having issues with UI, but I think that’s a preference thing as I find it to be quite robust considering how layered this game is.
There are 1000 planets that are explorable, and some that are not due to it being gas giants. There are some pre-requisites within each planet that’s mostly handcrafted by designers, blended with excellent use of procedural generation based on planetary properties. You will land on planets that will be different than others which further emphasizes the unique playthroughs players will have in their journey — something Bethesda is known for. There are elements like abandoned stations, caves, unusual geographical anomalies, fauna and flora variations and more. It does a splendid job considering it’s an offline game — and given the level of immersion Starfield is producing, it’s impressive.
But drawbacks become a lot more apparent the more you play — for all of its improvements, it is presented with several dated elements that’s rather disappointing to me, as a person who loves game engines. While Creation Engine 2 brings numerous advancements, Starfield is not without its limitations. The most notable downside lies in the abundance of loading screens, disrupting the flow of gameplay and occasionally breaking immersion. Additionally, NPC movement can feel somewhat janky at times, detracting from the otherwise immersive experience. Furthermore, the inability to freely fly in and out of planets is a missed opportunity for true interstellar exploration. Players may find themselves confined to designated landing zones, limiting the sense of freedom and scale that one would expect in a spacefaring adventure. The absence of underwater swimming is a noticeable omission, given the vastness of Starfield’s cosmic environments. I know the scope of the game is vast and it must’ve taken an immense effort to bring this to life, but….c’mon.
One of the biggest improvements is the overall gameplay responsiveness — animations in third-person view has been exponentially improved with strafing movements, better overall rigging and amazing gunplay. First person remains as plain as the previous games with no visual torso and legs akin to Cyberpunk 2077 — a huge bummer for me. But the gunplay, my goodness does it feel amazing. It’s very close to the precision and responsiveness of Call of Duty or Doom. The models on the guns from basic to crafted is absurdly detailed. Everything from the smallest of grooves to the biggest attachments is meticulous — I spent far too long inspecting, and this applies to every asset in the game. Seriously insane and I thank Bethesda for going the extra light year in effort.
Spacecraft combat is both very easy to learn and deep enough to feel immersed in. You will be able to roll, strafe, cargo hold, manage speed and energy expenditure to help with combat or space travel. You’ll need a certain amount of Helium fuel to travel further into deep space, and that’s where you can manage your craft via Spaceport Technicians. You can upgrade your gear or upgrade your Piloting skill to fly better class Spacecrafts. It’s rather robust as the Creation Engine 2 allows for some fascinating design. There are already insane builds from the community like the Star Destroyer or a Batman-inspired Spacecraft. This is just one small element to the overall things you can do in this game — everything from base/house building to mining is ever present and its great.
RPG elements plays a huge roll — you will get a bunch of skill paths to choose from, each path has skills to unlock based on leveling, and then you will further enhance those skills upon use over time. Skills range from exploration aspects that’ll improve your scanner, to piloting and engineering. Its extensive and should keep everyone busy. I don’t know if there are limitations up until lv100 or you can unlock all, but its wild. There are also skill books that can further amplify your build, much like the previous Bethesda games. Additionally, you will find that gear plays a role to your build as they now have rarity and additional perks. Common has no perks, Rare has 1, Legendary has 3 and so on — each variation has the ability to be modded for further potency. Looting is also a large part of your adventure, so expect to be encumbered, a lot.
Sadly, there are some major drawbacks within the gameplay department — you will be traveling on foot 100% of the time; for some reason, the future doesn’t allow driving on rover, bikes or…. hover bikes? Instead, you have the ability to use a jetpack, but it’s insanely slow and thrusters doesn’t boost much, and it depletes far too quickly, even with great perks focusing on it. Also, Bethesda…. please fix the combat slide perk — please! Additionally, AI is not the best, at all. Often times you’ll face enemies that either stands still, flank once and never move again or just plain run in circles. It’s not often that it happens, but enough to remember it does. I’ll mention loading once again because it really is a bummer how often you load into zones — I’ll find a really interesting abandoned complex and not 15mins into exploring I open a door that loads into some dungeon. For a game of this magnitude, its hinderance is ever present.
REVIEW SCORE: 8.5/10
And yet despite ALL of my complaints in this review, I can’t get enough of Starfield. With everything you’re able to do, and you better believe you can do almost anything, it does so in such a great fashion. It’s not perfect, heck it’s barely great, but the content it’s presenting to us player’s work. It feels exhilarating to explore Starfield and truth be told, this is the best damn game Bethesda has ever crafted.